When I heard that Where Dreams Descend was being pitched as a gothic circus fantasy romance, I was intrigued. Then I saw the cover and I swear I gasped. The cover blurb from Claire Legrand says it's perfect for fans of Caraval and The Night Circus and while that is absolutely true, I got some pretty strong Phantom of the Opera vibes as well.
Kallia has grown into young adulthood at The Hellfire Club, performing and learning under the tutelage of Jack, The Master. Their relationship is clearly unhealthy, but there's something darkly seductive about it. If you consider Jack and The Phantom, they're both possessive, physically menacing and determined to teach the heroine to be the best at her art. But when Kallia escapes to the nearby city through the woods to enter a competition for magicians, she realizes that Jack may not be the biggest evil in her life.
The magic system is a little confusing at first, but eventually I just went with it. There are elements reminiscent of the tarot-esque system in Caraval, but with four suits representing the four families who founded the city. We never see those families and the city seems to have no collective history or memories. Angeles plays with the idea of memory in a few different ways, but it's rather spoilery to get into.
I really enjoyed the romance in Where Dreams Descend, and this is where the second parallel to The Phantom of the Opera comes in. In opposition to the dark/obsessive romance with Jack is the sweeter, seemingly healthier relationship Kallia develops with Demarco. I loved them together.
Here we come to the third similarity: the threat of imminent doom. As the competition continues, people go missing, show up in a magical coma, or worse. The stakes get higher, threats appear from every side and a bigger, unknowable danger lurks in every mirror.
Where Dreams Descend had me totally hooked. The audiobook is narrated by three different narrators and I thought they did a great job capturing the different POV characters and building the suspenseful atmosphere.
My biggest complaint is that I got to that cliffhanger ending and wanted the sequel immediately... and I have to wait another 8 months. If you're a fan of Caraval, The Night Circus, circus or magician stories, or The Phantom of the Opera, I think this is worth a read.
Content Warnings: people are disappeared, removal of eyes/blinding during assault, magical coma, misogyny, forced removal of memories, abusive/controlling relationship
I received a digital copy of this book for review but purchased and read my own audio copy.