Review: Dreams of the Dying by Nicolas Lietzau

Dreams of the Dying by Nicolas Lietzau

Liis reviews Dreams of the Dying by Nicolas Lietzau, book 1 in The Twelfth World series.

About the Book
Series:The Twelfth World #1
Date of Publishing:October 28, 2020
Trigger Warnings:trauma, suicide, death, nightmares, substance abuse
Page count:728

Possible fit for The Sound of Madness Reading Challenge 2024 prompts:

Joker prompt that goes with anything: Now We Are Free

Anywhere Away From HereKiss My Ass
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Queen of KingsThe Legend of Mother Swan
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White FlagRoad to Joy
Sob StoryGive That Wolf a Banana
Always HalloweenKill Your Conscience
TherapyGhosts & Monsters
Low LifeChasing Stars
Book Blurb
Dreams of the Dying by Nicolas Lietzau

If your mind is the enemy, where do you run?

Years after a harrowing war experience, ex-mercenary Jespar Dal’Varek has taken to drifting. It’s a lonely existence, but, barring the occasional bout of melancholia, he has found the closest thing to peace a man like him deserves. Life is “all right.”

Or so he believes. Hoping to turn the page, Jespar accepts a mysterious invitation into the beautiful but dangerous archipelago of Kilay-and everything changes.

Plagued by explosive social tensions and terrorism, the tropical empire is edging ever closer to civil war. Kilay’s merchant king is the only person able to prevent this catastrophe, but he has fallen into a preternatural coma-and it’s Jespar’s task to figure out what or who caused it. As the investigation takes him across the archipelago and into the king’s nightmares, unexpected events not only tie Jespar’s own life to the mystery but also unearth inner demons he believed to be long exorcised.

Battling old trauma while fighting for his life, his sanity, and the fate of Kilay, the line between dream and reality blurs until only one question remains: If your mind is the enemy, where do you run?

Quote of the Book
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The mind is a malleable thing. Soil, if you’re feeling poetic. Depending on the seed, anything will grow in it, from graceful gardens to idyllic meadows, from weedy forests to foggy swamps. Harmonious or chaotic, peaceful or perilous, healthy or ill—it’s all a matter of seeds.

Song of the Book

Orion by Metallica


Dreams of the Dying has all of my favourite elements: political intrigue, social commentary, human condition, personal demons and a main character who is equally as intelligent as he is flawed as he is sassy. Sounds like a winning combination already, am I right? Right. It’s bloody good, and I am here to tell you that it’s even better than you can possibly imagine.

Lietzau has taken a simple concept of a high stakes mission for unlikely heroes and braided into it strands of psychological aspect. An empire is on the verge of civil unrest – it is the powerful versus the powerless, the rich versus the poor, the haves versus the have-nots. The king, the only one that can potentially save the world from breaking and keep thousands of people from dying, is in a coma that seems to slowly be taking his life. Thus, on request of the queen, the unlikely heroes are called in to figure out what is going on with the king and how to stop it. A great mission indeed, all set on the foundation of the queen’s vision, faith and hope.

If I was to describe Dreams of the Dying as a whole, I would say that it is Fantasy’s and Philosophy’s love-child, the fruit of a loving symbiosis. A writhing mass of words that bring horror, hopelessness, truth and realisations all at once. A psychological obstacle course under the disguise of fiction.

The fantasy aspect of Dreams of the Dying comes across in the worldbuilding and the setting. Alongside the cultures that are introduced in the book, the personal demons named Past and Trauma materialize for MC Jespar Dal’Varek through nightmares. The flashes of discomfort feel like a fever-dream. Short snippets throughout the book but boy, do they have an effect. Jespar is only a regular man, though. The unique abilities are introduced through other characters, such as Kawu and Lysia and Agaam. They have their own set of skills and powers, like dreamwalking, healing capabilities and mind control, and they are equally important to the story as our main man Jespar.

The thing with Jespar’s story arc though, is that I got to know him so well through his thoughts, feelings and struggles, that when the ‘break’ came, I broke as well. It doesn’t happen often that a book delivers catharsis, but Dreams of the Dying did. The balance and harmony between overall and personal conflicts in this book is so beautifully seamless and rings painfully true; and perhaps this is what Lietzau wanted to show – the power of a single mind. Whether that mind is powerful or powerless, there is a consequence either way. Which takes us to the psychological and philosophical element of the book.

At times, the emotional turmoil felt like a purge and as terrible as it is to admit it – the mental health aspect was gloriously presented. The debilitating effect of guilt. The paralyzing effect of trauma. The fear. Redemption and atoning for one’s actions is a truly great motivator, but as Dreams of the Dying proves, great motivators may not lead to the best decisions. Great debates over what is wrong or right, just or immoral, are delivered via captivating dialogue, providing wonderful insight into the complexities of humanity. 

That leads me to the writing… Let me summarise it this way: this is how a 700+ page book is written. Exactly this. Not a single page, not a single paragraph felt like a ‘necessary chore’ to get through for the purpose of the story – it was all so smooth, made to be devoured. The descriptions of people and places, of scenes both peaceful and warring, of anguish and hopelessness – masterfully put into words, into beautiful, well-considered words. It’s a rare gem among the millions and one I will heartily recommend. Except… Calling it a gem might give a little bit of a false sense of grandeur.

Let me try again… The writing is so good that when emotions and motivations behind every action and decision are truly admitted by our characters, it feels like you’re being peeled layer by layer, starting with the cuticle that has already run halfway up your finger. There are a lot of hard truths about the human condition in this book. No one likes to be told that their morally high ground is based on false pretenses. I simply loved exploring both sides of what we feel is right or wrong, good or evil. The dissecting of the perspective. So, can you see what I mean when I said fantasy + philosophy? I fucking loved this book so much. Best of both worlds in terms of exciting adventure and food for thought for days to come.

Our Judgement
Praise Their Name - 5 crowns

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