Happy September! I am feeling the fall vibes, pumpkin spice, wearing of long sleeves, and books that contain corpses and nightmares …. Hey!
Today I am endlessly grateful to self published author Nicolas Lietzau (pronounced Lee-tsow) for the stunning hardcover of his novel Dreams of the Dying. The naked cover mirrors the dust jacket and makes the book an excellent Halloween/shelf decoration as well as a memorable read, so definitely put this on your radar to read while he’s working on book two!
Bookish Quick Facts:
- Title: Dreams of the Dying
- Series: Enderal #1
- Author: Nicolas Lietzau
- Publisher & Release: Self, December 2020
- Length: 826 pages (hardcover)
- Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes to those with any interest in fantasy, horror elements, mental health rep
Here is the book blurb from GoodReads:
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?
Described as “Inception in a Polynesian fantasy setting,” Dreams of the Dying is a slow-burning, haunting blend of fantasy, mystery, and psychological horror, that explores mental illness, morality, and the dark corners of our minds.
This is a pretty difficult book to unpack! I know a lot of my followers have played Skyrim – if you played the Enderal mod you may be familiar with the author of this book, or at least his writing! (I admit that I entirely stopped gaming around 2016, it wasn’t compatible with travel nursing, but knowledge of the Enderal story is not required to enjoy the book!)
The Worldbuilding: I thought the best part about the hardcover was all of the extras in the appendix. This is a clearly lovingly crafted world that had an insane amount of planning involved, both on a macro and micro level. There is plenty of world building in the book including local foods, customs and culture, architecture, a religious synopsis, weather, and the feel of the populace…
Then the book is over and the appendix is there! The micro world-building is just .. it’s just something that only an indie author can do and it’s perfect. Pages on and drawings of animals, even their named skeletons, local fashions, drawings, more about the Gods and Goddesses, and just an incredible breakdown of the language that was created for the Makehu people.
Take this example of how the language and lingual barriers feed overall immersion – it integrates into the story and creates comic relief at times!
‘kaia ‘ō kā teteie e māu kū.’ Do you know it?”
“‘Look out for … the emotional fish?’”
Kawu snorted. “Not quite.
I just love how much local culture and lore was included without being burdensome to the story. I was going to share another quote about the tension/feel of the city but it contains a typo … The sentiment is there though. (Mostly the editing is extremely well done).
- The only issue I had with the world is – the heck is up with the seasons? The 6th moon of dry season only has 5 days … but the rainy season month has 33 days?
- Also as far as immersion .. Lietzau probably wrote one of the most creative languages I’ve ever seen in a low fantasy, including such slang gems as “by the excretions of the sacred donkey.” Yet with nothing else modern about the world, he throws in modern slang. I got used to it … (yes yes even though it’s a Bavarian cultural thing) … but it threw off an otherwise near perfect immersion. I’m sure the Makehu swear too 😂
The Characters: ah gosh this book was so perfectly tailored to people who are struggling through their 30s. Jespar has PTSD, anxiety, and guilt, and the representation is just so real that reading his journey through it was a bit jarring at times. Lysia is a physician that runs a slum clinic even though her debts are piling up, and Kawu is an innocent, selfless little thing that had way too much trauma thrown at him at once. Neither of them were particularly good people but they seemed real and I think anyone with struggling mental health will be able to relate to someone in the novel.
The point of view is mostly Jespar’s, but there is another that is referred to as “The Man”. This POV brings out a whole spectrum of one’s own personal hell, confronting past demons, and learning a thing or two about what exactly it means to be a monster.
Between the monster, the swamp, and the court of corpses, the analogies are spot on.
The Content: this seems like a good time to mention that September is suicide awareness month: I don’t need to give you guys the lecture but PLEASE reach out to a professional if you ever feel like you’ re losing the will to keep going. https://www.nami.org/get-involved/awareness-events/suicide-prevention-awareness-month
Alright the book is heavy content wise: briefly there is anxiety, crippling guilt, parental death, fairly graphic suicide description involving a knife, a drowning attempt, a not too scary corpse, other corpses, kind of descriptive (maybe R rated) m/f and m/m intercourse, smoking and alcohol use, and some really cute fluffy animals.
Tae ite nū’iwilo, tae hūnā ‘o. ‘You won’t find out if you give up.’ Because that is what it comes down to with melancholia and despair: just as other people lie when they tell you things always get better, your mind lies when it tells you that it doesn’t. The only way to know is to stay and find out … as hard as it might be.”
That quote hit me HARD, and it felt like something extremely personal that the author left in the text. When he recapped it in the afterword and talked about his own mental health struggles; I am just glad to see people speaking openly of this. My mental health is total trash as a critical care nurse right now and I’ll openly admit that I had to clam up on this review for a bit.
The Magic: alright let’s perk this back up. The magic system ranges from dream-walking to necromancy, healing, mind control, and seems to work as a mental and physical drain. There are quite a few abilities and it’s pretty interesting overall. Y’all know me, throw in necromancy and I’m there. There’s a lot of cause and effect related to the magic, and a professorial lecture in the appendix if you are still curious!
Closing thoughts : it’s a long book but nothing is extra, and the plot keeps moving forward without much drag at all. This is a more intellectual breed of fantasy that I would push towards fans of Gene Wolfe or NK Jemisin rather than those expecting pure escapism.
To break the book down into a one sentence synopsis:
A comatose magnate, insurgent terrorists, furious commoners.
With a side theme of mental health, and….
If you fight injustice with injustice, no matter how deserved it may feel, you’ll always end up as just another turn of the wheel.”
I do strongly encourage everyone with an even casual interest in fantasy to check this one out. It won’t be for everyone with some of the strong themes but I definitely think it’s worth consideration!
Again thank you so much to the author for my review copy, all opinions are my own 🖤
Find Nicolas and Dreams of the Dying online:
instagram.com/niseam_stories goodreads.com/nicolaslietzau facebook.com/nicolaslietzau patreon.com/niseam discord.com/invite/zdJyuHV (“The Enderal Novels” Section) niseamstories.tumblr.com reddit.com/r/enderal
Now that no one is still reading, a quick bookish note and SBAIS update: I am endlessly grateful to ALL of the Indie authors that have been reaching out to me with their novels this year! There are thousands of reviewers out there and it’s an honor! Everyone stay tuned this Sunday because I’ve got Heartmender series author V Romas Burton on and I can’t wait to share that with you all!