Book Review: The Dream Engine

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When Eila Doyle first hears the strange boy calling from somewhere deep in her sleep, she begins to question her sanity. In the gleaming steampunk world of Waldron’s Gate, citizens aren’t meant to dream — and those who eschew their daily Crumble and dare to do so anyway face madness … and imprisonment in Joffrey Columns, the asylum of towers.

And yet, “Dreaming” of a very specific sort is what Eila does every day at the Ministry of Manifestation with her mind hooked to the great engine, called the Blunderbuss. She’s accustomed to using her thoughts to Build all that the city needs … but never before have her thoughts been so dark, so laced with demons and shadows. Now those nighttime visions hint at dark conspiracy, a millennium of lies, and a fathomless secret hiding beneath the quiet streets.

As Eila follows the boy down the rabbit hole, she discovers secrets that were meant to remain hidden. She discovers an unknown caste of underlings, an unknown place underneath the city. And she learns of her terrible destiny as her own dreams and reality blur, as “what is real?” becomes something uncertain.

This thrilling young adult dystopian adventure is the first in the Dream Engine series by masters of story Platt & Truant, authors of The Beam, Unicorn Western, and many more. The Dream Engine will have you asking yourself “What is real?” along with Eila’s strong female lead — but watch what you ask for, because the answer may unsettle and disturb you for weeks to come.

Goodreads Link: The Dream Engine (The Dream Engine #1)
Author: Sean Platt and Johnny Truant
Genre: YA Steampunk/Gaslamp Fantasy
Rating: 4/5 stars

I’ve followed Sean Platt, Johnny Truant, and David Wright with their Self-Publishing Podcast and books about writing for a while. They have some good advice and insight into the self-publishing industry. Whereas many author experts tend to come out with a couple “hot books” that capture one trend in indie publishing for a brief period of time, these three have seen several years of the ups and downs and learned to adapt to the changing industry. They also keep selling fiction despite changes in trends, so that shows they know what they’re talking about. I know a lot of people like their books and I wanted to see what their ideas looked like in practice.

This book was offered as part of a special program called Fiction Unboxed. You could actually pay on Kickstarter and watch them write this book in only 30 days. It was quite the project and turned out to be a success. After I read about The Dream Engine in the Fiction Unboxed recap, I wanted to try this story for myself.

Let me start by saying that I find Platt and Truant’s writing style to be very wordy and rambling, which can be useful for learning through non-fiction but I don’t enjoy that as much in a story. Also, I wasn’t totally in love with the story structure. I wanted Eila to jump right into the new world she discovered but instead, she spends a lot of time thinking about if she’s making the right choice and honestly just waffling. What I thought would be the first step into the bigger story, expecting her to use the quote-unquote “Dreaming” power around 25%, ended up being the climax at the very end of the book. So I wanted to skip a lot of the parts in the middle that were just building up to that moment.

But it is a fun twist on steampunk-with-magic, which some people call gaslamp to distinguish from more “scientific” or technological steampunk. The Dream Engine allows people to create anything they could imagine, even fantastical things like dragons, elves, and monsters. There’s a complex world history that Eila only gets hints of right now, and I wanted to learn more about it.

I also liked Eila (at least when she was taking action, not when she was sitting around whining about how hard everything was) and her friend, Cora. I admit that I was disappointed Cora wasn’t in the story more and I’m glad that she has a bigger role in the later books. Some of the other characters aren’t fleshed out as much, like I would have liked more time to see her actually get introduced to the people underground rather than just jumping ahead to when she already knew them.

If you skim the info dumping and armchair philosophy, it’s an entertaining book with a fresh world, and little hints of greater things to come. My hope is that later books in the series will pick up the pace a little and have some more action.


I'm an author, a blogger, and a nerd. I read and write fantasy.