Chilling, dark fantasy with a heavy dose of Sherlock Holmes in this new series of twisty mysteries in fantasy worlds.
Pale moths haunt an icy frontier. Beneath the shadow of a drowned death god, a frozen body is unearthed from the snow.
Investigators arrive to a superstitious island to solve a brutal crime. Among them is a lowly slave desperate to prove her worth and a soldier with dark dreams. Neither are prepared for what they find.
Death City is a strange and violent frontier, and no one who survives comes back clean. First though, Thora and Diem must survive.
Welcome to the Red Kingdom.
The Red Kingdom is a new series of dark mysteries in fantasy worlds that delve into a land of vicious crimes, strange lore and Purge House zealots.
I went into this book completely blind, but it took me exactly one page to realise that this book would just click for me on every single level. These days, it’s rare for me to get so sucked into a story that I simply lose track of time, but Dream of Death City accomplished exactly that and completely entranced me from the very first page.
Welcome to the Red Kingdom, a brutal and dark fantasy world where your caste decides your fate in life. The strict Red Reform Laws ensure that the wealthy Sun-Nobles keep thriving off the poor, while the lowly Dust-Caste slaves suffer and remain oppressed. Anyone even thinking of stepping out of line will be swiftly and brutally punished by the Purge House’s Red Warriors, but that doesn’t stop Dust-Caste slave Thora from daring to dream of a better life for herself.
When a young Sun-Noble daughter disappears from her tower in Death City, Thora seizes upon the chance to improve her lot in life and convinces Investigation House to put her on the case as assistant-investigator. Along with the recently demoted Low-Investigator Diem Lakein, she is sent off to the wild, icy Thousand Island Frontier. Neither are prepared for what they find in the strange Death City, though, and they must do everything in their power to survive the dangerous web of conspiracies that they quickly find themselves entangled in.
I am absolutely floored by the depth and breadth of the world-building in this novel. As someone who struggles to visualise while reading, it’s rare for me to have a fully immersive reading experience. So imagine my wonder and excitement when I opened this book and discovered P.J. Nwosu’s incredible ability to transport me into her world. From the peculiar speech patterns in the dialogue, to the vivid and evocative descriptions of the uncanny settings, to the fascinating death-worshipping culture with its elusive magic, and finally to the all-encompassing oppression of the strict rules upholding this hierarchical society; it all just comes together into a hauntingly mesmerising story. The themes of corruption, oppression, sexism, and religious zealotry are also beautifully woven into the narrative and the messaging never feels on the nose. The world-building bleeds through into every aspect of the story, which creates a unique flair that will completely entrance you.
But that’s not where these authors’ talents end, because the character work was also simply outstanding. Diem and Thora are incredibly compelling characters to follow, because they both dare to dream of a better life in a world where dreaming could result in death.
This is not the story of heroes or rulers, but the story of scarred, flawed, and honestly just average citizens trying to survive in a harsh and restrictive world. Both of them are haunted by their dark and mysterious pasts, which adds a captivating level of complexity and suspense to their stories. And even though we quickly learn that they have both done less than savoury things in order to survive, you can’t help but fall in love with them.
Thora’s journey was especially gripping to me, as we see this seemingly demure slave trying to gain a sense of agency and create something for her own in a world that is trying to break her down. She might appear compliant on the outside, but when you get a peek inside her mind, you realise that she’s a force to be reckoned with. Diem is also a fascinating character in his own right though. As his past starts catching up to him, we slowly start to learn about his deepest regrets and fears, which makes for some incredibly compelling character work.
The character development throughout the story was so well done and I loved seeing how these characters’ individual journeys played into the overarching story. Also, it was a joy to see the slow build-up of trust and love between Thora and Diem. Their relationship is unexpected, complex, and bittersweet, but I absolutely adored it.
Finally, throw in a riveting mystery plot with lots of jaw-dropping twists and turns and a satisfying resolution, and the whole picture is complete. I am completely satisfied with this entire story, but still, I am left hungering for more (in the best way possible). These are exactly the types of reading experiences that I am always on the hunt for, making this an instant new favourite for me.
If you enjoy dark fantasy stories with rich world-building, compelling characters, riveting mysteries, strange and macabre settings, thought-provoking themes, and incredibly immersive and unique prose, then Dream of Death City is the book for you. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
About the author of the review
Hi! I’m Esmay, a 20-year-old bookworm from the Netherlands. My main hobbies are reading books, talking about books, reviewing books, and watching videos of people talking about books. Fantasy is my favourite genre, but I will honestly read anything if the premise intrigues me. Also, over the past year, I’ve become a huge (SFF) indie/self-pub enthusiast and it’s been a wonderful experience to discover all the hidden gems. I’m forever exploring stranger worlds
PJ Nwosu writes dark mysteries in epic fantasy worlds. She loves reading gritty detective and fantasy novels, and is obsessed with learning about strange, creepy tales from history.
PJ Nwosu tells twisty, dark stories against epic fantasy backdrops, and loves all things memento mori. She lives by the sea in Australia with her husband and black cat.