Through Dreams So Dark (Rai Ascendant #1), by Angela Boord
Sergei’s mother sacrificed herself to get her family across the Iron Curtain. Now it’s Sergei’s turn to save her…even if he has to cross realities to do it.
Sergei is determined to put his broken family back together, no matter the danger.
Not-rats and bugs hiding in his walls, listening to his conversations? He can live with that. The shadowy government organization trying to dig encoded information out of his nightmares? He’ll play along to learn what they know about his mother.
If he has to destroy his college career, his love life, and the best friendship he’s ever had—with his roommate Cam—he’ll do that, too, if that’s what it takes. He’s the only one who believes his mother is still alive.
Nobody else needs to get hurt if he doesn’t tell them what he’s doing.
But however hard Sergei tries to keep his double life a secret, Cam still shows up to save him whenever he’s in trouble, like Cam has some kind of magical sixth sense—a sense that keeps them bonded together no matter what. And when Sergei finally breaks through his dreams into a world where monsters lurk and reality changes on a whim…where having magic carries a death sentence…the stakes of this game could be far higher than Sergei wants to pay. Now it’s not just his life on the line—he’s dragged people he cares about into danger with him.
He thought he could risk himself alone. But will his single-minded mission to find his mother be worth the price everyone he loves has to pay?
Stranger Things meets epic fantasy in this portal fantasy set in a world of ever-shifting conspiracy and quantum magic, where reality itself can’t be trusted, and family isn’t just about who you’re related to.
My Review (5 out of 5 )
"In a certain kingdom, in a certain land, there lived a boy who dreamed of snow and guns."
Through Dreams So Dark is the first novel in the Rai Ascendant series, a new portal fantasy proposal by Angela Boord, one of my favourite authors. An epic story with a big emotional component, with a cast of characters that you learn to love during the novel, especially with how well relationships are written.
We are going to be following the story of Sergei, who was only four when his family and he escaped from the Soviet Union; being his mother shot, without knowing if she survived or not.
They fleed to Illinois, assuming Sergei's mother is dead. Sergei doesn't accept this, as he believes she might still be alive, due to certain details that he observes; and due to the trauma he suffers, he's sent to a therapist where he's prescribed drugs that affect his memory and that makes him have some hallucinations with "non-rats" and "non-bugs".
"So she had dreams about swords. And lakes. And foggy forests and grasslands and men with swords fighting each other-just in vague flashes, like when lightning illuminated a dark room and allowed you to catch a glimpse of what was in it."
Cameron, his best friend, is worried about the effects of this treatment, something that makes him discover that the people in the "clinic" are using Sergei as a way to obtain information about the Lake, a sort of portal that allows you to travel to another world. With the company of his sister, Maddie, they enter the clinic, and get together transported into the other world through the Lake.
That's how they land into the Rai Deocracy, an alternative world where the Miroko are in a war against the Tarani; all due to their opposite visions on the use of magic (Tarani prosecutes all the magic users). Here, they will experience a journey motivated by the Lake, which has its own agenda, and where they will also try to know more about Sergei's mother's destiny.
"And that's how my fairy tale beings. No Baba Yaga in her chicken-leg house wanting to cook me up. No egg in a trunk holding Koschei's death inside it. No clever and steadfast Prince Ivan catching the firebird.
Just this dream I have mixed in with all the others, of a woman walking to me about a hockey jersey I'm not sure I ever owned and the sight of three drops of blood in a line like an ellipsis, waiting in the snow."
This book is a good example of Boord's main strength: writing credible relationships and characters that you can relate to. Most of the time, we are going to be following Sergei, Cameron, or Maddie.
Sergei is a character that is difficult to not appreciate. A working person who is trying to get a title while still accepting those "treatments" in order to gather info about what could have happened to his mother. A dreamer, and somebody that will sacrifice himself for the rest.
Cameron is his best friend, and it's kinda different, but still tries to take care of Sergei. If you could see a friendship definition, Cameron and Sergei's is the perfect one. As the brother of Maddie, he's overprotective of her.
Between Maddie and Sergei, a romantic relationship appears, in a really natural way; it doesn't feel forced at any point, and how both have their own struggles. Sergei is full of doubts, in part created due to his memory problems; and Maddie is his best friend's sister, another factor that makes the relationship difficult.
The Rai Deocracy is a prime example of how you can do excellent work of worldbuilding without needing big info dumps, as we are introduced to many aspects through the eyes of our characters. As there are many characters that belong to the Miroko or Tarani tribe, many of those small details get foreshadowed.
It also deserves a mention of how well-built the part of the novel that happens to be in our world is, as Boord has taken extreme care of the details (even small ones as the jargon are really refined), making it as close as it would be to 1988's Illinois.
This novel is a really chonk book, and it can be a little bit intimidating with its 893 pages; and honestly, it's a real slow-burn story: there is so much build-up that later gets used to deliver a huge payoff. While I understand that might not be for all people, I personally loved it.
Through Dreams So Dark is an amazing novel, a perfect combination between epicness and emotional aspects of fantasy. I can't wait to continue Sergei's story in the second book, because there are so many questions that I need to answer!
Angela Boord writes giant fantasy books that like to blend genres–from romance and historical to espionage and epic and beyond—and explore character in all its messy glory. Her debut book FORTUNE’S FOOL, a twisty, Renaissance-inspired historical fantasy, placed second in Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blogoff (SPFBO5) and was nominated for a Stabby in 2019. Angela lives in northern Mississippi with her husband and children, where she writes most of her books at the kitchen table surrounded by Nerf guns and Legos.