[Book Review] Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles // the most decadent, sumptuous, elaborate book I’ve read all year

It’s been months. Months. Since I read this book. I read my ARC in April of this year. And I still haven’t been able to get it out of my mind.

Kallia and Demarco live rent-free in my head and I am totally, completely, 100% okay with that.

When I first heard about this book last year, I was sold. It was pitched as having elements of Phantom of the Opera, Moulin Rouge, and a dash of The Night Circus – plus it would feature a kick-ass female magician with a no-holds-barred approach to magic. I was so freaking ready.

Where Dreams Descend utterly surpassed all my expectations and left me hungry for more! Read on to find out why.

Get this book here!

Title: Where Dreams Descend

Author: Janella Angeles

Age Range: Young Adult

Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Rating: Highly Recommended

Summary:

In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.

As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.

The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost

The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told

The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide

Content warnings: Sexism, emotional abuse, character death

☕ Quotes

“Make no mistake, I know I don’t have to prove a single thing to them. What matters most is what I prove to myself. Giving up would be an insult to everything I know I’m capable of. And I’ve already come this far.”

“Strange how applause was just noise, when you were all alone.”

“It was strange to no longer feel those thorns of lies, coursing through her with excuses. Freer, lighter. Even he appeared just as struck by it, though it was far from the first honest conversation they’d ever had. Just the first without those last walls. The tallest, most impenetrable ones that were never built to fall, but had done so anyway.”

Plot

Magician Kallia has spent all of her life living with and completely under the thrall of Jack, who taught her all she knows about magic and insists on keeping her safe from the dangers of the outside world. But when she discovers that he’s been controlling her all this time, she finally breaks free and seeks to make a name for herself. She decides to do this by joining a magic contest, but finds herself smack-dab in the middle of a dangerous plot with magicians going missing one by one. Kallia must then find out if Jack has anything to do with this mystery, all while hiding her growing feelings for judge Demarco, an enigmatic magician with a hidden past.

Perhaps the one drawback of this book that I have is that the pace is incredibly slow. The book really takes its sweet time establishing what the universe is like, the rules of magic, how Kallia joins the competition, the rules of the competition, etc. But while I understand how some people might find that off-putting, I have to say that I’m not one of those, as I think that it neatly sets the stage (hah – pun intended) for the rest of the book.

A thing that I really appreciate in books (especially science-fiction and fantasy books) is when the author can weave several subplots into one tight narrative. And Janella was more than able to do that in this book. Not only did we get the main story of the magician contest, we also got several other threads that added to, but did not distract from, the biggest narrative. We got to see Kallia making friends, Kallia and Demarco wrestling with their feelings for each other, and Kallia struggling to free herself from Jack’s grip. All of this tells me that Janella Angeles is an author talented enough to manage multiple subplots and mesh it all together into a compelling, cohesive story.

I was left excited to turn the page and finish the story, and the ending had me wanting more now.

Writing

Janella Angeles was absolutely right to use two musicals as the major inspiration for Where Dreams Descend, because her writing is absolutely lyrical.

The thing about writing this sort of book is that one really needs to have a poetic, very lush style of writing to make work. And my God, does Janella have that in spades. As a book featuring a magical contest, you can bet that every description of the magic performed, from the stage setting to the performers’ costumes to the details of the trick itself, are described with meticulous, loving detail. This managed to really create a picture in my mind’s eye of what the contest must have looked like, and deeply enhanced my reading experience.

In short, I need a movie adaptation of this book, bad.

Can you imagine a Where Dreams Descend movie where we get to see Kallia’s red gowns, surrounded by the fire that she’s summoned? Or her dancing with Demarco? Or Kallia and the circus performers? I would honestly die.

Another thing I really adored about the writing of this book is how each scene seems just carefully crafted and chosen to wring the most emotion out of the reader. I felt everything that Janella wanted me to feel: anger and frustration with Jack, Kallia’s desire for freedom, the headiness of the attraction between Kallia and Demarco, Kallia’s anger, the fear and terror everyone experienced when the magicians start disappearing one by one. I couldn’t stop turning the pages. I was just that eager to find out what happened next. But at the same time, every time Kallia had a moment with someone, I wanted to put down the book and just scream with excitement and feel things.

Characters

I know I’ve been gushing a lot about this book so far but I truly believe that the true strength of Where Dreams Descend lies in its characters.

Let me start with my queen Kallia. She is such a strong character. I honestly live for female characters who are arrogant, brash, reckless, devil-may-care, confident, and completely and totally assured of their skill and prowess. In short, I love it when female protagonists are characterized the way male protagonists usually are, and – most importantly – are not punished for it. Kallia manages to be exactly what I need in a female protagonist while stile complex and flawed in her own way. She’s strong and powerful and owns the journey she’s on to discover her magic, and at the same time she’s soft and feminine and open to her feelings. We stan heroines like this!

The relationships Kallia develops are all so well-written, unique, and multi-layered as well. Needless to say, I deeply enjoyed her and Aaros’s friendship – let the Church say amen for men and women being platonic friends! Aaros is a thief that she befriends and makes her assistant (he even calls her Boss! Cue me squealing!) and he becomes the person she trusts the most as she moves through the competition. I absolutely adored Aaros’s chaotic good personality and how quickly he becomes devoted to Kallia, and just how devoted Kallia also becomes to him in return.

I also really loved the friendships Kallia develops with the women of the Conquering Circus, and how they band together to help her put on an amazing show. The world of Where Dreams Descend is quite a sexist one, where women are discouraged from practicing magic. Despite that, Kallia and the Conquering Circus set out to prove that they can and they will do magic, and look damn fine while doing it! As an added bonus, they become friends and allies – not a single catfight in sight. I truly love it when women stand together. 💖

And holy moly, the developing romance between Kallia and Demarco was just – chef kiss. It absolutely helps that these two have that dynamic where one character is completely inappropriate and full of innuendos and the other is straight-laced and has a stiff upper lip and tries not to let the other character know that they’re pretty flustered. This is one of my absolute favorite OTP tropes of all time and Janella wrote it beautifully.

☕ Overall ☕

Where Dreams Descend takes the best things from several well-loved classics but still manages to be a completely unique book on its own, providing a fresh spin to a familiar story and making its readers fall in love with a highly dynamic cast of characters. Utilizing incredibly poetic and ornate language, this book is the literary equivalent of the richest, most decadent red velvet cheesecake you’ve ever eaten, and I can’t recommend it enough!

What do you think?

☕ Have you read Where Dreams Descend? What did you think? If not, are you excited for its release?
☕ Do you like books that make use of really vivid, descriptive writing?
☕ What are some of your favorite musicals that you think could serve as inspiration for books?

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14 thoughts on “[Book Review] Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles // the most decadent, sumptuous, elaborate book I’ve read all year

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