“Dream of the Serpent” by Alan Ryker is the January novel release from DarkFuse and it appeared to have all of the normal elements of a DarkFuse novel heading into the story. Alan Ryker is an author that I have some familiarity with and whose work I have enjoyed to this point. The book also sports a very good cover and the description of the story is along the lines of what I would expect from a DarkFuse book. Needless to say, I was eager to dive into the novel.
Cody Miller has a better life and a brighter future than he could have ever expected. Not only did he meet the woman of his dreams and shares a deep and lasting love with her, he is guaranteed a lucrative job in corporate finance once he finishes his MBA in her father’s firm. The two are due to be married and begin their life together. This is much more than he would have expected given his firmly blue-collar background. Still, until this new life begins after graduation, Cody must work for a living and toils away in a restaurant. His life and his future are shattered one night when he is distracted by a call from his fiancée and he forgets to turn off the fryer that he is cleaning. Cody finds himself badly burned in the ensuing fire and fighting for his life.
Then everything changes once more and Cody finds his life back on track again even though his fiancée has gone missing. Still, he is unable to shake a sense that things are not as they seem, or should be, and he is plagued by seemingly conflicting memories. As he begins to search for answers to his own confused memory as well as his fiancée’s disappearance, he uncovers a conspiracy headed by an entity knows as Ouroboros that he never could have imagined and which will change his life once again.
“Dream of the Serpent” is a difficult book to define. It is not really a horror story although it does have many elements of a horror novel. At its heart, “Dream of the Serpent” is a love story that can at times be touching but it is by no means a romance. Rather, I would say that the novel is more of a dark, urban fantasy that makes the reader uneasy rather than terrified. Ryker does a great job of suddenly switching gears in the story so that the reader experiences some of the confusion that Cody is feeling when his life, and the novel, takes a sudden turn. This turn of events actually surprised me a little, which is very difficult to do, and it took me a little while to get my bearings again. It almost seemed at one point that the author was losing control of the story but then it slowly came back together again and I could recognize the mastery of the narrative in keeping me guessing just as Cody was trying to piece together the confused information his brain was feeding him.
The strength of “Dream of the Serpent” lies with its characters. Cody is a character that I was quick to relate with and I felt many of the same emotions that he must have been feeling as the story progressed. It would be easy for him to take the easy path to a good life but he remains true to his roots and that made him all the more powerful. Even his fiancée, Madison, could have easily been written as a spoiled rich girl but Ryker gives her a depth of character so that the reader can easily sympathize and cheer for her as well. I was surprised at the tone, as well as the events of the story, but I guess that I really should not have been. Like in his novella “Nightmare Man,” Ryker again crafts a story in which the characters are more than just cardboard characters but are beings in their own right such as one would expect to be living next door. By the end of the novel, I genuinely cared about what was happening to Cody and Madison all the way to the heart wrenching conclusion. Sometimes visceral enough to make me cringe and sometimes touching enough to tug on at my heartstrings, “Dream of the Serpent” is a unique novel that captures human emotion and sends the reader on an emotional rollercoaster that is sure to linger long after the final word is read.
I would like to give a special thank you to DarkFuse and NetGalley for this advanced reading copy. “Dream of the Serpent” will be available from DarkFuse in January and is now available for preorder.