Goodreads: The Nightmare Thief
Series: Nightmare Thief #1
Age Category: Middle Grade
Published: January 2021
Maren Partridge loves working in her family’s dream shop where she can hand-craft any dream imaginable. The shop has only one rule. Dreams cannot be given to a person without their consent. Maren has no problem with this—until her sister, Hallie, has an accident that leaves her in a coma. Maren’s certain she can cure Hallie with a few well-chosen dreams. And when no one is watching, she slips her a flying dream.
But a strange new customer from the shop has been following Maren and knows what she did. Now she’s laid the perfect trap to blackmail Maren into creating custom nightmares for a dark and terrible purpose. As Maren gets drawn further into the sinister scheme, she must make a choice: to protect her family or to protect the town from her family’s magic.
The Nightmare Thief seemed, on the surface, like just my kind of book. A girl with dream magic who ends up creating nightmares for a sinister woman out for revenge? Perfect. Unfortunately, however, I found the worldbuilding and the characterization to be lacking. And no book can rely solely on its premise. So while The Nightmare Thief lured me in with its summary, I ultimately found the experience lackluster.
The delight of many a fantasy is not only the plot, but also the world. I was excited to learn about what appears to be a contemporary American society, complete with regular shops and the internet, that coexists with small types of magic: the ability to send a letter to its recipient at once, a talent for gardening, the creation of singing and sparkling novelty toys. However, I quickly realized that my expectations would remain unfulfilled. The book has very little interest in exploring the different types of magic, how they work, how they interact, and how they are received. Rather, the book name drops a few types of magic, then quickly focuses on the major plot point: a suspicious-looking woman keen to purchase nightmares in bulk.
Sadly, however, the plot is not all that gripping. It is immediately obvious that this evil-looking woman is an old resident out for revenge, and that she is using dream magic to chase people out of town. Yet no one seems to be aware of her nefarious plot, or to care that all the charming magical shops are being transformed into wicked emporiums. Only Maren starts to grasp the overall plan, and she decides her best course of action is to do whatever the villain wants, in the name of protecting not her family (as the book summary states) but rather herself. Because the punishment for sneaking people dreams without consent is never to be allowed in her family’s dream shop again. And apparently sacrificing the whole town is worth being able to go into the shop.
One might hope that the characterization would save the book at this point. If Maren were really sympathetic and the characters all drawn compellingly, the reading experience might have been worth it. Alas, however, Maren is barely fleshed out. Readers basically know that that she loves her sister and she sometimes takes tap dance lessons, and those seem to be her major character traits. She is also having friendship troubles (because this is a middle grade book, after all) because her best friend is hanging out with another boy who is mean to her. But that is all glossed over quickly in the name of recruiting her friend to try to help her defeat the villain. Her friend pretty much has zero personality, though readers know his grandfather is ill and his parents are not together. Indeed, the attempts at creating characters in this book seems to boil down in most cases to associating each person with one or two random tidbits–she dances, he visits his ailing grandfather, and so on. I could not truly describe any of the characters’ personalities.
The Nightmare Thief has plenty of potential–magic shops! vengeful citizens! talking birds! Ultimately, however, the book seems to rely primarily on its premise to capture readers, and barely pays attention to worldbuilding or characterization. Though a sequel is promised, I simply do not care enough to read it.