by Queenie Chan
published by Tokyopop; $19.99 US
Queenie Chan‘s atmospheric boarding school mystery The Dreaming has been reprinted in a single-volume bind-up of the three previous books. This re-release puts a new edition of the story on the shelves while the upcoming movie is being funded and entering production.
Regardless of the motives, this single-volume edition is a superior way to read this suspense-filled tale. (And the original intent of the author; the publisher requested it be released in three separate books, which required some editing and rewriting.) When the series was coming out three-four years ago, I gave up before the end, since I thought the atmosphere, while elegantly portrayed and revealed, was taking precedence over finding out what was going on, which is what I really wanted. I’m glad I finally got a chance to find out what happened.
In The Dreaming, twin sisters move to a remote boarding school in the middle of the Australian bush. Their aunt is the headmistress, but after showing them around, she leaves. The girls are told they must pretend to only be sisters, not twins, the first indication everything is not what it seems. You’ve likely seen similar stories before, if you’ve ever read anything featuring a reputable-but-weird boarding school, but Chan does an excellent job creating the needed air of spookiness.
The teens don’t know if they can trust the authority figures, the sisters start growing apart, and there are mysterious voices and visions. Silly midnight seances and other games mean something more in a dark wilderness, while dreams seem prophetic or revelatory of historical mysteries and memories. The Gothic mood is the strength of the piece, backed up by the Australian setting. Chan’s familiar with the area, which allows her a comfort level with the art, while it seems unusual and remote to the American reader. The dreamscapes and historical costuming are particularly visually attractive and worth lingering over. By putting it all under one cover, there’s no delay in finding out what happens and who’s responsible, just a lengthy escape into a different world.
On the other hand, the pacing can be very uneven, and I thought the conclusion was a bit muddled. It perhaps attempts too much, trying to weave together Aborigine folklore (with which liberties have been taken, apparently), mysticism, madness stemming from unspoken family secrets, and the implied debate over how far someone should go to save their life. The aunt never reappears, which seems a strange omission, and some of the characters are simple plot devices. Some also talk in exposition a bit too much. I still think the first section, the original book one, is the strongest, but then, it’s easier to set up a unusual, moody situation than to resolve it successfully. The book is described as “Drama/Horror”, but Mystery/Fantasy seems more accurate.
New in this volume are eight color pages, containing five figure illustrations; a new short story showing what happened to the school building; and an interview with Queenie Chan about her background and influences. Also, the size of the book is slightly larger than the usual manga digest. The size increase makes the text very easy to read, as the lettering has gotten bigger, and the faces are more prominent. The notes from the original first volume, about Chan’s inspirations and the country of Australia, are included, but not the paper dolls she created. Short bonus strips from the second and third volumes are also reprinted, although strangely, they start with “part two”.
Some quibbles: I miss the original cover of the first volume, with its spooky shadow against a brightly lit window that should be reassuring but somehow is creepier. Instead, we get a more generic piece with various head shots and an inappropriately bright dress. Speaking of covers, there’s a noticeable TM trademark designation on the cover. (I wonder if DC Comics has any interest in that?) Plus, it would have been nice, given the 600-page length, if this book had been in hardcover, the way the Dramacon Collection was. Although sturdy, I feared for the integrity of the binding while I was reading the middle section.