My rating: 3/5 Stars
Publisher: Tor Teen (March 2013)
Length: 367 pgs
Series: The Arkwell Academy (#1)
Genre: YA Fantasy/Paranormal Fiction
Format: Hardcover, checked out from my local library
Goodreads Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Dusty Everhart breaks into houses late at night, but not because she’s a criminal. No, she’s a Nightmare.Literally.
Being the only Nightmare at Arkwell Academy, a boarding school for magickind, and living in the shadow of her mother’s infamy, is hard enough. But when Dusty sneaks into Eli Booker’s house, things get a whole lot more complicated. He’s hot, which means sitting on his chest and invading his dreams couldn’t get much more embarrassing. But it does. Eli is dreaming of a murder.Then Eli’s dream comes true.Now Dusty has to follow the clues—both within Eli’s dreams and out of them—to stop the killer before more people turn up dead. And before the killer learns what she’s up to and marks her as the next target.
The Nightmare Affair was an unplanned read for me. I was perusing the shelves at my library and was drawn immediately to the gorgeous cover (purple is my second favorite color, and I loved the use of silhouettes and black and white contrast). I hadn’t heard anything about the book or read any reviews, so I got to experience the paranormal story free of any biases or expectations. What The Nightmare Affair delivered was a quirky story set in a magical boarding school that drew upon many standard fantasy tropes but also indulged in some creative world building.
The Nightmare Affair centers around protagonist Dusty (real name Destiny, but she can’t stand it) who is an actual Nightmare, a magical being who “feeds” off of the dreams of ordinary humans in order to survive and as a power source (the idea reminded me of succubi, but without the evil, seducing part). Dusty attends Arkwell Academy along with a plethora of other magical teens, ranging from wizards to sirens to mermaids. Unique to Dusty’s kind, readers get to witness her “dream feed” in various dream-scapes, which causes conflict when the dreams she starts inhabiting become premonitions of horrors to come, or of horrors past.
It took me a while to get around to reading The Nightmare Affair because initially I didn’t find it too original, as I read a lot of paranormal (it’s my favorite genre) and sometimes boarding school books can be a bit, well, cheesy. There were also a lot of noticeable similarities to the Harry Potter series, such as a trio of underage friends who are entrusted to save the magickind world, prejudice against “halfkinds” and ordinaries, a derogatory name for those who can’t do magic, “mules” (which reminded me of Squibs) and the ending climax reminded me a lot of how the action goes down in Sorcerer’s Stone (but I won’t say anymore, because I don’t want to spoil anything). These similarities may be irksome to some, but I wasn’t bothered by them too much.
The story really began to draw me in once I started seeing more of the world building, especially regarding the students at the school. It was fascinating learning the different “types” of magickind, and how they were classified into three categories, witchkind, naturekind, and darkkind. I really loved Dusty’s roommate Selene who seems to run a social justice crusade against the sexual objectification of sirens, due to their natural beauty. I was intrigued by the school janitor who’s a hag with a contraband addiction to sugar, and the clique-ish fairies who comprise the popular crowd. And I really liked Eli, the poor ordinary who gets dragged into the magickind world because its discovered that he shares a special affinity to enhance Dusty’s power through his dreams. I really liked Eli as a not-quite love interest for the female protagonist because he’s smart, shrewd, and hold his own among the magickind, employing his skills as a human to help solve the novel’s mysteries (he’s an aspiring detective, having learned a lot from his police officer father). Dusty and Eli make a great, not-too-obvious pairing.
Yet, there were some instances where I was less than impressed with the plot. Some of the characters were just so obviously sketchy, and more often than not I was able to tell right away which characters were suspicious or had some villainous involvement, and which clues or characters were red herrings. By the time the main mystery was being solved and revealed by the end of the book, I had to a point lost interest in the “whodunnit” aspect because it had become somewhat obvious, with rather flimsy reasoning (for example, I really wish there had been a better explanation as to how exactly The Will worked). Other times the dialogue leaned on the telling rather than showing side, particularly when it came to Dusty. She’s supposed to be unruly, rebellious, and sarcastic to a fault, but having her get in trouble literally every time she had an interaction with a teacher or authority figure from something snarky she blurted out became tiresome and predictable after a while. (However, as I write this I am already reading the sequel and I can confirm that the writing and plot does in fact improve). There’s also a weird sort of alomost-love-triangle which seemed a little rushed in gaining Dusty’s affections, but it wasn’t the worst love triangle situation I’ve read in YA.
Overall: The Nightmare Affair was fun to read, and it called upon a lot of interesting creatures from magical folklore and placed them in a enjoyable fairytale setting. However, the plot was just shy of being predictable and there was at times heavy borrowing from other YA paranormal series. I think this series has the potential to grow into something really good, and I’m certain I’ll be sticking it out and reading the next books!