3.75 Stars (rounded up)
Dreamland, by Nancy Bilyeau is a gorgeous historical mystery/thriller set in 1911 with a sprinkle of romance and sinister murders.
Synopsis: Peggy Batternberg, a member of one of the richest families in America, longs to be free of her controlling socially obssesed family but when her uncle shows up at the bookshop where she works and demands she return home with him, she has no choice but to obey.
During her journey and upon her arrival she learns her father died in debt, her mother is selling their home and the family are going on holiday to Coney Island at the request of Peggy’s sister’s (Lydia) soon to be mother-in law. The family insists that Peggy goes with them in order to help show a united front, Peggy refuses and is forced to accompany them anyway.
Soon after their arrival, Peggy falls in love with a small time artist, who also happens to be an immigrant in America – a man her family would not approve of. However, sinister occurences ruin this secret love and family holiday as multiple murders occur and the Batternberg secrets are laid bare.
How far can money and social status reach? Who is committing these awful crimes? And how is Peggy involved?
— Beautiful And Rich —
The Writing Style And Narrative. Nancy Bilyeau’s writing style is incredibly beautiful and rich, it efficiently draws you in and keeps you hooked. The descriptions used are gorgeous and immersive and the world is intricately woven, I couldn’t help but love it. The narrative perspective we have is that of Peggy’s, the main character, so we are only able to knowwhat she does, and it helps to maintain the mystery in the novel. It also adds another layer of mystery as Peggy slowly reveals things that occured in the past that now effects her relationships with people in the present, particularly Ben (her cousin) and Henry (her sister’s fiance), though Peggy has rocky relationship with the entire family, these two are the most significant. The narrativeallows for the murder mystery elemement to maintain some suspense throughout the book and maintain a level of intrigue that keeps you reading.
— Fun And Intriguing —
The Plot. So, the plot itself is a little inaccurate in terms of history, primarily the Dreamland fire having occured in May (I believe) and in the book it happens a few months after this, but it does not remove the enjoyment of the story and the Dreamland aspects. The plot itself is actually very interesting with Bilyeau exploring the divide of the social classes through her charaters and through the criminal justice system. A relationship is created between Peggy, our rich heiress, and Stefan, a poor pier side artist and Serbian immigrant, which allows an in depth exploration of social class structure, racism, and corruption – this was a wonderful addtion to the plot as it added a layer of sophistication to the story that I rather enjoyed.
The murder mystery aspect was also fun and interesting with a few potential suspects that, at the start of the story, makes it difficult to predict. However, as the story goes on you are quickly able to predict who is committing the crimes, personally I felt it was a little too obvious so the reveal wasn’t too shocking. On the contrary, I will admit that I was suprised at how they did it and what/who else was involved but overall there wasn’t much shock or suprise at the end.
The begininning and the end of the book had wonderful pacing, I was hooked from the start and loved how Peggy is whisked away to Coney Island. Similarly, the ending has a significant amount of action and suspense that creates a quicker pace that I enjoyed. The middle of the story did, at times, drag out a little for me and some elements I would have liked explored a little more, but on the whole the pacing was decent and allowed me to read it relatively easily.
Moreover, I also enjoyed how, as the story goes on, conflict between major and minor characters is created specifically in terms of Peggy and the Coney Island pier workers. Furthermore, the police element was interesting and well written with Bilyeau exploring the corruption and racism ingrained in the system, particularly during this time period. It was well written and shocking to see with Peggy’s naivety adding to the general horrific atmosphere.
— Complex And Well Crafted —
The Characters. Each character in the story is well developed and were complex and well-crafted but I will only talk about a few of them becuse the Batternberg family is relatively large!
Peggy. Peggy is determined to be independant from her family (though she intends to use her inheritance to do so) and cannot stand their uptight behaviour. She wants to be free from the social restraints that bind her family to a life of social politness and attemts to do so at every opportunity. However, since she has grown up in a high social class she is relatively naive about the real world and is shocked to see the true horrors the working class suffer from.
As an attempt to be independent, she goes to Coney Island’s Dreamland where she mmeets Stefan. She spends the day with him but hides the fact that she is a rich heiress. Eventually, however, he finds out but the relationship is quickly fixed and the two see each other on multiple occassions, though not without trouble as the police have their eyes on him. While I enjoyed reading about their dynamic and their differences, I felt that the love was that of the ‘insta-love’ type and I couldn’t get entirely on board with it, at times it felt more like an attempt at rebellion rather than a loving relationship (On Peggy’s part). But, I did love Stefan and his behaviour in the relationship and found the dynamic to be incredibly intriguing.
Stefan. An adorable, humble and gentlemanly artist, who is miles better than any of the Batternberg men. Stefan is clever, creative, peaceful and incredibly loyal to thos ehe cares about, and is selfless, particularly in his relationship with Peggy. He has a great dynamic with all of his friends/family and is just a decent person in general. His ending (and how his relationship with Peggy is at the end) was probably the thing that shocked me most but it was the perfect ending for many reasons.
Lydia. The pretty, quiet and conforming lady betrothed to Henry for the good of the family. Lydia was incredibly obedient to her mother and to Henry’s wishes in the book but as the story goes on we get to see more and more of her personality and it was brilliant. I loved Lydia’s character by the end and her independence and goas made her arc one of the most significant ones.
Henry. Oh how I hated this character. He had no redeeming qulities, was obseesed with female purity, was extremely controlling and just overall irritating. Henry’s character was a source of hatred and conflict throughout the novel and his ending was bitersweet, on one hand it was what he deserved but on the other he deserved so much more than what he got and got so much more than he deserved. Confusing I know, but once you read it you will see what I mean.
Ben. Ben kind of creeped me out, while simultaneously managed to be charming at times. Overall, I didn’t love his character he was questionable and as bad as all the other Batterberg men but was probably a little more redeemable than some of them.
— Interesting And Lovely —
Overall. The story was an Interesting and lovely one with gorgeous detail, beautiful writing and wonderful characters that I loved and hated. The mystery was fun, despite the predictability, and the pacing is mostly decent. The themes are the true gold of this story with a significant focus on society, class, corruption, sexism and racism and it made the story all the more intriguing.
If you love historical fiction and mystery then you will love this!
Content Warning: Violence (broad spectrum both direct and indirect), murder, implied/very brief discussion of rape, implied and brief/ non-explicit mentions of incest (not sex, between cousins), trauma, abuse.
*I received an eARC of #Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau from #Netgalley @Endeavour_Media in exchange for an honest review*.