Fifteen-year-old Londoner Fern is about to uncover a place that she could not have imagined in all her wildest dreams. Annwn is the dream mirror of our world, a place where Dreamers walk in their slumber, their dreams playing out all around them. An enchanted, mysterious place that feeds our own world – as without dreams, without a place where our imaginations and minds can be nourished, what kind of humans would we be?
But Annwn is a place as full of dangers as it is wonders: it is a place where dreams can kill you. Annwn and its Dreamers are protected by an ancient order known as the Knights – and when Fern’s hated twin Ollie is chosen to join their ranks, Fern will have to do whatever she can to prove she is one of them too.
But the world Fern discovers in Annwn, in this dream mirror of her London, is a fragile one, threatened by vicious nightmares. Nightmares that are harder and harder for the Knights to defeat. Something dark is jeopardising the peace and stability of Annwn, something that must be rooted out at all costs. And gradually, Fern realises that the danger lurking inside our sleep is more insidious and terrifying than any nightmare. Because if you can influence someone’s dreams, you can control their thoughts …
Violence, Death, Physical Assault/Bullying.
Them’s fighting talk, Fern, I think, delirious with fear. Now, how are you going to back it up?Holly Race, Midnight Twins
Midnight Twins is a London-set Arthurian Retelling which mixes Celtic mythology with modern politics (and I’m sorry if I’ve made it sound really boring, because I can promise – it is the exact opposite.) It’s a heady mix, with our first-person protagonist: Fern King. Unlikeable, sarcastic, outcast; it’s clear from the opening pages that King’s behaviour is a defence weapon. You don’t let people in, they can’t hurt you. But what if you can’t avoid the person who hurt you the most? What if you live with them? What if they’re your twin? Ollie King is a great foil for Fern. He’s charming, charismatic, adept at fitting in – you know, all the things his sister is not. It also helps that he looks ‘normal’, whilst Fern has white skin, white hair, and bright red eyes, and after Ollie’s cruellest betrayal, a burn scar across her face.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I bloody love a YA Romance. Twilight was my jam (although I appreciate this is a bad example to use off the bat) and when I read To All The Boys I Loved Before I wept. (Really.) But the total consistency of genuine platonic relationships in this YA is just so refreshing. No love triangles, no ‘breathes I didn’t know I was holding’, just the honest betrayal of two siblings who’ve hurt each other. (Though, arguably, some more than others). And as their sibling rivalry grows into something else, I was hooked on the what-ifs. Because so many of my expectations were subverted, it meant I couldn’t guess how their relationship would mend itself; or if it ever would.
That’s not to say the whole narrative is unpredictable. There is one thing (which I won’t spoil) which I text a friend to say, ‘I think this is going to happen, because of my evidence exhibits A. B. and C.’ and then felt totally vindicated when that’s exactly what happened. A lot of the story is Fern and Ollie learning about the world of Annwn, AKA, the dream world scape of London, Tintagel and a hundred other places, and their powers. But if you love books that have an abundance of training montages, I’d recommend this book for you. My main criticisms might seem kind of ‘nit-picky’ but, that’s just who I am as a reader: the mystery surrounding the murder of Una King does take a back seat any time it’s convenient to forget about it. And then only rears it’s head again when relied upon for conflict. For example, Fern finds out about Annwn after receiving ominous texts from the person claiming to have killed her mother (Una, if that was unclear). But doesn’t tell anyone, and it doesn’t come up again until 300ish pages in. Equally, Fern and Ollie switch between being smart enough to work out the complicated puzzles and clues their mother has left for them, and not remembering clearly signalled answers. But this book doesn’t claim to be a murder mystery, so I can’t really fault it for that.
Now this is an adaptation of the traditional Arthurian narrative. Arthur, whilst a strong king and an iconic symbol, is actually a stern warning to Squires studying in Annwn, which I thought was really interesting. Merlin isn’t a gentle old man with magic, he’s a bone-clad Fae who looks like he wants to eat you. And Morrigan isn’t an ancient queen or crow, they’re creepy ‘bird-like’ things that can drain you of emotion, creativity and empathy – which is fun. I actually enjoyed this retelling a lot because of these new takes, and I think it lends itself to readers who enjoy The Cruel Prince, Sawkill Girls, and other YA Fantasies which mix Urban Settings and Modernity, with Ancient Magic and Tradition. Word of warning though, your favourite characters might not make it. There are quite a few character deaths in this, and whilst not on a Game of Thrones level, worth noting. I gave it 4 stars overall, and like I said, I really enjoyed it.
If you’d like to get your hands on a copy of Midnight Twins, click the link. There’s a sequel that has just been released called A Gathering Midnight, and I’m excited to get my hands on a copy of that one as well.