Until fairly recently I hadn’t realised that Tony Ballantyne was releasing a new novel. I’d read Twisted Metal a few years back on its release and very much enjoyed his depiction of a robot only society and its workings. I never did get around to the sequel, Blood and Iron, instead deciding to patiently await the completion of the Penrose trilogy before diving in further. However, due to a variety of personal factors the final novel was delayed, and news on his next novel – whatever it was – dried up. And then I saw the cover for Dream London, done by the unmistakable hand of Joey Hi-Fi – that in itself was enough to draw me in. And then I read the synopsis…
First off let me say that Dream London is one of those books that just gets hold of you and drags you into its world. There isn’t any other way to describe it, and even that barely communicates just how involved you become once you start turning the pages and walking the streets of this – quite frankly – unique and wondrous city. Above all else, that’s the one thing that has stuck with me after coming away from Dream London. Yes, the story, characters, and general weirdness of this novel all add up to make it one hell of a read, but it’s the setting that is its greatest achievement.
Ballantyne makes many references to London’s landmarks throughout the novel, but whether you know them or not hardly matters as they’re far from normal in the streets of Dream London. Things are all over the show – and that’s very much part of the charm. While initially this seems to be complete fantasy, there is a hint underneath it all to suggest that isn’t quite the case. In fact, one of the characters says as much during the course of events, and it’s these odd comments here and there that gives Dream London its depth, taking it from being a straight urban fantasy to something more.
Much like the geography employed in Dream London, the characters too are weird and wonderful. Jim ‘James’ Wedderburn is our main protagonist, and the person who we follow throughout. He’s not so much a hero – or anti-hero – he just is who he is. While it’s clear he’s fleshed out when we first meet him, the nature of Dream London means that we just don’t know quite whether he’ll do what’s expected – after all, Dream London changes people.The secondary characters are all well portrayed, fitting their roles nicely, with some – like the dandy, Alan – more memorable than others. Either way, the cast Ballantyne has on show really do work well together to bring the novel to life.
I thoroughly enjoyed Dream London, with the plot taking twists and turns in unexpected and strange ways. I often found my head hurting with all the changes and general weirdness that is abound within the pages, but by allowing myself to be carried along on the ride it all just worked. Dream London is a most refreshing and different novel, and one I heartily recommend.