Category: MG/YA paranormal
Series: Arkwell Academy #1
Publisher: Tor Teen
Book Source: Review copy (e-book) from the publisher through NetGalley
Sixteen-year-old Dusty Everhart breaks into houses late at night, but not because she’s a criminal. No, she’s a Nightmare.
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.
I have to admit, I had a little trouble with the initial premise of this book. I’ve always thought of Nightmares (in the mythical-being sense) as being, well, horses, not women. And the idea that Dusty has to literally sit on her subject’s chest seemed a bit… weird. Once I got over that, however, I found the book to be both humorous and somewhat suspenseful. It certainly kept me turning the pages!
The Nightmare Academy is many things: a paranormal fantasy, a school story, a mystery – there’s even a bit of romance. Arnett clearly had fun creating her magical system, drawing inspiration from legends and other YA fantasies alike, and weaving them into a more-or-less cohesive whole. (The governing system for magickind has certain similarities to Rowling’s system, for instance.)
The story is told in first person, which works particularly well for this sort of mystery. It also means Arnett is able to work in the inevitable info-dumps in believable ways. Dusty is half-human, and grew up in the ordinary world (sound familiar?); her powers awoke less than a year before the start of the book, and she was transferred to Arkwell Academy, a boarding school for magickind. She’s still learning about magic, the magickind world, and her own powers, which gives a convenient excuse for explication by teachers and even fellow students. (There’s one info-dump that goes on too long, but for the most part, the device works fairly well.)
Arnett has a pretty good grasp on teens and their relationships, especially when it comes to bullying, gossip, crushes, and teen rebellion. As for the mystery, while I was able to figure out one of the villains early on, I didn’t spot the main villain at all. (In retrospect, perhaps I should have.) There were some predictable events, but there were others I didn’t see coming, so the book was never boring; as I said, it kept me turning the pages.
Dusty, Eli, and Dusty’s roommate Selene (a siren who dresses as a tomboy to protest the sexual objectification of sirens) are engaging characters. Dusty has a believable mix of admirable traits and faults, and those faults lead her (naturally, and inevitably) into disaster. Some of the secondary characters are stereotyped more than a little, particularly Eli’s girlfriend Katerina and his roommate Lance. Since neither Lance nor Katerina is very nice to Dusty, and the story is told in her voice, the stereotyping is perhaps understandable. There’s some character development here, too; Dusty and to a lesser extent Eli and Selene all grow and mature as a result of their involvement in the mystery.
The Nightmare Academy isn’t great literature, but it’s a quick, easy, and ultimately fun book. I’d put it more on the borderline between MG and YA than firmly in the YA camp. (There is some kissing, and one scene where things almost go farther, but the overall feel is still closer to MG fiction.) There wasn’t anything here to totally fall in love with, but there’s not much to dislike, either. I enjoyed the book, and will probably read the sequel whenever it comes out.