The Dream Runners by Shveta Thakrar. HarperCollins, 2022. 9780062894687
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3.5
What did you like about the book? The hidden realm of Nagalok, lying underneath the world we know, has become a haven for the immortal serpentine nagas who have taken refuge there from the brutal eagle-like garudas. To quell their desire to travel back to the mortal world, the naga buy dreams to entertain themselves while staying hidden. Dream runners collect these wisps by traveling to Earth and harvesting them from mortals while they sleep. To do this, runners must be deprived of all emotion, memory, and the ability to dream themselves. Enter Tanvi and Venkat: The Dream Runner and the Dream Smith. Naturally, the two would only interact when Tanvi and the rest of the runners trade their dreams with Venkat, who determines the price based on the quality of the dream. But then the impossible happens: Tanvi starts to dream. Her memories of her old life start returning, and in a panic, she turns to Venkat, the one person who might know what to do. When they search for a cause, a terrible conspiracy reveals itself, one that could unravel Nagalok and the nagas’ lives entirely. To stop this, Tanvi and Venkat must journey in search of the truth and prevent catastrophe from ravishing their world.
Shveta’s writing shines strongest in her expansive world building. Her creativity guides readers through the different species of characters, the fascinating creatures, and detailed and wondrous environments. The verses of in-story myth and the contributions of Hindu mythology are exciting to read about as you piece together how it ties into the story. All of this is done through her lush and poetic writing style that engages all five senses with colors, spices, and warmth. You can really feel yourself in the world of Nagalok.
Anything you didn’t like about it? The story was hard to get into, mostly because of Tanvi’s point of view. Up until at least a ¼ of the book, you don’t fully understand her goals and thus can’t connect with her emotionally. All you know is that she desperately wants a specific bracelet, but she never elaborates why until later. Although the lush writing is beautiful and reads like poetry, it also dragged the beginning for so long that the main dramatic conflict happens later than it should (about one-third of the way into the book). Once the conflict was established and Tanvi’s motives made clearer, the pace picked up but still had issues.
To whom would you recommend this book? Teens who want more mythology-based fantasy books. Sisters of the Snake by Sarena & Sasha Nanua and We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal are also good South Asian and Middle Eastern fantasy books. I do recommend Star Daughter by the same author, her first South-Asian/Hindu mythology-inspired fantasy.
Who should buy this book? High schools and public libraries
Where would you shelve it? Teen fiction/Teen fantasy
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Laila Carter, Cheltenham Township Library System, Elkins Park, PA
Date of review: September 25, 2022
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