In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.
As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.
The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost
The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told
The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide
Where Dreams Descend is the startling and romantic first book in Janella Angeles’ debut Kingdom of Cards fantasy duology where magic is both celebrated and feared, and no heart is left unscathed.
Trigger warnings: emotional abuse and gaslighting (challenged).
I have turned into that person that will bite other reviewers in order to protect Kallia. An over reaction perhaps? ABSOLUTELY. Let’s not all act like I don’t have a crush on Kallia. Let’s start there. She doesn’t need these boys. She needs a sexy fireating circus girl! Anyways on to the review and all that jazz.
First I would like to establish something. This is published as a Young Adult novel. I feel this book is miscategorized. This is most accurately described as a New Adult. The writing does not feel like a Young Adult novel. It’s much more mature than I expected. The maturity level of the writing and the characters. The themes. It doesn’t have the aspects that Young Adult uses. Young Adult is not only demographic but purpose. This has none of what Young Adult is meant to do. There’s nothing here that reads like a Young Adult novel.
Where Dreams Descend starts with gambling hell, a girl descending from a chandelier, and a performance of magic and spectacle. Inspired by Moulin Rouge and Phantom of the Opera, Where Dreams Descend takes glamour and decadence and fuses it into every aspect of the novel. The prose, the characters, each and every point and description made in this book takes on the magic of those films and creates a world entirely on its own.
Beneath the decadence, Angeles tells us something of the glamour and lushness of a magic show. She’s discussing the glamour and opulence men often expect women to be placed in and transforms it into the question ‘what if that glamorous woman you think so vain is actually an intelligent tactician clamouring for equality in a world that has given her nothing but misogyny and cages due to her marginalized place in society?’
The sparkles, the lush words, and the decadence all do something for the story. They challenge our perceptions of women in careers, asking a sacrifice of their feminism. What is that sacrifice for? To be praised by a sexist society. This is doubly so for WOC in these positions. Kallia is one such woman, vying for her right to be a powerful magician recognized for her talent. She does not sacrifice her love of clothing and spectacle just because she is feminist and assertive. She infuses it into her existence as a showgirl.
She reminds me of the determination, alpha attitude, and feminism of Cardi B.
Janella transforms the misogynistic perceptions of showgirls and gives us a new perspective. One that embraces the beauty of women and fucks off with men’s misogynistic idea that women exhibiting gorgeous clothing are inherently silly little girls.
Kallia is the sight to see for men that go for a night of leisure at Hellfire House. She wants more, though. She wants what Jack, the master of Hellfire House, does not want her to have. The power and freedom of a male magician.
Jack, a prince of dark deeds and underground sins, has taught all Kallia knows about power and about magic. Every time she acquires a new magic trick he would give her a pouch of seeds for her to grow in a greenhouse, where she cares and loves on the flowers she dearly loves.
Away from Jack’s power and command, Kallia escapes to Glorian to compete in a show of magicians. As a woman and a magician, the judges are surprised that she would have the gall to even consider applying. But still, some judges let her compete. Her show stops them in their tracks.
As Jack finds his way into the mirrors of Kallia’s dreams and tries to insert himself between her and a potential romance, magicians start to go missing. Terrors in Glorian occur like the Phantom enacting his revenge on the vain showmen of the opera house. Angeles creates a pacing and a plot that calls forth the operas and musicals she is inspired by.
Jack is representative of the emotional abuse that many women go through. He is not painted as a love interest but instead written in the way that abuse often occurs. Abuse includes things like gaslighting and manipulation, both of which Jack inflicts on Kallia. One of the aspects of abuse that many people forget about is the seductive aspect of abuse. Victims of abuse have a hard time telling other people of their abuse, especially because their abusers often use romantic love against their victims. They try to manipulate people into believing that they are trying to protect you because of their love rather than the reality. That they are abusers trying to control their victims. This is Jack in a nutshell.
Angeles is very careful to be subtle and show the manipulation of abuse concerning Jack. Kallia never has romantic interest for him. She recognizes he is in between her and her freedom. She is symbolic of women trying to find an out. The decadence of the world Angeles created shows that illusion victims often experience. Even Jack’s elemental magic builds upon this. He has the ability to create illusions through mirrors. He can reach anyone as long as long as they have a mirror. He creates illusions of what his victims see. Just like abusers.
They create our world for us. The manipulation of abusers builds a world where your reality is through rose colored glasses. We must be the ones to create our reality severed from our abusers but that illusion that they created can never disappear. That’s how emotional trauma works. It stays with you.
That, I think, is one of the more brilliant ways that Angeles paints Kallia’s relationship to Jack.
What is amazing about this aspect of the novel is that after all this, Kallia comes out assertive and confident. I love that. It completely changes how writers portray women that are forced into cages by men.
Angeles also plays with privilege. I’ve seen some reviewers comment that Kallia slut shames other women. I disagree with this.
Kallia is an underprivileged brown woman in a misogynistic society. She is trying to step up in a world where female magicians are not accepted. She has no money. The only way she’s even able to get glamorous clothes is by performing magic for a seamstress in exchange for clothes. The rich women in this society do not accept Kallia because she’s not supposed to reach higher in a world of men. She’s supposed to stay a showgirl. Rich women, the wives and daughters of prominent men, are supposed to be patrons and society girls. They don’t become more important than men. Kallia, as an underprivileged woman, is hated by these rich snobby women. I got no sympathy for these rich women. There is not any slut shaming. We’re talking about Kallia here. She dresses in a way that other women expect underprivileged women to dress: by showing her skin. If anything they judge her for it.
Oh! The kiss scenes between Kallia and her love interest. GOBBLE GOBBLE. Yum. I loved how slow and delicate their relationship turned from grumpy to friendship to kissing on a table.
It is all entirely brilliant. I love this book.
Thank You to Wednesday Books for an advanced readers copy via Netgalley.