Review | Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau

High drama in an evocative setting. 4/5 stars.

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau

Thank you to Endeavour Media for providing me with an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.

The blurb:

The year is 1911 when twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg is invited to spend the summer in America’s Playground.

But the invitation to Coney Island is unwelcome. Despite hailing from one of America’s richest families, Peggy would much rather spend the summer working at the Moonrise Bookstore than keeping up appearances with New York City socialites and her snobbish, controlling family.

But soon it transpires that the hedonism of Coney Island affords Peggy the freedom she has been yearning for, and it’s not long before she finds herself in love with a troubled pier-side artist of humble means, whom the Batternberg patriarchs would surely disapprove of.

Disapprove they may, but hidden behind their pomposity lurks a web of deceit, betrayal and deadly secrets. And as bodies begin to mount up amidst the sweltering clamour of Coney Island, it seems the powerful Batternbergs can get away with anything… even murder.

My take:

Although I felt Dreamland got off to a slow start, once the action moves the Coney Island, I found myself becoming increasingly gripped by events. Stick with it!

The descriptions of the area are very atmospheric. I found the period details, particularly the clothes (for some reason!), highly evocative and the author clearly did a lot of research. Setting the story during a heat wave is also a great touch as it adds pressure to all the characters and brings a bit of madness to a already tense situation.

I found the main character, Peggy, and her sister, the most sympathetic. Despite their incredible wealth, they are still deprived of agency and freedom by simply being women. And Peggy thankfully becomes increasingly aware of the privilege granted her by her wealth and family connections as the story progresses.

The whodunnit element of the plot was interesting, but I didn’t find it to be crucial to my enjoyment of the story as I felt it was pretty clear from quite early on who the killer was. It was more the consequences of the deaths, their impact on Peggy’s romance and how it would all get resolved which interested me.

The male characters are mostly deplorable, but never dull. The gender double standards, where rich men marry but then are expected to carry on with mistresses and prostitutes, while their wives are supposed to be virgins and then entirely faithful, made me grind my teeth as much as Peggy. I was hoping all the smug men would get thrown in the sea at one point! And then, to make matters worse, we see the women who are complicit in this, either because they have little choice or they believe it’s how things are “meant to be”. Ugh! Hideously frustrating, but it makes for excellent fuel for a period drama.

Overall: a well-written, entertaining story with an excellent period setting and two sympathetic female leads.

Claire Huston / Art and Soul

9 thoughts on “Review | Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau

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