Dead Spots Author: Rhiannon Frater Publisher: Tor Books, February 24, 2015 Format: Trade Paperback and eBook, 416 pages List Price: $16.99 (print) ISBN: 9780765337153 (print) Review Copy: Provided by the Publisher
New horror from Rhiannon Frater: in the dead spots, dreams become reality, terror knows your name, and nightmares can kill
The stillbirth of Mackenzie's son destroyed her marriage. Grieving, Mac reluctantly heads for her childhood home to seek refuge with her mother, who constantly reminds her of life's dangers.
Driving across Texas, Mac swerves to avoid hitting a deer...and winds up in a dead spot, a frightening place that lies between the worlds of the living and the dead. If they can control their imaginations, people can literally bring their dreams to life--but most are besieged by fears and nightmares which pursue them relentlessly.
Mackenzie's mother and husband haunt her, driving her to the brink of madness. Then she hears a child call for help and her maternal instincts kick into overdrive. Grant, Mac's ally in the dead spots, insists Johnny is a phantom, but the boy seems so real, so alive....
As the true horrors of the dead spots are slowly revealed, Mackenzie realizes that time is running out. But exits from the dead spots are nearly impossible to find, and defended by things almost beyond imagination.
Six months after the stillbirth of her son, Mackenzie Babin is grieving not only his death, but the loss of her job, her home, and her marriage. As a last resort, she decides to return to her mother's ranch in Texas until she can get back on her feet again. On her way home, a curious near-accident on an isolated road lands her in front of an abandoned diner. In an uncharacteristically bold moment, she steps inside the building to look around and finds herself trapped in a frightening limbo from which there may be no return. The diner is a dead spot - a place left behind by the real world that acts as a doorway to the ever-shifting world of dreams and nightmares. Mackenzie abruptly runs into Grant in the dead spot, and despairs when she she learns that he has been trapped inside this alternate reality for years. After the two survive a terrifying encounter with the diner's other-worldly staff and patrons, she comes to see Grant as her guide and protector in this dangerous, sentient place that knows your fears and sorrows, and uses them to hunt you down and drain you of your energy, your sanity, and your life.
Although Mackenzie is in her mid-twenties, Rhiannon Frater's Dead Spots feels very much like a coming of age story viewed through a dark lens. Raised by a rigid and critical mother, Mackenzie escapes her childhood home by eloping with a man who lacks the emotional maturity for a lasting relationship. She has had more than her share of pain and guilt heaped upon her, which makes her a delicacy for nightmare creatures that readily feed on those who have lost hope. In her travels, she must learn to rely on herself, trust her instincts, and use the steel spine she doesn't yet realize she possesses.
The primary characters in Dead Spots are multi-faceted and provoke specific emotions, whether positive or negative. Those emotions shifted for me as the story progressed, but I did respond to Mackenzie and company. Some of the choices she makes are ill-considered and frustrating, but Mackenzie is learning her way through an unfamiliar world while sorting out who she is and what she stands for. Perhaps the most exasperating thing for me was that even as she begins to develop insight, she remains emotionally attached to her ex-husband in spite of what transpired between them. Some of the story felt overlong, and some of the rules of the world turned upside down seemed arbitrary. Frater does take her time showing Mackenzie's growth, so there's purpose to the story length, but I did feel that the middle third dragged a bit. There are many villains: some predictable, some uniquely terrifying, and others with deceptively friendly faces. All we can do is watch Mackenzie and hope she can learn and adapt quickly enough, and that her hard luck streak breaks before she does.
Dead Spots conjures a complex and deadly world and populates it with interesting characters pitted against the things they fear the most. Be aware that there are scenes featuring gore and some sexual situations, and that people who have lost a child may find the story triggering, as Mackenzie's thoughts are never far from her lost son. One of the best things I can say about the book is that I was truly invested in the central characters as the story began careening to a close. Whether all key characters get their happy ending or not, an author has done his or her job when we care about their outcome. Frater succeeds with Dead Spots.