Manifesting Fear || City of Nightmares Review

Initial Thoughts

This was actually a pleasant read, where pleasant mostly means it’s “a hella dark YA book where romance was at a minimal but that doesn’t mean trust and intimacy is nonexistent.” Seriously, though, I was expecting something else entirely after reading the first chapter, and got something else by the end. I will definitely read the sequel, because I really liked Ness’ character development at the end, and Cyril the cinnamon roll needs to be protected at all costs. Also, I just adore Priya. That is all.


by Rebecca Schaeffer
Hodder & Stoughton, February 2023
YA mystery, horror, urban fantasy
Rated: 3.5 / 5 cookies

Ever since her sister became a man-eating spider and slaughtered her way through town, nineteen-year-old Ness has been terrified—terrified of some other Nightmare murdering her, and terrified of ending up like her sister. Because in Newham, the city that never sleeps and the only other home Ness has known, dreaming means waking up as your worst fear.

Whether that means becoming a Nightmare that is only monstrous in appearance but is otherwise able to live a semi-normal existence, to transforming into a twisted, unrecognizable creature that terrorizes the citizens of Newham, no one is safe. Ness will do anything to avoid becoming another victim, even if that means lying low among the Friends of the Restful Soul, a seedy organization that may or may not be a cult.

But being a member of the Friends of the Restful Soul has a price. In order to prove herself, Ness cons her way into what’s supposed to be a simple job for the organization—only for it to blow up in her face. Literally. Tangled up in the aftermath of an explosive assassination, Ness and the only other survivor—a Nightmare boy who Ness suspects is planning to eat her—must find their way back to Newham and uncover the sinister truth behind the attack.

Lately I’ve gotten into the habit of actually reading the Fairyloot books I’ve been amassing. I’ve enjoyed the ones I’ve read so far to some degree, and I’ve also found favorites in the process (Belladonna and The Last Tale of the Flower Bride being some of them). City of Nightmares was something I’d been on the fence about, because it seemed outside of what I’ve been getting used to as FL YA fantasies went.

But, surprisingly, City of Nightmares started on a pretty good high. And for a YA urban fantasy, it was actually entertaining.

To be honest, I don’t think I’d have kept going had the opening sentence been different, but Rebecca Schaeffer started us off already with the mention of a man-eating spider and the trauma that the main character went through in witnessing her sister literally turn into her worst nightmare. This brings us to the present, with a cowardly Ness trying to survive in a world where nightmares can be manifested to life. The only thing stopping the entire city of Newham from bursting into a fully nightmarish environment is the filtration in the water. Of course, this doesn’t exactly stop the crime and nightmares and corruption from running rampant anyway.

Also, the Gotham City vibes (AND the FL color scheme) is definitely not lost on me.

The premise of the book is DARK. It honestly made me think about what kind of monster I would turn into if I dreamt up my worst fear. It made me want to read more. It made me want to delve into what made each of the characters tick and how they could overcome the nightmares. It made me want to simultaneously shake Ness a few times out of her frozen stupor, but also want to hug her because damn, this girl has seen things I could never wish on my worst enemy. And with how the pacing went, I practically read this in almost two sittings. (I didn’t because, you know, it sucks adulting from time to time.)

This isn’t to say I absolutely loved the book. It was good, but I felt like I’d expected it to be a bit more…macabre, if you can believe it. I liked the light banter between Cy and Ness (which, thankfully, didn’t quickly become a romance–there actually isn’t much of one in this case!), and the commentary about vampires was not lost on me (in fact, it made me chortle a bit). Plus, there was the added bonus of Priya, Ness, and Cindy literally making me chortle from time to time. But after the beginning chapters, I’d mostly thought CoN was going to be a detective noir YA with fantasy and scifi elements, and…we get a girl trying to overcome her fears in order to survive a bunch of people trying to kill her for some reason.

Don’t get me wrong, I found this idea entertaining, and we saw the inner workings of the city this way, but it still left a lot of questions unanswered. Why isn’t the pterodactyl playing a larger role, especially when I keep seeing pictures of him everywhere? Will we ever actually see Cy’s psycho dad? Where did Cindy go? I also felt like the answers to some of the puzzles didn’t make much sense and seemed too disconnected.

3.5 out of 5 cookies! The last few chapters actually brought the darkness factor back that I’d felt in the beginning, and I hope in the sequel we get more of that and less of the random chaos that ensued.

On a side note, one of my 7th grade voldies was so interested in the idea of this book that she’s now reading my copy of it. She’s loving it so far!

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