Thoughts: City of Nightmares by Rebecca Schaeffer

Source: NetGalley via the Publisher – thank you!
TL;DR: Miss this. So heavy handed it suffocated any chance at a good story.

Plot: A deeply anxious and panic riddled young girl gets tangled between two ridiculous ‘plots’. It’s so thin and unbelievable it’s hard to describe.
Characters: Embodiment of panic and fear and embodiment of awkward ‘truly nice guy’
Setting: I quite like the bits of worldbuilding we got till everything and everyone become ‘bad’
Magic: I do actually like the twist on the ending here. I am very curious about how the end of this leads to another book (but probably not enough to read).


Ness has been terrified, seemingly of everything, since her sister transformed into her greatest nightmare and devoured their father. She lives in a city that seems riddled with corruption and Nightmares (those transformed that have retained their sanity) and the chance of becoming a Nightmare lurks around every evening when sleep comes. Pitched as ‘Holly Black meets Gotham’ or ‘Strange the Dreamer meets Gotham’ this had so much potential – plus that cover is gorgeous. Unfortunately it stumbled very quickly out the gate and never really picked itself back up for me.

It starts with a character so riddled with fear that she barely functions. She’s obsessive about the pills she takes to prevent her from going Nightmare at night. She sleeps in tiny, enclosed spaces to feel safe. At the beginning of the story she encounters a Nightmare while working and seemingly runs out a window, down a fire escape, half way across the city, and back up into her tiny closet room to avoid it – leaving behind the girl she calls her best friend in the world. She barely, barely functions. Not to mention this gripping fear of Nightmares seems a bit much considering the entire city is full of them. I’m sincerely confused on how this girl made it as long as she did.

The story from there is best described as ‘weak’. She survives an explosion on a boat with the help of a young man, a Nightmare I might add, and then ends up with assassins on her tail. I will not spoil how this happens here – see my Goodreads review for spoiler tags – but the way everything ties together is completely unbelievable and incredibly messy. This would have been tolerable if not for the heavy handedness of the moralizing in the book.

Entire sections of this book are dedicated to how fiction can ‘normalize abuse’. For example, Ness sees a poster for a vampire movie – think Twilight – and goes on a page long interlude of describing how this ‘can and does’ normalize the removal of consent from relationships. How women who view these movies/read these books are willingly giving up their free will or give up the ability to thing critically and just become victims. It was, in a word, gross. While yes, fiction can influence people it does not always do so. Fiction can be a catharsis, it can be a critique, and it can simply be an escape. The blanket, heavy handedness of the moralizing here allowed for no room for nuance. It broke the argument down to the simplest of black and white and took the high ground.

By the end I was exhausted by this and frustrated. With the exception of two friends, and two adults the entire city of Newham (and very annoying play on Gotham that took me the whole book to see) is vile and corrupted. There is no goodness in this world, and it crushes everything. The book is suffocated first by it’s very heavy moralizing but also by it’s ‘dark atmosphere’. I don’t recommend this one sadly. The cover is the best part, and besides tone has little to do with the story itself!

2 Giant Hairy Spider Monsters out of 5

Also – fucking rude, spiders are adorable.


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