Olivia Mead is a headstrong, independent girl—a suffragist—in an age that prefers its girls to be docile. It’s 1900 in Oregon, and Olivia’s father, concerned that she’s headed for trouble, convinces a stage mesmerist to try to hypnotize the rebellion out of her. But the hypnotist, an intriguing young man named Henri Reverie, gives her a terrible gift instead: she’s able to see people’s true natures, manifesting as visions of darkness and goodness, while also unable to speak her true thoughts out loud. These supernatural challenges only make Olivia more determined to speak her mind, and so she’s drawn into a dangerous relationship with the hypnotist and his mysterious motives, all while secretly fighting for the rights of women. Winters breathes new life into history once again with an atmospheric, vividly real story, including archival photos and art from the period throughout.
I was a huge fan of Cat Winters’ first book, In the Shadow of Blackbirds, and couldn’t get over how well she meshed historical fact with paranormal happenings. I was hoping The Cure for Dreaming would be in this same vein, and for the most part, it was. Just like with Blackbirds, you could immediately tell how much research she did into the time period the book is set. The setting of the story was visceral at times, and really made me feel like I was there experiencing things right along with Olivia. The paranormal aspect was a bit different this time, though – rather than ghosts, we have a hypnotist – and while I liked Olivia and was rooting for her, ultimately I didn’t love her as much as I did Mary Shelley. I felt like the story kind of dragged in parts, and also had a really hard time with the cast of extremely unlikable characters that surrounded Olivia. I know that that was probably the point, but it definitely impacted my enjoyment overall.
I want to state upfront that this book is rather gruesome and dark in places. Also, if you have a teeth phobia you’ll definitely want to avoid reading this. Olivia’s father is a dentist, and since the book is set in 1900 the dental tools available aren’t great. There’s talk of leaches, and pulling teeth, etc., so it’s definitely not for the squeamish. While I was expecting something atmospheric and creepy, this kind of surpassed my expectations, and not always in a good way. Just something to keep in mind if you decide to give it a read.
I do want to say that I loved Olivia’s spirit, and was so angry on her behalf when Henri hypnotizes her per her father’s instructions. In fact, there was quite a lot to be upset about in this book – the overall treatment of women definitely isn’t great, but is in line with the times and the ways people back then thought. Olivia herself is a free spirit, who wants to go to college and be a writer, and that’s not at all what her father wants for her. There’s also a guy who’s inappropriately handsy, so be aware that this could potentially trigger you. Henri took a long time for me to warm up to, and in the end I was more confused over what I thought than firmly on “like” or “dislike”. He has his own motivations, which I understood, but his methods – much like most people in this book – left quite a bit to be desired.
All in all, I found The Cure for Dreaming to be a good read, but nothing spectacular. I do think that it may have gotten a slightly higher rating if I could have read this in book form, so that I could have seen the pictures interspersed in more detail, but ultimately I just found the story rather lacking. Your mileage may vary, though, so if you’re curious about it at all, do give it a read!
An e-galley was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.