October is Filipino American History Month, so I thought that it would only be fitting to spotlight Where Dreams Descend by Filipino-American author Janella Angeles!
From the second I heard about Where Dreams Descend I knew that it was going to be a book that I would love. As a theatre teacher and lover, seeing a book described as Phantom of the Opera meets Moulin Rouge and The Night Circus (another one of my favorites!) made me immediately add it to my to be read list and eagerly await the days until its release. However, what made me more excited was seeing that the book was not only written by Filipino-American author, Janella Angeles but that the main character Kallia was also a woman of color.
Title: Where Dreams Descend
Author: Janella Angeles
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Age Range: Young Adult
Trigger Warnings: alcohol and drinking, mind manipulation, controlling/possessive behavior, misogyny, mentions of blood and injury, missing persons, grief/loss.
Growing up there was not much Filipino representation (characters or creators) in really any form of media that I saw. As a kid (and an adult honestly) it was hard to have all of these characters that you really really love, but don’t resemble in any way. Sure, I could relate to characters based on their personalities or the things that they liked (as a kid I always said I was like Belle because I also have brown hair and love reading books), but I could still hear “you don’t look like them” in the back of my mind whenever I related myself to characters like Belle or Aurora (can you tell I really enjoy princess stories?)
In the last few years, we’ve started to see more representation, especially Filipino representation in the literature community and while I wish I had that growing up, I’m glad that it is happening now. When I first heard about Where Dreams Descend, I was so excited to hear that it was the debut novel from Filipino-American author Janella Angeles. If you know me, you know that I’m always looking for ways to support BIPOC authors and since I am part Filipino, I am especially passionate about supporting Filipino authors. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of theatrical elements in Where Dreams Descend and since theatre is my entire life, I was instantly drawn to the book. But more on that later; first I want to talk about the main character of Where Dreams Descend: Kallia.
The main character, Kallia, also known as the star, is a powerful showgirl who is determined to prove that she is not only the best but that she is also much more than anyone assumes her to be. In the last few years, there has been a slew of strong female characters, and while that’s wonderful they have predominantly been white. While I love seeing female characters that are well written, fully developed, and unashamedly who they are, I want to see more of them be women of color.
In a post on her Instagram, Angeles said “No surprise, seeing her on this cover made me extremely emotional. Not just that, but also seeing a WOC owning the page, feeling like characters who looked like me could belong in lush, fantasy worlds in gorgeous gowns and be the main leads of the story. Not just the side characters.” Similarly to Janella, I was (and am still) not used to seeing someone who looks like me as the main character. A side character who is there to mostly move forward the (usually white) main character’s plotline? Sure. I’ve gotten pretty used to that.
From the cover, you can tell that Kallia is a character who is a force of nature. She’s mysterious, powerful, alluring, bold, and confident. That in itself is a powerful image for any young girl or woman, but for all women of color who have been longing to see themselves portrayed as the main character, it’s extra moving. Sometimes with characters of color, authors fall into the trap of making their race the main focus of their character. While there’s nothing wrong with having race be a central part of a character’s identity, (because isn’t that true for all of us? Our race is a part of who we are and it influences our thoughts, opinions and choices – but that’s a different conversation for a different post) sometimes it’s nice to just see the character existing and being more than just the color of their skin. It’s mentioned at the beginning that Kallia is a woman of color, “her brown skin glowed against her corset, red as her gem-studded mask”, but we’re not reminded of it with every description of her. She’s not reduced to only her race, which I appreciate and in my opinion, is representation done well. Additionally, Kallia is not the token character of color. The majority of the characters are people of color and like Kallia, are not reduced to their race. The characters are all fully fleshed out and realized, and not just there for diversity points.
Something else that I really loved were the friendships in the book, especially the female ones. Understandably so, after Kallia finds out some of the things Jack has been keeping from her, she’s a bit hesitant to trust. However, she quickly forms a bond with Canary, Juno, and the other ladies of the Conquering Circus. It would’ve been so easy to make these characters tear each other down since they’re all in a competitive line of work where they’re shown no respect from the majority of the men around them. Instead, Angeles has these characters form strong bonds and support each other which is an important message. I loved that Kallia had that support system in them.
In her dedication at the beginning of the book, Janella writes, “For the dreamers who rarely saw themselves in stories and on stages. You belong in the spotlight. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.” The dedication made me emotional the first time I read it, and I tear up now when I think about it.
As I mentioned previously, as someone who lives and breathes theatre, I was drawn to Where Dreams Descend because of the clear theatrical inspiration. From the cover alone you can see the influences: the rich red of the curtains and the way they surround Kallia like a proscenium stage, Kallia sitting atop a sparkling and shining chandelier, the way the glitter from the chandelier drips down the page, followed by the tag line: The stage is set. The spectacle awaits… Everything about this cover says DRAMA.
When a book is described as a mixture between Phantom of the Opera, Moulin Rouge, and The Night Circus, you’re going to expect the writing to be magical, the situations fantastical, and lots and lots of drama. This book absolutely delivers on all accounts. The inspiration from all three stories is clearly there throughout the book. The dynamic between Kallia, Jack and Demarco has many similarities to that of Christine, the Phantom and Raoul. Kallia’s magnetic stage presence that draws everyone to her when she’s performing is similar to Satine’s. The magical elements and the Conquering Circus draw me in the same way that Le Cirque des Rêves does. While Where Dreams Descend has similar elements to all three of it’s inspirations, this book is entirely it’s own.
From the very first page, you’re drawn into this world of magic and mystery. The writing is incredibly atmospheric. I love books where the writing makes me feel like I’m with the characters, and this one was just that! I felt like I was experiencing everything with Kallia as opposed to observing it through her eyes. It’s easy to picture her descending from the ceiling on a glittering chandelier. I felt like I was in her greenhouse surrounded by flowers (and honestly I wish I was, that greenhouse sounds beautiful and I would like to go there). I could imagine walking the run-down streets of Glorian. I find it incredibly important in books with magical elements that the writing be descriptive enough for the reader to clearly imagine what is happening but not so obviously that it becomes boring, and I think that Angeles hits the nail on the head here with clear and descriptive writing while still upholding an air of mystery.
This book had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, even now as I’m reading it for the second time. I’m normally a quiet reader (but you can absolutely tell how I feel based on my facial expressions – what can I say? I’m a theatre kid) but Where Dreams Descend had me audibly reacting, especially at the end! I was fully invested in Kallia’s journey as well as how the secret pasts of Demarco and Jack would catch up with them and how it would affect all their stories. I can’t wait to see how everything plays out in When Night Breaks.
Where Dreams Descend was one of my most anticipated reads of the year, and luckily it did not disappoint! With this sparkling debut, Janella Angeles has been added to my list of authors whose work I will automatically purchase. If you’re looking for a book that’s magical, mysterious, and atmospheric look no further! The sequel, When Night Breaks, will be released on June 8, 2021, and it can’t come fast enough!
If you’ve read or are reading Where Dreams Descend, leave a comment! I’d love to hear your thoughts!
About The Author
Janella Angeles is the bestselling author of WHERE DREAMS DESCEND. A Filipino-American writer, she got her start in writing through consuming glorious amounts of fanfiction at a young age–which eventually led to penning a few of her own, and later on, creating original stories from her imagination. A lifelong lover of books, she’s lucky enough to be working in the business of publishing them on top of writing them. She currently resides in Massachusetts, where she’s most likely to be found listening to musicals on repeat and daydreaming too much for her own good. She is represented by Thao Le of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. WHEN NIGHT BREAKS, Book 2 in her bestselling debut fantasy Kingdom of Cards duology, will be out Summer 2021 from Wednesday Books.
Photographer: Mei Lin Barral