The year is 1911 when twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg is invited to spend the summer in America’s Playground.
The invitation to the luxurious Oriental Hotel a mile from Coney Island is unwelcome. Despite hailing from one of America’s richest families, Peggy would much rather spend the summer working at the Moonrise Bookstore than keeping up appearances with New York City socialites and her snobbish, controlling family.
But soon it transpires that the hedonism of nearby Coney Island affords Peggy the freedom she has been yearning for, and it’s not long before she finds herself in love with a troubled pier-side artist of humble means, whom the Batternberg patriarchs would surely disapprove of.
Disapprove they may, but hidden behind their pomposity lurks a web of deceit, betrayal and deadly secrets. And as bodies begin to mount up amidst the sweltering clamour of Coney Island, it seems the powerful Batternbergs can get away with anything…even murder.
Extravagant, intoxicating and thumping with suspense, bestselling Nancy Bilyeau’s magnificent Dreamland is a story of corruption, class and dangerous obsession.
Hi and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Dreamland! Hugest of thanks to Hannah at Endeavour Media for the most original invitation ever! Did I want a ticket to Dreamland? Well of course I did! I was absolutely thrilled to get an invitation to go to Coney Island! I loved Nancy Bilyeau’s previous book, The Blue, it was one of the books that reminded me that historical fiction can be heaps of fun, so I couldn’t wait to find out what she had in store for me now.
Dreamland takes us to New York City, 1911. One minute, Margaret – Peggy – Batternberg is working in a bookshop, determined to be an independent New Woman, the next she’s schlepped to Coney Island, America’s Playground, “Sodom by the Sea”. Being an heir to one of the richest men in 20th century America isn’t simple, being a female heir even less so.
Peggy is the kind of female protagonist that Nancy Bilyeau does best, like Genevieve in The Blue: independent, tenacious, way ahead of her peers, memorable (that I still remember Genevieve vividly about a year and 200-odd books later is quite telling). Peggy has always been a bit of a black sheep in her family. Too independent, too smart, too wilful. So why does her family insist that she joins them in a hotel on Coney Island for the entire summer? She has no idea, but what she does know is that there is no getting out of it…
Peggy has never been to Coney Island, so she doesn’t really know what to expect, but what she sure didn’t expect was to fall madly in love. Stefan is an artist, a hotdog vendor on the boardwalk, an immigrant, and Peggy falls head over heels, first for his paintings and then for him. Does their relationship border on insta-love? Well yes, a little, but although I usually hate that particular trope, it didn’t bother me in the slightest, as it all flowed so naturally, and I completely understood why Peggy would fall for Stefan. He is entirely different from all the other men in her life, rich men, entitled men, spoiled men, men who treat their wives like commodities and have mistresses on the side. Peggy has lead a sheltered life, she’s been restricted, hemmed in, and Stefan shows her a whole other way of living, the way of a lower class, yet a freer way.
Still, despite this romance, this is not a romance novel. It’s a murder mystery, with women being killed on the beach and Peggy becoming invested in finding the culprit. It’s a family saga, including family drama, secrets, but also love and loyalty; the bond between Peggy and her sister Lydia is a thing of beauty. It’s of course historical fiction, it shows us the upper and lower classes in early 20th century America, women’s rights (or lack thereof), Coney Island in its heyday. So yes, it’s fair to say that there’s a lot going on, but the narrative never gets cluttered. If anything, these multiple storylines make for riveting reading.
Nancy Bilyeau has a very clever way of giving you tons of information without you ever realising it. A little factoid here, an offhand remark there, you might feel like you’re none the wiser, but in fact you are, she’s told you something vital about the setting, or her characters, or some historical fact, slipping it casually into the narrative and all the while you never feel like she’s explained anything. It’s only when you think back that you realise just how much you’ve actually learned.
The writing is extremely vivid, to the point that I almost broke a sweat because of the 2011 heat spell and I had a craving for Coca-Cola, because Peggy, newly introduced to the sugary stuff, has developed quite a fondness for it. I could hear the music, feel the sand between my toes, smell the popcorn and the hotdogs. Reading Dreamland, I had stepped into the Tardis and been transported to early 20th century Coney Island, and it was a glorious trip indeed!
With its heroine to root for and its multitude of storylines and genres, Dreamland ticked all my boxes! Recommended!