The Short Version: A “dream vortex” has been found in the world and Morpheus must seek it out – but the vortex, Rose Walker, is on a quest of her own: to find her little brother. Shading in bits of backstory while also moving forward into truly original territory, The Doll’s House is where the series really kicks off.
The Review: Whoa. Just, whoa.
If Preludes and Nocturnes was just that – a prelude – then this is where things really get going. The… insecurity of the first volume is nowhere to be found here. There’s nothing rote or unoriginal to be found in this book but instead we get a whole lot of truly amazing and inventive stuff going on rather all at once. As a result, it seems to zip by in a flurry of pacing and story – wrapped up in beautifully drawn art, to boot.
Gaiman’s dark and twisted sense of humor comes out in full force here, nowhere more clearly perhaps than the “Cereal Convention.” I realize don’t want to ruin the joke for anyone who hasn’t read the series, so I’m going to throw out the SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS flag and warn you all here and now.
……okay. You were warned.
It’s a serial killer convention. And it is a moment of enlightened invention, albeit quite quite dark. But if you can’t find the humor in it… well, I suppose there’s a way to not see the humor in it. Serial killers are a) scary and b) real and c) murder isn’t exactly a laughing matter. But the idea of them gathering together in a small town at a convention hall and having nametags and panel discussions and a freaking disco… it’s hilarious. No apologies, that’s funny shit.
But even moreso than with the horrific “24 Hours” in Vol. 1, there’s also some truly dark and horrible stuff here. A boy locked up in the basement by his relatives, a creature of the Dreamworld who eats eyes, even just the descriptions of some of the serial killers’ exploits – it’s all very dark. But where Gaiman really gets you – and this is what he does so damn well in general – is in the more reality based bits. The bits where reality as we know it doesn’t quite seem to apply. Take the house that Rose Walker (who I kept wanting to call Rose Tyler. Timeline would be out of whack on that, but I mean. Rose Tyler, Rose Walker. Maybe RTD was inspired? Or Rose is just a good name. Anyway, I digress) moves into: the literally-named Barbie and Ken, the drag queen owner, the mysterious portly Brit on the top floor, and the straight-out-of-The Castle of Otranto creepy veiled sisters with the spider collection (who also, if I may note it, seem to foreshadow Spink & Forcible from Coraline) all seem to be way, way outside of our reality… and yet so possibly a part of it that you genuinely have to start wondering. I mean, we’ve all had weird neighbors – who’s to say that these folks aren’t actually just equally weird?
There’s a lot happening here with the levels of storytelling, too. The prologue in this volume tells the story of a human woman who fell in love with Morpheus and there’s a seeming pause in the story halfway through where we watch Morpheus meet up with an undying man every hundred years, staggering through English life (at The White Horse! Which I know about because I read Shakespeare’s Local! Talk about serendipity… or FATE.) – and the moral of that story is, if I’m reading it right, that we all need a friend. It serves little purpose except to drop Dream into several crucial moments in the world and set up the idea that the Endless play games with humanity now and then – for example, allowing people to go on without dying. But looking for a ‘point’ defeats the purpose: it is just a damn good story. Gilbert tells Rose a pared down “Red Riding Hood” story – and then when she’s attacked, we notice that the serial killer in question has a red shirt with a wolf on it. There’s an impressive level of detail already appearing here, even going so far as to call back things and people from the first volume that didn’t necessarily mean anything at the time. The victims of John Dee’s attack are linked to this volume, as is one of the sufferers of the “sleepy sickness”: Unity Kinkaid, whose part in the story is far greater than the few lines might’ve led us to believe in that first book.
Rating: 5 out of 5. Just refreshing, how smart and beautiful this volume is. All my prior doubts are well and truly washed away – this was wholly Gaiman’s voice and it is, as I well know from the novels, an impressive one. But even more importantly, there is a sense of things being created here – whole worlds, universes, universes-inside-universes and worlds-within-worlds, connections across the multiverse – that genuinely excites me. Horror, fantasy, literature, history, and the genres go on and on… and that’s just in the first two volumes. I can’t wait to see what comes next.