Sleepwalking is the third volume in the Nightmareland Chronicles series by Daniel Barnett. A post-apocalyptic world that has fallen into a perpetual night. Once night fell the lullaby started, pouring forth from anything with a screen or a speaker. Phones, televisions, radios, computers, etc. Those who fall victim to the lullaby descend into a state of sleep from which they cannot be awoken from and the sleeping doesn’t rest easily.
The first two volumes in this series, Nightfall and Lullaby, firmly grasped my attention, luring me into this dark new world. I am completely on board and along for wherever this ride goes. I don’t really know what new things I can say about this book that I haven’t already said about the previous entries.
Intriguing premise, check.
Interesting characters, check.
Beautiful prose, check.
Vivid imagery, check.
A compelling narrative, check.
The story this time around is pretty straightforward on the surface. Mariah and Marcos need to get some medication for John so they head into a nearby town to see if any can be found. Seems simple enough but there is so much more going on here beneath that surface. There is danger, fear, grief, tragedy, evil, love, compassion, and so much more to be encountered. That’s all I want to say about the plot, you’ll have to read for yourself to get the full experience. The ending though, the ending has me chomping at the bit, has my stomach rumbling with a hunger to find out what happens next. Trying not to give too much away the ending gave me heavy The Crazies (2010) and Jack Torrance vibes.
So what can I say about this one? Well, I love how this series keeps subverting my expectations, but in good ways. After reading Nightfall you think John is going to be our main protagonist but then something happens and he takes a backseat to Mariah during Lullaby which allows us to dive into her mind for some great character development. Now here in Sleepwalking, I thought Marcos steals the show. A young boy with a disability, he is deaf, who in many other books of this genre would be considered a liability. His being deaf would be shown as a weakness. That isn’t the case here whatsoever though. Marcos’s deafness is not only strength and the key to his own survival in this depraved new world but it is also the key to Mariah and possibly John’s survival as well. Taking this “flaw” and turning it on its head and doubling down on how important and crucial it is to this story really made for a surprisingly great and interesting character.
I’ve said before that I try to not compare one author with another but in this instance, I have to make the comparison between Barnett and King. I don’t necessarily mean their writing is similar, Barnett definitely has his own unique style and voice. Where these two authors feel similar to me is with their characters, especially their villains. These human villains have nothing supernatural about them. The way they are written, their flaws and quirks and characteristics bring them to life in ways that make them seem like fully-realized living breathing people. I don’t really have the words to describe it. It is just a feeling I get. The human villains that King creates have this certain vibe, this aura or presence to them and with this series so far Barnett has been hitting those same notes for me. There is a subtleness to the villains, darkness that we the readers can feel simmering just beneath the surface. Barnett does a great job of illuminating just enough of that darkness to make them captivating and scary yet still mysterious and unnerving. The best monsters are the ones that aren’t fully revealed, the ones that still leave something up to the imagination and that’s what Barnett has been able to pull off so far. Here in Sleepwalking, the two brothers who run the Love Shack are the perfect examples of what I am trying to describe.
So I guess after saying all that it’s the characters that are really starting to shine in this series. They are strong yet bear weaknesses, scared yet brave. Flawed and imperfect. Characters that you can love, detest and be wary of. Full of depth that brings emotional weight to the story. A rich narrative without great characters usually feels hollow, like it’s all window dressing. The Nightmareland Chronicles is a feast of the best of both worlds.
Heartfelt and heartless. Hopeful and dismal. Sleepwalking by Daniel Barnett explores a dark world full of nightmares. Inhabited by those whose souls still are a shining beacon of light pushing back against the darkness. While the light of others has been extinguished as they fester and feed, allowing themselves to be consumed by it. Barnett has crafted a world and set this story up where the horrific and nightmarish possibilities are endless. I’m excited to see what the future holds and am eagerly awaiting volume four of the series, The Flashlighters, to release so I can dive in and devour it.
I received an ARC of this book from the author for review consideration.
Book reviewer & Booktuber who focuses mostly on small press & indie horror, sci-fi, fantasy, & southern literature.