The Nightmare Affair is the first book in Mindee Arnett’s “Arkwell Academy” series. And judging by the score, you might know what I’m going to say: it’s decent. Now, I’ll go more into it in the actual book, but I want to walk you through my thought process and how I discovered this book because it wasn’t by accident. So, I had one of my friends at school read Dreamer, she had been wanting to give it a look for a while now, so I gave her an electronic copy. When she read the first few chapters, she said it reminded her of this book. And, after reading it, I could definitely say there are a few similarities in the dream aspects, but aside from that, not much. But, we’re not here to compare another book to mine. Onto the review!
This review is FULL OF SPOILERS FOR The Nightmare Affair! If you don’t want spoilers, scroll down to the summary, which is ALWAYS spoiler-free.
The Nightmare Affair was, as previously stated, decent, but the plot was intriguing. Dusty, a Nightmare who feeds on dreams, has to uncover a murder while also dealing with school. I’ve always been a huge fan of mysteries, and while I was kinda reading the book for research on whether it’d be a good comparison title for Dreamer (my thoughts are “no”), I was genuinely excited to read it.
All the mythical creatures were nice to see. Some of them followed what you’d expect of them–Sirens, for example, are hypnotic by their very nature–but there were some others that had some slight differences. The Magi Senate being this sort of entity that’s only mentioned made them feel quite shadowy and out for their own aims. The idea of propaganda being made by the magical creatures for the human world to latch onto to make them seem less dangerous and deadly is a fun one. Fairies, for example, aren’t just the little Tinkerbell fairies. They’re far deadlier. It was things like this that made me enjoy this book in the beginning. It made the book just a little bit self-aware, and I really love that in any bit of fiction.
I didn’t like the concept of “The Will”, the force that essentially stops magic from being exposed. I mean, I understand why it exists in-story (aside from stopping the exposure of magic, it stops magickind from killing each other and humans because some require human fear or souls or what-have-you for their magic), but it also just kinda felt… well, stupid to me. I’m not exactly a fan of the ‘hidden magical world’ myself, so that might’ve been contributing to my feelings on it. But, eh. It made sense for there to be something there that the magical world used to keep themselves hidden, and it makes more sense than some other magical worlds out there that exist under people’s noses, so I suppose it all makes sense. The fact that there’s no magical town out over the water or something bugged me a bit, but I digress.
When it came to exposition in the book, it was okay (get used to hearing that). I know there are three magical kinds (witchkind, darkkind–demons, basically–and naturekind–fairies, sirens, nymphs maybe, if they exist) and they all feed off a different thing. Demonkind feeds off human-produced things like fear, dream energy (named fictus), etc., and there’s a prejudice and social hierarchy based on power in this magical world. While we get very surface level stuff and we learn a little bit of history, this book felt like a case of “explain the scope but not the depth”. There are a lot of magical creatures: Hags, Sirens, Phoenixes, Metus Demons, Nightmares (like Dusty and her mom), Sirens, Fairies, Vampires, etc.
I know the basics of what they feed on, but I feel like Arnett was bringing up different types of creatures to flesh out the world but never really went in depth on any of them on a myth-side, aside from Nightmares. Sirens, I’d say, is the closest we get thanks to Dusty’s best friend, Selene, who is a Siren, but we really learn “hey, their seductive magic kinda can’t be turned off, so it makes them insecure” and Selene has a real hatred for them being sexualized (all of which are totally understandable). Though that’s learning a different type of thing about them then we did about Nightmares, I appreciate both, but it didn’t feel like it went deep into anything like I would’ve liked it to.
Now, let’s dig into the characters.
Characters & Character Development
Dusty: She’s nice, sweet, trusting, sarcastic (which gets her in trouble), stubborn (her mom says quite a few times), and she sometimes acknowledges her “stupid teenage emotions”. She knows that some things are just not good (like falling for a guy after not a lot of time spent together–yes folks, there’s a romance… I’ll go over it later), but she still does them. Which makes it interesting. She acknowledges it, which is kind of an adult thing to do, but also doesn’t not do it, which makes it a bit clearer that she’s learning and is somewhat on her way to adulthood but not totally. I appreciated that.
Selene: She has black hair, blue eyes (I think), and is the loyal best friend… and also a Siren that refuses everything about being a Siren, fights against their objectification and is also a Tomboy. She filled the archetype of best friend quite well, and I like her a lot. I’d say she’s my favorite of the bunch, even if I don’t know too much about her.
Everyone’s an archetype, essentially. Not saying that’s a bad thing. Someone can be an archetype or based on an archetype and still be enjoyable to read. I enjoyed seeing the characters in their archetypes, actually, but it did make a lot of things painfully obvious. There wasn’t any true character growth. Some characters noticed the error of their ways and said they’d make things better, but they said this all at the end of the book. Aside from the circumstances being different, they were the same people.
The mystery wasn’t exactly keeping me on the edge of my seat, largely because it didn’t begin until about halfway through the book. There were maybe two or three things that appeared in the first half, but it was largely focused on a lot of other things. Even when the mystery started, things ramped up and we got more information and things but just barely. I found out things as Dusty found them out and there wasn’t any exposition or anything that I could use to form an opinion on who did it; we didn’t get any sort of advanced information that we could use to make a opinion that might’ve been contrary to or in favor of Dusty’s, which may’ve been because this book is first-person rather than third, though I can’t be sure. Information was few and far between, and the mystery wasn’t gripping or hard to solve whatsoever.
The predictability of the book in character archetypes really bled into the murder mystery aspect of this book. Characters were introduced, and from their introductions, I could basically guess what would become of them. I knew who the culprits were almost immediately. And (spoiler) when Dusty started suspecting her mom, I got really mad. Not only because it’s beyond obvious that she would be suspected, and for that reason it wasn’t her, but also because she suspected her for a good quarter of the book! I just wanted to shake her and say “Dusty, it’s not your mom. Your mom was vilified just like you. Her reputation is the reason you’re hated but is she capable of murder? No!”
As the mystery dragged on and the book neared its end, I did find myself get more aggravated with the book as a whole. The villain was not only painfully obvious, but woefully undeveloped. There were no hints as to their true nature (aside from one tiny thing before they disappear for basically the entire book), and for that reason, they acted like a one-note villain. The twists at the end weren’t really major twists. Heel-face turns came left and right, but none of them surprised me in any way. I actually was getting angry at the typical ending. The last thirty or so pages actively got me frustrated because there wasn’t a single thing that Arnett didn’t try to do.
This was yet another really obvious area. But while it was obvious, it was kinda sweet to see. We never really learn too much about the guys that Dusty’s mind is between (a running theme in the book–we know nothing about any of them). The romance was also a bit cliche, and there was also a last minute kiss that also just infuriated me. Not gonna say too much about this, but yeah, I wasn’t a fan of the romance.
This book is average. Very very average. I wanted it to be more, but the murder mystery part felt lacking in several areas and the romance and everything else was very obviois and one-note. The world is intriguing and Dusty’s a fun and likable enough character, but everything else either got me mad or didn’t really do anything special. The book focused a lot on Dusty being a teenager and, as such, there’s a lot of school drama and all these other things. The teen aspects of the book bored me, and I really didn’t like them. The characters, while archetypes, are enjoyable for the most part. So the entire thing was a very average experience. I’d suggest you read it if you want a pretty light mystery, enjoy teen drama, and like some good paranormal romance. But, I won’t be coming back to this trilogy/series myself.
I give The Nightmare Affair a 2.5 our of 5.