Thomas Welsh

Owl Hollow Press, £14.99

This novel started out as a few chapters written by Wishaw author Thomas Welsh as a Christmas gift for his wife, who insisted he keep going and finish it. Completed, it’s the first volume of the Metiks Fade trilogy, a fantasy series in which reality is up for grabs in a clash between factions of super-powered beings.

Anna Undreaming introduces big, fantastical concepts but in the initial stages it feels as though the author is fighting a losing battle against the conventions of the genre he’s working in.

Anna, a PhD student who has never considered herself anything special, discovers that there are levels of reality unknown to ordinary humans and that she has the ability to manipulate them, potentially making her a powerful force.

She is taken under the wing of a mentor figure, refuses (in the best tradition of the archetypal Joseph Campbell hero) the first offer to embrace this exciting but dangerous new life and, around two-thirds of the way in, has her first inconclusive encounter with the villain of the piece.

Without thinking too hard, you could probably name three huge pop culture phenomena that kick off with slight variations of the same steps. Anna’s inauguration into what lies “Behind the Veil” feels like a progression we’ve seen many times before, with only the details and a new batch of terminology to differentiate it from countless previous works. For rather too much of Anna Undreaming, a rigid fantasy template overshadows what Welsh is doing with it and we’re aching to get past the

scene-setting stage so that the author’s ideas will have the freedom to take flight.

The set-up is this: there are Dreamers, who can create spaces in our world called Hazes, inside which reality is under the Dreamer’s command. Anna, she is informed, is a Metik, which means that she can resist the power of the Dreamers, reducing their control over the environments they have created. And the Dreamers have a plan, which could have untold consequences for humanity. At the point she’s made aware of all this, Anna is at a low ebb. We discover that she was married but that her husband recently died, and her efforts to stave off depression, her struggles with a crushed morale, self-doubt and guilt, make Anna an interesting character to throw into this

mind-bending environment where it is never quite certain how she’ll react to each new development.

By the end of this volume, the plot is rolling along nicely. Welsh has shown us some intriguing Hazes (a bar on the Moon, a railway station in the Pyrenees littered with crashed trains), brought in a cool villain, sketched out the masterplan of the Dreamers and introduced killer

cyborgs as an additional threat.

The bumpy start seems a long time ago, although not as long as waiting for the next instalment to see what happens. Anna Undreaming has found its groove, although the work it took to get there shows how hard it can be to break the mould in any well-established genre.