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Dreamwalker is the first book in an unnamed fantasy series written by A.J. Norman.

Blurb

After a failed attempt at becoming a monk, Rowan Renard switches careers, becoming apprenticed to a famous sculptor despite having no artistic talent. Disillusioned with religion, he still longs for a glimpse of the divine, no matter how frightening it may be.

His quest for a higher truth leads him to Dagda Vormund, a self-proclaimed prophet with a small but devoted group of followers. He joins Vormund's cult, and together they travel the country, spreading the truth. But Vormund's efforts to expose corruption don't gel with the violent pasts of some of his acolytes, and Rowan will soon find himself torn between trusting the prophet absolutely or condemning him to a cruel and ancient form of justice.

At the heart of it all is the dreamwalker, who guards the last known copy of a sacred text with the power to change the world.

Plot Summary

Rowan Renard, a young aspiring sculptor, is working for the master artist Mayer Amano in the city of Bodai. With a bright future ahead of him, Rowan still yearns for more in life. His discontent leads to him seeking out spiritual advice from the self-proclaimed prophet Dagda Vormund, a mysterious cult leader with mystical powers. Vormund arrived in Bodai with several of his followers, handing out rewritten copies of the Mandorlin, a collection of holy books which he claims have been bastardized by the Temple clergy.

Rowan's sister Rhonda, a journalist for the local pamphlet, pays him an unexpected visit, and when she discovers he's been attending Vormund's sermons, she becomes concerned he has fallen under a dangerous influence. She warns Rowan that Vormund is a clairvoyant and has been denounced by the Temple. Rowan ignores her and she leaves, but the next day she follows him to a sermon. Rhonda publicly confronts Vormund, trying to refute him in an effort to convince Rowan he is a false prophet, but Rowan is humiliated by her conduct and feels compelled to apologize to Vormund.

Introducing himself to two of Vormund's followers, Drusus Rolfe and Clara Richter, Rowan learns the prophet has left for the hospital, anticipating the birth of a child from one of his other disciples, Melissa. However, before he can arrange for a private audience, the prophet and his followers are banished from the city, despite their pleas on Melissa's behalf. Rowan rushes to help them, explaining that his mother Hester is a midwife who lives only a few miles away. They don't make it in time; Melissa gives birth to a daughter, Laura, in a ditch on the side of the road, and dies shortly after they arrive at Hester's.

Gavin Zosimus, Melissa's grief-stricken husband, wants to bury his wife at Arza Kell, a mountain some miles away. Hester claims Laura is not healthy enough to travel, but Vormund sees through her "good intentions" and realizes she is looking to be paid more for her services. The group leaves for Arza Kell, with Rowan joining them.

Rowan learns more about each of Vormund's followers; Gavin is the estranged son of a wealthy lady, Drusus is a ranger gone rogue, Clara is a former prostitute, and Ethan suffers from amnesia. There is also another individual who lives permanently at Arza Kell, whom they refer to as "the dreamwalker". When Rowan presses for more information, Ethan tells him to read the Book of Matta, the final chapter of the Mandorlin.

Arriving at Arza Kell, the group carries Melissa's body to the slope of the mountain. They bury her, then enter the caves. Clara is reunited with her husband, the dreamwalker, who uses his power to comfort the grieving Gavin as he sleeps. Meanwhile, a sleepless Rowan confides in Vormund, beginning the first of many conversations he has with the prophet.

In the morning, Rowan borrows Clara's copy of the Mandorlin, intending to find out more about the dreamwalker. She advises him not to seek the dreamwalker out, as knowledge of his presence could put his life in danger. Rowan correctly guesses that she has feelings for him, but doesn't realize how deep their relationship goes.

Rowan reads the Book of Matta and learns the eponymous Matta, an Exekian alchemist, was obsessed with finding a "cure" for mortality. When his experiments failed, he gradually concluded mortality was in fact the intended fate of all things, making the Exekians unnatural beings. He later attempted to assassinate the Exekian emperor and his heir, and enlisted the help of his friend Kemet, the "dreamwalker". However, the plot was only partially successful, and Kemet betrayed Matta.

Confronting Vormund about this information, Rowan is appalled that they are hiding a traitor in their midst. Vormund counters this by claiming Kemet has had centuries to repent for his actions. Rowan still wants to meet Kemet in person. Vormund assures him he will meet him, but "on his time, not yours".

While visiting a nearby village for supplies, Gavin hears that his mother is on her deathbed. He decides to return home, temporarily leaving his daughter in the care of Clara and Kemet. Drusus informs Vormund that Ethan has been behaving strangely, including cutting himself deliberately with sharp rocks. Ethan confesses to Vormund that some of his memories are returning, including disturbing images of violence and blood. He cuts himself to stop the flashbacks.

Meanwhile, Rowan begins having vivid dreams of the Ferdia, a mythical creature. He sculpts the Ferdia from marble found in the caves. In one of his visions, he meets Kemet, who reveals he has been influencing Rowan's dreams. Rowan antagonizes and provokes Kemet, prompting Vormund to wake him up. Having discovered from the dream that Kemet and Clara were married by Vormund, Rowan is disgusted and appalled.

Several days pass, and while Rowan is working on his sculpture, Kemet and Clara arrive to watch him. Rowan apologizes and comes to terms with his anger and revulsion. He completes the sculpture as a gift to the couple.

Vormund, Drusus, Ethan, and Rowan travel by train to Hiberia. While Rowan has never been there before, the others visited Hiberia two years earlier, making many friends and converting numerous people, among them the famous musician Jade Athanasi. They left for the sake of Clara's mental health - the cult had rescued her from a brothel in the city, where she had been held captive since she was sold there as a child. Vormund intends to warn their friends about what happened in Bodai, fearing further persecution.

In Hiberia, the group goes to the house of Heather Babbitt, an old woman who is supposed to be taking care of Drusus' sister Sophie. When they arrive, a stranger answers the door, and when they ask for Heather, they are told she no longer lives there. After leaving, they are accosted by a filthy waif, who picks Rowan's pocket while he is distracted.

With no other place to go, they wind up at the Muse Theater, where Jade is performing. After the show, they visit her in her dressing room, which she shares with the flamboyant actor Cezar Montag. She isn't happy to see them again, but gives them the address to the "Hotel Casimir".

The "hotel" turns out to be a pawnshop run by Kirk Callow, a retired seaman and one of Vormund's oldest friends. Sophie lives upstairs and works as a seamstress. The two reveal Jade has gotten involved with Bishop Neil Lars, a sleazy clergyman suspected of involvement in criminal affairs. Vormund asks about the other believers; most have died or disappeared, though they know the whereabouts of a few others.

Sophie and Kirk accompany them to the insane asylum, searching for Heather Babbitt. They find Heather has died of a heart attack. The receptionist tells them she was placed in the asylum by her son Joachim, who was accompanied by a mysterious hooded monk.

The group then descends into the sewers beneath the city, where they encounter Giorgio, a former accountant who is now a drug addict. Giorgio tries to lead them to his estranged wife Edith and two sons, Oscar and Vincent. They are horrified to find Edith is dead and Oscar and Vincent are both ill.

Back at the pawnshop, the cultists care for the sick. Oscar's condition worsens and he dies, but three year old Vincent survives, having been blinded by the disease.

A few days later, Vormund goes out alone while the others are asleep. They awake to find him missing and fear the worst. Searching the city, they find him surrounded by a crowd of people. Protesters attempt to drown out his voice by chanting, shouting, and making noise, and those who come to him for help are mocked and belittled. A few challenge him, but most are simply there to spectate or to be disruptive.

Eventually, a woman in the crowd throws yignaal dust, a hallucinogenic drug, at Vormund, but Ethan jumps in the way. Drusus and Rowan carry Ethan to a nearby doctor, but the doctor is unable to help. Vormund arrives not long after, and his presence seems to calm Ethan down.

They return to the secret hideout, and Ethan slips into a deep sleep. In the meantime, Jade pays them a visit. She admits to Vormund that she has lost her faith, and after a bitter confrontation with Drusus, Vormund goes on a walk with her.

Fed up, Drusus leaves the pawnshop alone, telling Rowan he's going for a walk of his own. He tracks down Cezar and interrogates him, having guessed he disguised himself as the hooded monk and the "woman" in the crowd. In retaliation, Cezar attacks him, beats him unconscious, and steals his weapons and badge.

Drusus returns in the morning and confides in Rowan his suspicions of a conspiracy. He believes Jade is spying on them for Neil Lars. Vormund had decided to leave Hiberia immediately, and Jade agreed to come along. Word spreads throughout the city, and a whole crowd of people opts to follow Vormund, most of them junkies and homeless people from the sewers who believe Vormund will lead them to a utopia. Unable to ride the rails with such a large group, they are forced to walk, camping in the woods at night.

One day, Sophie and Ethan both disappear. The others go out to look for her. They find her dead, and Ethan missing. The group splits up to look for Ethan. Vormund finds him first. Drusus then stumbles upon them, and in a rage he attempts to kill Ethan, but is stopped by Vormund. Rowan and Jade witness the confrontation.

Back at the camp, Drusus and Vormund reveal Ethan's violent past to the others. Formerly known as Daniel Zuse, he had been an infamous serial killer known for drinking his victims' blood. While on the run from the law, he encountered Vormund. The experience left him with no memory of his past, and the two began traveling together. Vormund named him Ethan, and convinced Drusus, who had been chasing Daniel Zuse, that he could be reformed through faith. Drusus vowed he would stay with them, and if Ethan killed again, he would arrest him at once.

Drusus intends to take Ethan to the nearest ranger outpost to face justice, but their leaving is delayed due to the massive crowd following them. Rowan loses faith in Vormund and decides to report Ethan's crimes himself. He sneaks away during a shopping trip with Drusus and reports the murder to the constable of Rhinehart. To his horror, the constable admits the police have been watching Vormund and his followers for years, waiting for them to make a wrong move.

The constable and his men force Rowan to lead them to Sophie's grave and the cult's camp. There, the police proceed to arrest everyone they can find, citing the travelers as accomplices to murder. When Kirk resists arrest, he is shot and killed. The sound of the gunshot alerts Rowan, who tries to stop the violence, but they warn him not to interfere, or he'll be arrested as well. Drusus, who escaped arrest by virtue of being in town when Rowan reported to the constable, successfully shoots and kills an officer who had struck Vormund. The officers retaliate by shooting back at him, and he is presumed dead.

Rowan is ordered to leave. At a loss as to where he should go or what he should do, he remembers Drusus' warnings of a conspiracy and heads for Tyr instead of Arza Kell, in case he is being followed. Along the way, he encounters Giorgio and Vincent fleeing the police. Giorgio hands him Vincent and disappears.

In Tyr, he finds Gavin presiding over his family's estate as the new High Lord. Gavin agrees to take in Vincent, and they set out for Arza Kell to retrieve Laura. Upon entering the caves, they find no trace of Kemet, Clara, or Gavin's daughter. That night, Gavin dreams of a clearing in the woods further south. Upon waking, he makes his way to the clearing, and sure enough Kemet, Clara, and Laura are there. Gavin convinces them to give him Laura in exchange for one of his pack animals, vowing to do whatever he can to help Vormund and the others. The last he ever sees of Kemet and Clara is the two of them riding south.

Rowan and Gavin part ways, with Rowan returning to Bodai. He is discovered and berated by Rhonda, who tells him Mayer left for his native Kataru. She begs him to renounce Vormund and burn his Mandorlin. In a fit of rage, Rowan mutilates the statue of the Raven King which Mayer had been working on, injuring himself in the process. With the pain having snapped him back to reality, Rowan retrieves his forgotten copy of the Mandorlin and leaves for Kataru, intending to resume his apprenticeship under a new identity.

The story concludes with a letter written by Gavin to the king, describing the events which followed. Vormund died in prison, and according to the warden after his death his body reverted to that of a young man. Ethan was hanged for his crimes, and went to the gallows without a fight. Giorgio is not in any of the records, and is presumed dead. Jade was saved by her connection to Neil Lars, and went into hiding. Gavin was only able to save Drusus, who had been brutally tortured. Drusus, consumed by hatred and resentment, vowed revenge before cutting all ties with Gavin. Finally, Gavin pleads with the king to help those who remain, to stop the persecution of "Vormundists".

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