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eARC Review: The Nightmare Virus by Nadine Brandes

Release date:  16 July 2024

Rating:  4.5/5

Synopsis:  Some viruses go after the body. But the Nightmare Virus goes after the mind.

When dream technology goes wrong, a virus spreads across the globe, trapping people in a universal dreamscape. They call it the Nightmare Virus.

Cain Cross is determined to find a cure . . . if he can decipher his brother’s chicken-scratch formula notes. But when he gets infected, he has only 22 days until he’s trapped in the mental prison forever. Now, every time he falls asleep, he must fight in a Nightmare Arena until he earns his freedom to live in the “new world” that exists only in the mind.

Then he finds a way to manipulate the Nightmare—to change it by mere thought.

Forced to navigate a world of nightbeasts, mistblades, and half-truths, Cain turns his focus to survival. When the Emperor offers him a LifeSuPod—and access to a cure—in exchange for a dangerous favor, Cain thinks he’s found a way out. But Cain’s new power threatens to take him on paths that jeopardize his very soul.

Will he continue searching for a cure, or will he swear allegiance to the Nightmare? And the bigger question might be . . . will he even have a choice?



I’m off YA lately, as it markets to but mostly contains content inappropriate for children.  Brandes’ newest, The Nightmare Virus brings the grit of the YA of yesteryear titles such as The Hunger Games and keeps it level with what should be in books for children as young as 12.  It’s not for the faint of heart, however.  TNV tackles hard life events and tough themes, but it gives light at the end of the tunnel and shows found family can be capable of much more than providing witty banter and backup in a battle.

I’ve read many of Brandes’ previous novels:  Fawkes, Romanov, and Wishtress—I’ve seen many people laud TNV as her best, though I disagree—I LOVED Wishtress, but TNV is certainly nothing to sneeze at.  I’ll boil my preference down to simply elements and not writing skill.  This post-apocalyptic SciFi opens up in a bleak world with two brothers who are fighting a virus that causes sleep-induced comas that gradually and permanently incapacitate the infected.  They wake up in a nightmare world full of bleak, hopeless darkness.  This world, called Tenebra, proves hard to navigate, hard to discern the truth of, and even harder to escape from.

Cain, our main character—astonishingly, another boy MC in YA lit!—finds himself trapped in Tenebra and discovers he has a shocking ability to manipulate the world's fundamental nature. He also attracts the notice of the Emperor as result.  If you think you have the story figured out, you don’t.  I didn’t even catch on to the full twist until I read the end.  This book kept me rapt and I couldn’t wait to turn the page to find out more.  Cain navigates not just the physical and mental world, but a world of relationships with other people in both worlds and the God he feels abandoned him and the world.  

I love the found family trope. It abounds in TNV.  Here, it encompasses way more than the typical “I got your back” scenario we find in many SFF books where the action ends with a fighting troupe and someone to count on when a character needs his six covered—these family members provide support and require it from Cain. He grows so much as a character throughout the novel, and I loved reading the development.  Brandes really does well with her characters, and she shines here with Cain and his new family.  I don’t want to be any more specific because it would spoil things, but if you read this, which I HIGHLY ENCOURAGE YOU TO DO, you’re in for such a heartwarming treat.

Just be aware—the ending to this may leave you wanting more, as it does not provide a completely absolute solution to the problem within the narrative.  I feel it may be open-ended intentionally, but I’m not 100% sure.  I know at the end, some questions of mine were not entirely answered, and I was not completely satisfied with my fictional care.  I’m hoping it’s because there is another of these coming.  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  Either way, Brandes’ newest book only adds positively to the current selection of YA books on the market.  Be advised, though this offering does not have foul language or explicit sexual content, it does contain violence and mild horror elements (creatures and such but no gore).  

My profuse thanks the incomparable Nadine Brandes and one of my favorite indie publishers, Enclave Publishing, for the eARC for which I willingly give my own, honest opinion.  

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Awesome review, I can’t wait to read my copy!

Replying to

Nadine posted an unboxing of her finished copies yesterday (or the day before?)! They’re so pretty! It’s a chonker!

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