You can’t escape death forever. That’s the subtext of pretty much every supernatural horror story, from Dracula to Final Destination. You might trick the grim reaper for a while, but in the end he’s going to win.
It’s a theme that’s as often meant to be comforting as it is scary, and Markus Heitz’s Oneiros is yet another example of how that works. His hero, Konstatin Korff, is well acquainted with death: he’s an undertaker by trade, talented at making the dead look alive again.
But he’s also a Death Sleeper, a kind of immortal who attracts the reaper whenever he falls asleep. He’s immune to death, but the people around him aren’t. And while Korff sees his abilities as a curse, there are others who see them as an asset, and they’ve found a way to weaponise Death Sleepers.
At 622 pages, Oneiros is a fairly lengthy novel, and it’s only partly justified. Though Korff is the main character, Heitz also tells the story of several other Death Sleepers, some of who are more interesting than others (the insomniac baroness? Great. The chain-smoking paparazzo? Sort of dull). Minor characters, too, tend to get a lot of attention before being forgotten about, shoved off into the margins to get on with their own irrelevant storylines away from the action.
Even Korff’s supposedly prestigious business gets mostly ignored after the first few chapters – which is a shame, because it’s (morbidly) fascinating.
The clogged-up pacing is especially frustrating, because the mythology is clever, and the way traditional folk legends are woven in is inspired. But the clock’s ticking for all of us, so whether you’re willing to read maybe 100 pages of nonsense in among the good stuff is up to you. Once you’re through it, though it’s worth the ride.