Here we are at the final book of the Casteel series, one of the most beloved series in the V.C. Andrews canon. Web of Dreams goes back in time to Leigh VanVoreen, Heaven’s biological mother, and follows her path to becoming “Angel” Casteel. So let’s give this series the final Grown-Ass V.C. Andrews treatment, shall we?
WITH NOWHERE TO GO, NO ONE TO HELP HER, LEIGH FLED INTO THE ARMS OF LUKE CASTEEL!
Leigh VanVoreen had to escape form Boston’s Farthinggale Manor. The foul secret she harbored within her seemed to darken her life forever. Jillian, her mother, would not believe her . . . and Tony Tatterton, her stepfather, had betrayed her most cruelly.
But the pure devotion of Luke Casteel promised her hope and respect. Only Luke knew her deepest of secrets . . . only Luke would love and protect her. Bravely she bore the suspicions of the Willies’ hillfolk, as she tried to grasp the happiness that had so long eluded her. Leigh prayed with all her heart that her bright, shining dreams would save her from tragedy at last…
First off, this summary describes what is literally the last 15% of the book, if even that. I’m being generous. Having recently agonized over my book pitch and synopsis, reading this summary was a massive bitch-slap. Can you imagine being a literary agent, reading this above synopsis and then getting a novel that consists of basically NOTHING that was presented in the pitch?
It’d be rejections all around. And yet this book exists with it’s HORRIBLE synopsis, forever mocking me for all my hard work.
About Web of Dreams
Published in 1990, Web of Dreams serves as the final chapter of the Casteel saga, which, oddly isn’t really about any blood Casteels. Ya ever notice that?
In the V.C. Andrews fanbase, the later installments of the series are considered to be of lesser quality. Sure, Andrew Neiderman had some big shoes to fill. I feel to some degree that he got Andrews’ voice in his prose. He definitely amps up the saccharine shit, but he does succeed at taming Andrews’ tendency to meander. His writing proves an easier read for a kind of “hate-reader” such as myself.
Fallen Hearts sucked because Heaven’s voice changed under his pen. Gates of Paradise sucked because Annie proved herself quite the little princess AND her story remained confined in one stupid room. Web of Dreams, which weirdly doesn’t have much of a “heaven-focused” title, gives Neiderman his first real chance to shine under Andrews’ shadow.
My Copy of Web of Dreams
I ended up with two copies of Web of Dreams. I purchased one from Thriftbooks labelled to be in “Like New” condition. To be fair, it wasn’t bad. Dogeared. Creased spines. The other I found at Value Village and it was like four bucks so I bought it thinking it’d be in better shape then the first copy I bought.
SIDEBAR: I don’t know why I now have this weird need to buy progressively better copies of the same books. Perhaps my wish now is to pass this collection onto my daughter who will probably be smart enough to scoff and roll her eyes at just how misogynist and ridiculous these books actually are. But now, well, she likes the stepback covers. And that’s what really matters with V.C. Andrews books. When I die, this collection will be a prized piece of my estate that I will pass on to her.
Web of Dreams features Leigh’s solemn face above a not-so-castle-looking Farthinggale Manor, and a series of foiled blue spiderwebs around the house.
This is easily one of the best cover designs. Simple, but spooky. The wet look of the webs and the contrast of the red title look great. Often Times, V.C. Andrews covers use a theme of moons trees to feature the protagonist’s face, but this one is prime.
Beneath the cover, we get a shot of Leigh standing in the background with her “portrait doll” (which Heaven discovers in the first book). Beside her is pervert pedo Tony. Seated in the chair is her mother, Jillian. The little boy is Troy, who OF COURSE has to be wearing the stereotypical sailor outfit to convey innocence or whatever.
Now, as always, I’m just gonna bring up period accuracy here. Heaven was published in 1985. Typically, I consider the publishing date of the first book to coincide with the time period of the story (unless stated otherwise). Leigh gave birth to Heaven around the age of 13-14, which sets Web of Dreams somewhere in the early 70s.
And sure, you could argue that Leigh’s outfit doesn’t exactly speak 1970s, but I spose it would if she were a rich prude going for some more pure vibes, which the book DOES suggest. But Jillian? No way, honey. That outfit is PURE UNADULTERATED 80s.
Web of Dreams: The Grown-Ass Review
As I mentioned in my review of Darkest Hour, we always start these prequel books with all the knowledge of every single plot development. Basically, the general appeal of these prequels is getting ALLLLLLLL of the details of what occured before.
And boy oh boy, is Web of Dreams ever jizzy.
To start things off, Annie and Luke revisit Farthinggale Manor after laying Troy to rest beside Heaven. They find a Leigh’s diary inside of Jillian’s desk. Annie opens it and begins to read.
An Innocent & Pretty, Yet Completely Naive Female Protagonist
We meet Leigh after she has a foreshadowing nightmare about her parents leaving her before she wakes up on her 12th birthday. Because yes, we meet about 55.6% of all V.C. Andrews protagonists on their oh-so-special and oh-so-perfect birthday. That is, until one wrench gets thrown into the mix and the whining begins.
But, in a change of pace, Leigh receives a special journal from her father, Cleave. This is the journal that us readers are now reading from (through Annie). Leigh also receives a crap-ton of cashmere sweaters and fancy-ass rich woman stuff from her vain mother, Jillian.
Then later, Jillian gives her one last final present, which is, of course:
Why is a stupid bra ALLLLLLLWWWAAAAAAAAYS the pivotal scene to portray a girl “becoming a woman”? For most, it’s the first period, but there’s no way in period hell that a man would ever write about a period, because what kind of male writer gets to gawk at the female body when speaking of periods?
So instead we get this male-gaze BS “knowledge” from Jillian:
“You don’t wear this all the time, just on occasions when you will meet elegant people and handsome, wealthy suitors, and when you put this on under your new cashmere sweaters…”page 15
I took the bra gingerly. My heart was still racing.
“Men, especially men of position and wealth, like to be seen with women who are stunning. It strokes their egos, understand?”
Ever the advice-giver, Jillian goes on:
“Men see women as ornaments.”
“But is that good?” I wondered aloud.
“Of course it’s good. Let them think what they want, as long as they work themselves to the bone making you happy.”
BUT SHE DOESN’T STOP THERE AND SLAPS ON THIS BS:
“Always remember, Leigh, women can never be as promiscuous as men. Never.”
And THEN, because this agony must continue:
“It’s all right for men to be that way. It’s expected. They want to prove their manhood, but if a woman is that way, she will lose everything important. Nice girls don’t go all the way. Not until they’re married.”page 16
Anyway, Jillian retells her amazing fantastic whimsical and totally romantic AF story about how she met Cleave, because Leigh just LOVES IT SO FUCKING MUCH. And we basically get the gist of his mother/daughter relationship, right?
We know where this is going, right?
A Tragic Death
So the tragic death in this book isn’t so much as a death as it is a divorce.
Cleave VanVoreen owns a cruise ship company (but for some reason acts more like a captain of one ship within the company named The Jillian, instead of doing normal CEO office bullshit). Either way, he takes long trips that leave Leigh and her mother alone. This time, however, he decides to take out the entire family for an extended voyage to Jamaica.
And the whole ass time Jillian complains about it.
She spends all her time in her suite, moaning and begroaning in her bed. She complains about how the ocean’s ruining her hair even though she’s INSIDE HER SUITE ON HER BED. Then she gets seasick and a bunch of doctors try to help but nothing helps because she really just wants to get back to Boston to continue boning it up with Tony Tatterton, a toymaker whose house she’s painting some fancy murals in.
The ship docks in Montego Bay and Jillian comes out dressed in a full-silk 80s cardigan suite ensemble, saying that she plans on flying back to Boston. Leigh loses her shit:
“Oh, Momma.” I was crying now, crying so hard I thought I might never stop, and I couldn’t keep myself from calling her the name from my childhood. Oh, why couldn’t I be back in that happy, safe, childhood!page 74
Later, after Jillian leaves, Cleave confesses to Leigh that she went to Florida to process a divorce. Leigh cries half her body weight during the rest of the cruise, but also somehow finds the time to make some friends and get all sexy in front of the mirror like her mother:
I stood there assuming different poses, trying to imitate some of Momma’s expressions and looks. I sucked in my cheeks, turned my shoulders, drew my shoulders back and thrust out my breasts until they looked more prominent.page 87
A Rags to Riches Plot
Because Cleave drowns his divorce sorrows in his next sailing journey, he sends Leigh back to live with her mother, who is now engaged to Tony Tatterton and plans on getting married that winter.
Leigh moves into Farthinggale Manor and meets the young Troy, and I won’t lie, I appreciate their relationship. We see some of Troy’s weird unexplained maladies but not any of Tony’s real concern about it. Sure, Leigh is concerned, but she also is more concerned about the worsening state of her mother’s vanity.
Neiderman really pulls no punches making Jillian the most vain woman who ever existed. He’s always good at it, which I suppose works in terms of the era we’re in, but all of the vapidness is always about image and status. None of his “villains” ever have deeper character flaws. Jillian might be fucking ridiculous, but she isn’t complex like Kitty Dennison.
A Beloved Doting Paternal Figure
If you didn’t get enough of pervy Tony Tatterton in the the rest of the series, Web of Dreams will fix all of that for you. Previous books had a naked late-night drunken rape attempt here or there, but this book?
When Leigh first meets Tony, she finds herself confused by her attraction to him. Which is reasonable. She’s a preteen entering the flood of her sexuality and he’s a 23 year-old man. He buys her a necklace and treats her the way a proper gentleman would.
Then, on Thanksgiving, while Leigh’s looking after little Troy, she catches perv-tastic Tony trying to get Jillian into bed because it’s “almost their wedding day”. Jillian pushes him off and Tony plays the whole 90s blue balls dude stereotype. Then this happens:
Just before they turned to go back to the others, Tony caught sight of me peering out of Troy’s playroom door. For a long moment, his eyes burned into mine and I felt like he had stroked my hair or the delicate, airy fabric of my dress.page 122
Later, when Jillian and Leigh leave, Tony kisses Leigh on the forehead and she wonders how she could ever consider such a handsome young man her stepfather.
A Vivid Gothic Setting
Once again, we continue our story in Farthinggale Manor, which has less of an influence in Leigh’s life than it did on Heaven and Annie. The manor takes a backseat to the maze, which we learn a bit more about from Tony:
“I never actually measured it, but Boris, my head grounds keeper, thinks at least half an acre, if not more.”page 36
To which I’m like:
Because if you ask the internet for specific visuals, it’s pretty fucking obvious that a half an acre maze isn’t actually that big. And now that I know how big the maze is, I’m supposed to believe that Heaven AND Leigh got lost in there for hours? Not only that, but somehow Troy managed to pretend he a dead for YEARS by hiding in a cottage inside a hedgemaze that was only HALF AN ACRE BIG?!?!?!?
What we get instead is that “safe” version in the form of step-dad sex, which isn’t exactly incest but is just as gross.
In this case, Tony becomes irate with Jillian’s weird obsession with not fucking him and so he instead turns his attention on Leigh. THEN he gets this brilliant idea to make this new line of prestigious Tatterton Toys dolls called “Portrait Dolls”, which will be modelled and created to look exactly like real girls.
Jillian for some reason (because she’s too busy with her skin regime instead of caring about pedos) is 100% in when Tony decides to model the very first doll after Leigh. Not just after her face, but the body. Jillian tells Leigh that she’ll have to pose naked in a studio set up in the cottage in the middle of the hedgemaze.
In response, Leigh goes back to her room and has YET ANOTHER “woman looks at her body in the mirror” moment:
I stripped off my bathing suit and preened before my full-length mirror gazing at myself, studying my every curve. The veins around my emerging breasts were close to the surface, stretching and growing every day. Would Tony concentrate on such detail?page 241
Still upset with the concept of posing naked, Leigh wonders what her dad would think. Then she realizes that he wouldn’t care, because her dad has met a new woman named Mildred who Leigh believes is absorbing all his attention, a concept that the book doesn’t ever progress on. Nevertheless, the whole “dad has a new wife” plotline is enough to make Leigh go forward with posing naked as a minor in front of a grown-ass man.
It’s even grosser with this revelation:
I untied my robe and let the garment fall to my feet. I would be a Tatterton doll. I might even give Daddy one on his wedding day.page 243
Which is a whole lot of WTF? Literally no healthy-minded teenage girl (as Leigh is supposed to be) would ever want to give her dad a doll modelled fully after her. I don’t know why Neiderman focuses so much on her obsession that borders on sexual with her dad, but the book never returns to it.
Fantastic Psychological Horror
I will give Neiderman a touch of credit for fleshing out Leigh’s mental state in the middle of her parents’ divorce. I did feel her trauma with being distant from her father, her alienation trying to find her place in Farthy, and her troubles with her vain mother. Jillian proves herself QUITE the riot in that she basically married Tony solely to upgrade her social life, but then she spends a majority of her time being stressed out about said social life and slapping all the 80s era anti-aging creams on her face.
Leigh enjoys her time with Troy, but finds all of her comfort in Tony, which is obviously problematic considering that Tony begins seeing Leigh as a body substitute for Jillian. And, well, then we get the MYRIAD of pervy modelling scenes that are beyond uncomfortable to read.
And hey, this is peak V.C. Andrews, with a dirty rich dude and some the teenage sexual naivete combining to make passages like this where he gets her to slowly unbutton her shirt so he can sketch her torso:
“Now, let your blouse go.” I released it and it fell to my feet. “Yes,” he said in a loud whisper. “The lines of your neck and shoulders…”page 251
“What about them?” I asked quickly.
“Nothing bad,” he replied with a slight laugh. “They threw me for a moment.” I heard him come up behind me and then I felt the tips of his fingers trace the curve of my neck and shoulders. I jumped when I felt him. “Try to relax,” he whispered in my ear. “Sometimes an artist has to make contact with his subject so he truly absorbs the lines and curves in his consciousness. At least I do.”
Tony asks Leigh about kissing and boys. He asks if she’s ever French-kissed and grown-ass me CAN’T HELP BUT CRINGE AT THIS OBVIOUS GROOMING. It’s so awful to read as an adult and I can’t help but wonder if all the girls that read this in the 90s understood exactly what was going on.
Tony asks if she’s seen a boy naked and then proceeds to express his marital problems with Jillian not wanting to bone him. It shows much of his mental delusion but doesn’t in any way excuse his behaviour as the modelling sessions continue and he starts saying that he cant draw her boobs and ass right and has to start touching her and stuff.
I gotta wonder how Neiderman feels writing this shit. Like he does it over and over because Simon and Shuster will pay him to do it until the V.C. Andrews name no longer has selling power. But that’s gotta be really fucking awkward to write as a grown-ass man who doesn’t want to look like a pervert.
Then Tony converts all the drawings and paintings into the modelled doll, which isn’t all that accurate, considering that he gave the doll all of Leigh’s facial features but her mother’s total MILF bod:
The moment I looked at it, my face turned beet red and I gasped. My head was reeling. I felt hot all over, then cold. My face was perfect but he had sculpted every detail and every part of my body with such exaggeration, it looked pornographic . Everyone could see this . . . boys . . . everyone.page 285
A Hostile Maternal Figure (+ Bonus Mean Girl!)
Leigh rightly goes to (FINALLY) tell Jillian. By this point we already know just how fucking vapid a woman Jillian is. Also, because this is a V.C. Andrews book, we know just what Jillian’s response to this revelation will be:
“Is that all?” she asked when I was finished. She turned to her vanity table.page 266
“All? Isn’t it enough?” I cried.
“But he hasn’t done anything to you, has he? You said yourself he tries to make you comfortable each time. He sounds very considerate to me,” she said and stated to turn back to the mirror.
SO CLEARLY JILLIAN ONLY UNDERSTANDS ONE MEANING OF THE TERM GROOMING.
Don’t get too outraged, though. Because it gets worse.
Some Good Olde School Misogyny
In the same scene, Jillian continues her ignorance with this statement that is shockingly both misogynistic and a bit misandric:
“What you’re doing is wonderful . . . for both of you. He seems so involved, so pleased. To tell you the truth, Leigh,” she said, turning back to me, “before he got involved with this project, I thought he was going to drive me mad. He was at my door night and day, demanding my attention. I never realized how possessive he was and how much he needed to be occupied. A man like Tony could exhaust one woman to death!” she declared.page 267
THEN Leigh explains that the doll looks like Jillian, and this is Jillian’s response:
“How clever. He’s combining both of us into this wonderful new work of art. Why, I guess it has to be expected — the man is completely obsessed with me. He has me on his mind night and day,” she said playing with her hair. Then she turned back to me. “You must not blame him for it, Leigh. He simply can’t help it.”page 267
“Now you understand why I run away sometimes, why I need relief, why he must be distracted by one thing or another. It’s so difficult for a woman when a man literally worships the ground she walks upon.” She sighed. “Sometimes, I long for him to be more like your father.”
And it’s kind of a huge slap in the face that this point, just how fucking delusional she is.
All of this culminates into the scene where Tony busts into Leigh’s bedroom in the middle of the night and rapes her. Afterward, Leigh again goes to Jillian, who blames Leigh for///
It’s Jillan’s indifference that drives Leigh away from Farthy. THANK GOD! For some reason, because she wants the haunting reminder of Tony’s molestation with her at all times, or maybe because we need a stupid device to connect this whole flashback back to Heaven, Leigh takes the portrait doll along with her.
Then she finds Luke working at a carnival (WHICH IS WHERE LUKE’S WEIRD RANDOM OBSESSION WITH OWNING A CARNIVAL ORIGNALLY CAME FROM!) and you really only need the book synopsis to get you up to speed here. Luke (17) becomes infatured with Leigh so much so that he calls her “Angel” and then leaves the carnival to take her back home and become his wife. Leigh gets along with Luke’s parents, gets accustomed to “hill scum” life, gets pregnant, then takes a walk in the woods with Luke.
During the walk, she begins having early contractions that literally take her to her knees, but instead of worrying, she asks Luke to let her take one last look at the stars.
Some Really Bad Writing
To be honest, Leigh’s naive character supported most of the narrative this time around, and I found her voice more effective. I didn’t notice a lot of the V.C. Andrews-isms that her books are notoriously known for. Maybe I’m just becoming desensitized.
Or, maybe Neiderman just found his stride in this book?
Honestly, it wasn’t horrible. He did a decent job at putting us in Leigh’s shoes as she navigates the changes that occur with puberty (with some problematic cliches, but it wouldn’t be a V.C. Andrews book without said problematic cliches).
I don’t know. Maybe I’m fully into the V.C. Andrews universe now that I’m failing to see its flaws. Do I need help? Deprogramming?
Please, uh, let me know.
Web of Dreams: My Grown-Ass Final Thoughts
Aside from the last 20% of the book being a stupid rambling mess of quickly-paced meet-cute between literal teenagers who decide to get married too damn early, I honestly thought that Web of Dreams was the best book in the Casteel Series.
I’m sorry. I know you Andrews purists probably hate me for this, but the plot remained focused and the tension, for the most part, remained high. Some of the abuse scenes were absolutely uncomfortable to read but let’s not lie and pretend that these scenes aren’t the sole reason we’re reading V.C. Andrews in the first place.
Granted, Andrews herself did a better job of conveying a victim’s response to abuse in Heaven, but this book just worked for me. It being a prequel, I thought Neiderman managed to weave all the elements from the first three books to come full-circle.
Web of Dreams (Casteel #4)
- Jillian being Jillian.
- Leigh being pretty tolerable for a naive V.C. Andrews character.
- Tony is a legit pedo.
- Neiderman actually made me empathize with a character for once!
- Dad scenes were lame AF.
- Tony scenes were almost too much, honestly.
- Luke came in WAY. TOO. LATE.