“The Sandman: The Doll’s House” by Neil Gaiman
What I’ve immediately learned about these books is that every little detail is going to come back into play later. In the first book, there are three people specifically called out as having the sleeping sickness. One of which, a girl named Unity, gets pregnant and delivers a child all while asleep, and the baby is given away. This comes into play in this second installment when Unity’s granddaughter, Rose, becomes a principal character in the action.
First, though, “The Doll’s House” kicks off with two men from an unnamed tribe. The elder tells the younger the story of the city of glass their ancestors once inhabited. The city was ruled over by a beautiful young queen (Nada), who fell in love with the Dream Lord until she realized he was the Dream Lord. Then, she refused him, and the city fell.
That’s all just prelude, though.
From there, we quickly meet two scheming characters (soon to be known to us as Desire and Despair) and are then transported to Rose’s side. Having arrived in London for mysterious reasons thanks to a mysterious benefactor, Rose and her mother meet Unity for the very first time, and Unity gives Rose a ring. A week later, Rose has moved into an apartment in Florida and is surrounded by wacky house-mates; a nearly perfect couple named Barbie and Ken, a pair of twin sisters, a drag performer, and a mysterious older gent named Gilbert. Rose is in Florida for one reason; to find her missing brother, Jed. Jed is being held in a dark basement by two low-life relatives who are getting $800 a month from the state for keeping him. He lives in a between world, locked in the basement in reality and escaping into dreams most of the time.
Back in DreamWorld, Morpheus is putting the pieces of his crumbled kingdom back together. He’s been reunited with Matthew, a raven who used to be a human. There’s talk of a dream vortex (a bad thing) that’s to come. And, though almost all of the former creature/residents of the DreamWorld have been accounted for, four have gone missing. This is bad news. Two of them, Brute and Glob, are the ones keeping Jed stuck in his dreams. They’ve even created a second Sandman, thinking Morpheus to be gone forever. The third, known as The Corinthian, is a dangerous being Morpheus knows is a threat to the real world. The fourth is an exceptional mystery. Known as Fiddler’s Green, this being is literally a place, and it’s vanished.
Back in reality, Rose and Gilbert go on the hunt for Jed and end up staying the night at a hotel where a convention is being held. Unknown to them, it’s a serial killer convention consisting of loathsome and perverted monster-people. The Corinthian is one of the guests of honor.
Putting the pieces together – and fascinated by Rose for mysterious reasons – Morpheus descends through the dreamworld into Jed’s dreams and lays down his law. Hippolyta, the entranced wife of the second Sandman, watches her whole world collapse around her, but learns she is now carrying a baby. It’s Morpheus’ baby, and he’ll be back for it. Having broken free, Jed has been picked up while hitchhiking by The Corinthian en route to the convention.
In a side story, we witness a friendship between Morpheus and a mortal man who Death has given the gift of life. Every hundred years, they meet at an inn for conversation. (FYI – Shakespeare appears during one of these meetings, and Morpheus pulls him aside for a moment…)
At the hotel, Rose is attacked by one of the creepy serial killers. Fortunately Gilbert has given her a name to call in case of an emergency. She calls it – “Morpheus” – and The Dream Lord appears to save her. He also un-creates The Corinthian and takes away the bad dreams of the serial killers, reducing them to shadows of men. Gilbert appears with Jed, who is barely alive after being locked in a car trunk.
Back in Florida, Rose returns to her housemates while Gilbert sits at the hospital with Jed. She’s tired, but fights sleep. Finally, she gives in, and weirdness erupts. All throughout the house, the inhabitants are dreaming their separate dreams – but Rose breaks those walls down and sucks them all into one massive and monstrous dream. Morpheus appears and stops the dream before it destroys them all, but Rose is whisked away to DreamWorld where it is revealed that she is the dream vortex and as such, must be killed. One of Morpheus’ jobs is to prevent vortexes, which suck the sanity and life away from the dreamers.
By now, we’ve realized that Gilbert isn’t just some random nice dude. He gets word from Matthew that Rose is a vortex, and heads to the DreamWorld. For, you see, he’s Fiddler’s Green in a human form.
Over in London Unity is dying. Her spirit, in her last moments, meets up with Morpheus, Rose, and Gilbert, and the vortex is passed from woman to woman. As Unity dies, the vortex is destroyed, and Morpheus sends Rose and Jed both back to the real world, awake and fine.
In these issues, we’re introduced to another member of “the family” (having already met Death in the prior volume.) This time around, it’s Desire – Morpheus’ younger sister and troublemaker. Turns out, it was she who impregnated Unity all those years ago and passed the vortex on to humans. From the comments Morpheus makes, if he takes the life of one of his blood, terrible things will happen. (We also, briefly, meet Despair – Desire’s twin – in this volume, though we’re not given much of her. I presume that’s to come later.)
At the end of “The Doll’s House,” Desire seems unfazed… that can’t be good, right?