The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe, by KM Johnson, was much more my thing! It starts with a women’s college that feels much like the one in Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night, only it is set in a dreamland. A student has eloped with a man from the waking world, which risks shutting them down, and so Vellitt, former adventurer and now a Professor of Mathematics goes in pursuit.
This quickly becomes a quest story – well, of course it does. It’s right there in the title. Still, not a lot of quest stories feature fifty-five year old heroines, so I approve. Vellitt’s youth has been a good preparation for this quest, and her she meets former friends and lovers along the way as she retraces her steps.
The world building here is fun. This is a rather chauvinistic world of dreams, and all the Dreamers who visit are male (it is believed that women cannot dream great dreams, something which Vellitt finds rather doubtful). Dreamers are very charismatic and tend to be quite self-absorbed, which makes perfect sense. But the world they dream goes on without them, there are capricious gods with destructive intentions who might be involved in the student’s elopement, and whatever the dreamers might think, the people who live in this place have lives that go well beyond what the dreamers observe.
I liked the dream landscapes. The sky is different, and has only 96 stars, distances between places vary depending on whim, and the Gods are not so much worshipped as placated. The quest goes quite smoothly from dreamlike to nightmarish, and it becomes clear that if Vellitt fails, it is not merely her beloved college that will be at risk. Vellitt’s head is a pleasing place to inhabit – she is perceptive, a little acerbic, and quite self-aware. The ending of the story is extremely satisfying.
My only complaint (and this might be an artefact of the fact that I’m pretty tired and crampy at present) is that the story seemed to have too much middle. I loved the beginning and the end, but the middle did drag a little bit. But it was a highly enjoyable, clever story, and deserves a high place on my ballot.