Book Recommendation: Vault of Dreamers, by Caragh M. O’Brien

Vault of Dreamers

The Forge School is the most prestigious arts school in the country. The secret to its success: every moment of the students’ lives is televised as part of the insanely popular Forge Show, and the students’ schedule includes twelve hours of induced sleep meant to enhance creativity. But when first year student Rosie Sinclair skips her sleeping pill, she discovers there is something off about Forge. In fact, she suspects that there are sinister things going on deep below the reaches of the cameras in the school. What’s worse is, she starts to notice that the edges of her consciousness do not feel quite right. And soon, she unearths the ghastly secret that the Forge School is hiding—and what it truly means to dream there.

Okay, first off, this book has some crimes to answer for. I missed my bus stop because of it, and then I read the rest of it standing on the side of a rural highway waiting the next bus. In the snow. By the time the bus arrived, my toes and my heels had gone numb. I fell up the bus stairs and accidentally threw my phone at the driver. And I didn’t even take any time to pore over my shame, because I was busy poring over my ANGST AT THAT CLIFFHANGER ENDING.

Ahem.

This book has excellent, complex characters and an engaging plot, and you should read it, but I want to talk about two very interesting things it does. The first of these is the consciousness/mental health aspect. As it says in the book description, it doesn’t take long before Rosie begins to suspect that the school is messing with its students’ minds. She sees evidence of this with strange things happening to the sleeping students, and she also starts to see things. Hear things. She beings to suspect that her mind is not her own. Not entirely in her conscious control.

If is fairly common for books to bring up the spectre of mental illness and then do one of two things (and sometimes both at once). They either say that the character is not REALLY losing their mind, there is something paranormal going on and they’re perfectly sane, or madness is presented as this completely devastating worse-than-death thing. This book does neither of these things. While it pretty accurately shows the terror of not being in control of your mind, it doesn’t hold it up as The Worst Thing. Rosie doubts herself and her actions, but she doesn’t decide immediately that she is completely helpless or that she would rather die. As I have to spend a lot of my days sorting my reactions and perceptions of the world (“this is accurate, that’s the depression talking, dial it back jasmine”) I really appreciated that. I really appreciate my fun books not telling me that my life is a horror movie. And as to the paranormal, this is SF, not fantasy. That is made very clear.

The other thing this book does is spend the first half setting up the most plausible dystopia I have ever read. It’s very low-key, we don’t see a lot of the changes that have happened in this future, but those we do read like a current economic plan bureaucrats and businessmen are acting on as we speak. So when we get to the 60% mark, when the big conceit of the book is revealed, and it’s a bit far fetched, I believe it absolutely. I am afraid to google it because I’ll find out it’s real and then be terrified forever.

Tell me what you think! Please.