The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

Vellitt Boe is a professor at a women’s college in the fictional city of Ulthar.  The suddendream-quest disappearance of one of the school’s prize students throws the college’s future in doubt.  The dean wants Vellitt to find the young lady, and Vellitt, a wanderer in younger days, is game for the journey.

The man who wiled the student away is what they call a waking-world man – someone from a universe that is essentially ours.  Ulthar, by contrast, lies in a world of seething skies and a handful of stars by comparison to ours.  This world is overseen by a clutch of unpredictable gods and inhabited by a host of weird creatures.  Indeed, most people stick to what is known and traveled.

Vellitt, in contrast to others, has traveled much of their known world and some of its unknown parts, so she is perhaps the best choice for the trek, although Vellitt is now in her mid-fifties and considered old in their society.  She is, however, a person of extreme resolve, and as Vellitt makes her way through the dangerous backcountry, she feels again her youthful ambitions.

She is not alone.  A small black cat from Ulthar has chosen to make the journey with her, and as time passes, proves its worth, particularly when Vellitt meets a former lover.  He is a waking-world man himself, now king in a distant country, who may know the answer to her student’s whereabouts.  Even after their meeting, Vellitt will still endure a horrific trek through an underworld peopled by beings that are carnivorous – and that would be an understatement.

The world of this book is based on a universe H.P. Lovecraft created for a series he wrote called the Dream Cycle.  Think of The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe as a feminist re-imagining of Lovecraft’s universe.

I enjoyed this book.  It’s a quick read, definitely for fantasy fans and people who enjoy a heroine’s journey.  The ending was unexpected and a little abrupt, and I could say, a little bit out of place with the rest of the book, but that might have been the author’s intent.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

 

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