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The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe

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Professor Vellitt Boe teaches at the prestigious Ulthar Women’s College. When one of her most gifted students elopes with a dreamer from the waking world, Vellitt must retrieve her.

But the journey sends her on a quest across the Dreamlands and into her own mysterious past, where some secrets were never meant to surface.

166 pages, ebook

First published August 16, 2016

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About the author

Kij Johnson

107 books465 followers
Kij Johnson is an American writer of fantasy. She has worked extensively in publishing: managing editor for Tor Books and Wizards of the Coast/TSR, collections editor for Dark Horse Comics, project manager working on the Microsoft Reader, and managing editor of Real Networks. She is Associate Director for the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas, and serves as a final judge for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award.

Johnson is the author of three novels and more than 38 short works of fiction. She is best known for her adaptations of Heian-era Japanese myths. She won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for the best short story of 1994 for her novelette in Asimov's, "Fox Magic." In 2001, she won the International Association for the Fantastic in the Art's Crawford Award for best new fantasy novelist of the year. In 2009, she won the World Fantasy Award for "26 Monkeys, Also The Abyss," which was also a finalist for the Hugo and Nebula awards. She won the 2010 Nebula Award for "Spar" and the 2011 Nebula Award for "Ponies," which is also a finalist for the Hugo and World Fantasy awards. Her short story "The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change" was a finalist for the 2007 Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, and World Fantasy awards. Johnson was also a finalist for the 2004 World Fantasy Award for her novel Fudoki, which was declared one of the best SF/F novels of 2003 by Publishers Weekly.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 856 reviews
Profile Image for Elena May.
Author 13 books698 followers
July 1, 2017
We’ve seen this book so many times – someone from our world ends up in a portal universe and goes adventuring. Everyone from the portal world, with all their rich stories, cultures, relationships, dreams, becomes just a part of the landscape, a prop for our protagonists to experience a strange world and discover themselves.

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe is not this book.

This is a book about people and cultures from the portal world – the Dreamlands. People from our world might end up there by dreaming, but they only appear as characters in passing and never have much consequence. Still, whenever people from the waking world reach the Dreamlands, they are just as arrogant as any characters we’ve seen in other works:

He had been a man like many, so wrapped and rapt in his own story that there was no room for the world around him except as it served his own tale: the black men of Parg and Kled and Sona Nyl, the gold men of Thorabon and Ophir and Rinar; and all the women invisible everywhere, except when they brought him drinks or sold him food—all walk-on parts in the play that was Randolph Carter, or even wallpaper.

Later on, we get to meet this lovely man:

He loved who he was: Randolph Carter, master dreamer, adventurer. To him, she had been landscape, an articulate crag he could ascend, a face to put to this place. When were women ever anything but footnotes to men’s tales?

But this book is not about Randolph Carter. This book is about Vellitt Boe.

Meet Vellitt Boe! She is a 55-year-old brave adventurer from the Dreamlands! She’s also an esteemed Math professor! And in between teaching at the university, climbing mountains, fighting off scary creatures, sailing the open seas, adventuring in various underworlds, verbally sparring with messengers of the gods, and going on epic quests that can change the world, she finds the time for dresses, hair, and fine foods and drinks.

In other worlds, Vellitt Boe is just like most women I know!

Oh, I forgot the most important detail. She has a cat sidekick!

But before I go on, let’s take a step back and give some background. The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe is a retelling of Lovecraft’s “"The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.” As I mentioned in my review of another Hugo finalist, The Ballad of Black Tom , I haven’t read Lovecraft’s works. Perhaps I would have understood and appreciated this novella better if I had, but I still loved it and so can you!

Vellitt is smart, resourceful, self-depreciating, and extremely relatable . When I was reading about her travels, I felt I’ve been through the same experiences – devising efficient ways to pack to travel light but also take everything necessary, the wanderlust, the sense of adventure and discovery, the safety concerns, waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of lock-picking... Okay, I did wake up once to the sound of what I thought was lock-picking, when I was staying by myself at a dodgy place, but it turned out to be a mouse, and the beast had no problem entering my room! It’s decided: I need a cat sidekick when I travel too!

I was a bit disappointed the cat didn’t get to do much. It did fight off some creatures in the beginning and then detected the lock-picking, but most of the time it seemed to be there to be cool, or as a nod to the original Lovecraft story – as far as I understand, there was a cat there as well. I felt it could have played a much bigger role. At least it gets respect:

The small black cat in its blue collar had accompanied Vellitt to her audience and been well rewarded: Carter had saluted it with honor as a noble of its species, and it had been served with its own fine foods: mountain-clear water, minced mice, and a tiny fish still flipping its tail in a lapis dish.

MINCED MICE? Seriously, it’s eating minced mice?!?

During her travels, Vellitt never falls into the trap of becoming the type of arrogant adventurer she dislikes. She encounters ghouls and all kinds of horrific creatures, and it would have been extremely easy to dehumanize them, but she never does.

My only complain with the book is that it raises a major question which remains unanswered, and I was looking forward to a satisfying reveal. Hopefully it will be addressed in future books.

Overall, a stunning, epic, fast-paced fantasy quest ! It was a bit too heavy on the world-building at points, which might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the story and characters are still strong and compelling. With so many great novellas, I’ll have a really hard time deciding on my Hugo vote!
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
3,005 reviews10.6k followers
August 5, 2016
When a student from the Ulthar Women's College goes missing with her dreaming lover, Vellitt Boe journeys across the dreamlands to find a way to the waking world to bring her back. With a cat in tow, will Vellitt be able to find Clarie Jurat?

Ghouls, ghasts, and gugs, oh my! The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe is a new spin on HP Lovecraft's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, with less racism and more women! It was already on my wish-list when it popped up on Netgalley.

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe is Vellitt Boe's quest across the dreamlands to bring home Clarie Jurat, a student at her college. Clarie fell in love with a man from the waking world and Vellitt must bring her back before things go pear-shaped. Her odyssey takes her from one end of the dreamlands to the other and eventually, to the waking world.

I have to say I like what Kij Johnson had done with HP Lovecraft's Dreamlands. While the setting is still what Lovecraft created, complete with Randolph Carter and assorted horrid creatures, she puts her own stamp on the tale by having a middle-aged woman take center stage.

The writing is way more accessible than HP Lovecraft's and reads more like Neil Gaiman's Stardust. She treats the mythos with respect while expanding upon it and telling her own story.

The only thing I can really complain about is that it wasn't longer and Kij wasn't able to work all of the Dreamlands staples into it. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,100 followers
June 6, 2017
This novella is a real delight! I love all things Lovecraftian, with or without the inherent racism of the original, but fortunately, almost EVERY hand put to the task of building upon the mythos has recreated it into something egalitarian and deep while still retaining the rich, rich imaginings.

This continues the quest within the Dreamland but from the point of view of a middle-aged teacher of mathematics from *within* this other world, helping out a student from our world who had fallen in love with a man in the Dreamland who, if allowed to continue, would set all the gods of creation on a tear to destroy everything because the two SHALL NOT mix.

My favorite bits are the fact that this woman doesn't have any special skills. She settled down from her wandering days to become a prof but still dropped it all to go on a long and wonderful quest filled with monsters and demons and whatnot with nothing more than her perseverance. :)

Imaginative. So imaginative. This continues Lovecraft's original, sure, but Kij Johnson flows deep within these rivers that are at once familiar and very unfamiliar, evoking a blase attitude to things that are richly disturbing and strange, evoking awe with simple concepts like the number Pi that *doesn't* change its value, and so many other cool bits with Ghasts and Gouls and Gaunts.

After reading this I'm thrilled and pretty well amazed and totally on-board with reading anything else this woman has ever written. Anything that can evoke awe in this old reader has got to be cherished.

This one might make my top pick for the Hugo Novella category for this year. It's either that or Every Heart a Doorway
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,233 reviews1,046 followers
September 20, 2016
Before reading this story, I highly recommend reading Lovecraft's 'Dream Cycle,' or, at the very least, "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath," (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7...) as this is a commentary on it. Kij Johnson's piece is both an homage and a criticism. She captures the wandering, questing tone and the series of encounters with eldritch and weird situations perfectly - I would venture to say that her writing even improves on the originals.

But what convinced me to up this to four stars was how much I enjoyed the reversal of perspective. Lovecraft's cycle of tales posits a strange land which can be visited only through dreams, and his protagonist Randolph Carter is the typical Adventuresome and Exceptional Man. Here, our protagonist, the middle-aged professor Vellitt Boe, is an inhabitant of that fabulous dream world. Of course, to her, it's just where she lives. Indeed, to her, the "waking world" is the land of fable and mystery. Johnson does this extremely well, showing a world which to Boe is quotidian - but without losing its exotic tinge for the reader.

Professor Boe teaches at a women's college. When one of her young students elopes with a man from the waking world, she drops everything on a quest to find the student and fetch her back before the inevitable scandal gets out. The incident would very likely result in the whole school - one of the few opportunities available to inquisitive and intelligent women in this world - to be shut down in disgrace. As her mission takes her farther and farther from her comfortable and respected position, Vellitt Boe recalls her youth as a far-traveling adventurer, and her own affair with a man of the waking world.

It's a great story, evocatively told. Its only weakness was that at times, it gets a bit message-y in its pointed criticism of Lovecraft. Yes, Lovecraft was both a sexist and a xenophobe, we know. He had a terror of anything and anyone that he perceived as 'other.' This story has none of that, and it ably illustrates the limitations and traps inherent in such a worldview - but it stands perfectly well on its own without having to drive the point home as it occasionally tries to.

Overall, definitely recommended for both Lovecraft's fans and foes.

Many thanks to Tor and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own.
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,528 reviews978 followers
August 29, 2016

I didn't plan for it, but this is my second in a row fan-fic story. The title should have been familiar from a highschool short foray into Lovecraftian horror, but the source of inspiration only became clear to me when reading the afterword / acknowledgements:

I first read it at ten, thrilled and terrified, and uncomfortable with the racism but not yet aware that the total absence of women was also problematic. This story is my adult self returning to a thing I loved as a child and seeing whether I could make adult sense of it.

Kij Johnson is keeping the vision of Lovecraft alive, approaching the Dreamland from a different perspective while remaining faithful to the call of adventure and to the sense of horror that lurks around almost every corner. In "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" , Lovecraft sends his hero, Randolph Carter, on a wild chase through a parallel universe, a place where dreams become nightmares and where fickle gods hide in the immensity of space. Vellitt Boe is a teacher from this scary Dreamland, and she sets out on her own quest to cross over into our reality and recover one of her errant students, Clarie Jurat, who eloped with a dreamer, as the likes of Randolph Carter are known in the underworld.

Vellitt Boe is the kind of heroine I would like to find more often in fantasy novels. She's the complete opposite of the young, feisty princess with a hidden talent in either combat or magic, torn between two hansome and rich dreamboys. At first glance, Vellitt Boe is an elderly, staid and predictable math teacher: "Celephaian Doctor of Teoretics and esteemed Professor Maior at Ulthar's ancient and honorable University.". Faced with the crisis of her runaway star student Clarie, Vellitt Boe proves to be not only resourceful and determined, but also young at heart and ready for adventure. You see , she was not always a professor:

She had been born in the harbor town of Jaren, where the frigid Xari spilled into the northern reaches of the Cerenarian Sea; but in her nineteenth year she left, and for years after that she voyaged: crossed plains and forests and fenlands; ascended mountains and walked in the belly of the under-realms; sailed in strange-hulled boats across unfamiliar oceans under the low sky. She had travelled until she realized that this yearning life could not be sustained, that time woul eventually erode away her strength and courage; and so she stopped. She applied to the Women's college of the University of Celephais and settled into rooms there, a perfect student, brilliant and disciplined. She received her Physical Studies degree in Mathematics and came to Ulthar, to stay and grow old and teach other young women more rational responses to their restlessness. It had been sensible, a reasonable end to her far-travelling youth.

The restlessness of youth, and the call of the distant, exotic lands beyond the horizon: which of us has stopped hearing its song? Is this not what we seek in all these fantasy novels on our shelves? A little mystery, a little danger, a little romance to relieve the boredom of a routine life among concrete and glass towers? Is this not what we dream about when we look in the windows of travel agencies or on the internet at the more unusual holiday destinations? Now, where did I put my tent, my sleeping bag and my camera? I want to join Vellitt Boe on her journey:

Dropping the tinder-box into its little interior pocket, she lifted the rucksack by its shoulder straps. It was lighter than it would have been, for she no longer had rope and grapnel, nor her blanket roll, nor the compact little cooking kit she once carried; but it was heavy enough, for all that. [...] On an impulse, she walked into the bedroom and looked at herself in the pier mirror. A stranger infinitely familiar stared back: a stern-eyed woman in walking tweeds, with heavy laced boots and black-and-silver hair pulled away from her lined face. An old woman but not soft - or, she thought with a sudden inward wry laugh, perhaps not quite 'old', but also softer than she had been.

Vellitt Boe sets out on her quest, and soon enough it becomes evident that the journey itself is the story, rather than the destination. Yes, we have a plot, and a terrible curse that can only be avoided if Clarie Jurat is returned from our Earth back to the Dreamlands. But in the Dreamland the game is played by different rules, reality is like a soft putty in the hands of the local gods, and the fate of individuals is just a game for their amusement. Vellitt Boe is sent from one corner of the realm to the other in her sdearch for a magical key to unlock the Gate of Deeper Slumber. Inhospitable deserts, haunted forests, ice encrusted mountain peaks, monster infested caves, stormy seas and angry gods cannot stop her.

Perhaps Ulthar and the rest are just ants under the feet of fighting drunkards. Or perhaps a hate-filled god revels in destruction and pain, and causes it however he may.

I have a confession to make : I have cheated a little and also read the original Lovecraft novella in order to make sense of the Vellitt Boe Journey. My comments from this point on are coloured by the knowledge of the difference between Randolph Carter and Vellitt Boe, and of why Kij Johnson felt the neeed to revisit the classic tale. The clue is in a small observation made by a Dreamland priest and former travel companion of Vellit Boe. This guy makes a snarky remark that women are incapable of big dreams, that what they are limited to images of houses, flower gardens and smiling children. Condescendent much? Is it possible that 'hate-filled god' that revels in pain and destruction is a reference to the tormented and openly racist, mysoginistic Lovecraft?


The answer can be found quite late in the quest, by a meeting between Vellitt Boe and Lovecraft's hero - Randolph Carter, master dreamer, adventurer - now a king in the Dreamland. It appears they have journeyed together, even fallen in love, when they were both young and thirsty for adventure, but then they drifted apart. Surprisingly maybe, it wasn't Randolph who felt shackled in the relationship, but the young girl, known then as Veline:

He had been a man like many, so wrapped and rapt in his own story that there was no room for the world around him except as it served his own tale. When were women ever anything but footnotes to men's tales?

Here's the rub: the quest for the Unknown Kadath is all taking place inside the head of Randolph Carter - he created the Dreamland, the fickle gods and the nightmares. It's why the Anglo-Saxons were superior to all the other races in the underworld, why women are not even once mentioned during the long and eventful journey, why all the lesser creatures exist only to serve theur lord and master. Ultimately, why the original novella feels dated and even uncomfortably racist in places. Why a different dreamer may respond to a different call and will search for a different destination at the end of her quest.

Vellitt Boe visits almost all the fantastic places that were on the original map of Randolph Carter, and more than a few new ones. She fights creatures of darkness and she marvels at the obsidian and jasper cities of the Dreamland, She travels alone, and her old bones often complain about the hardships, but she never gives up. Because her quest is not about her self-discovery, but about saving the Dreamland, about making a world fit for everybody - young or old, light skinned or dark skinned, woman or man. Come to think of it, Vellitt Boe might change not only the Dreamland, but also our own world, once she finds the gate to cross over into our reality. Because in our reality women are not treated a whole lot better thant in the Dreamlands of the Randolph Carters:

She could feel it settling about her, what this world would expect of a woman her age. She fit scarcely more naturally here than in her own land.


I was a fan of Kij Johnson before reading this novella, and I was lucky to read it before trying the Lovecraft original, because I was able to appreciate the quest on its own merits, not only by comparison. In my opinion, Kij Johnson is clearly the better writer, her prose intensely emotional and intriguing without all the lurid adjectives Lovecraft loved so much. But I should also acknowledge the role of Lovecraft as the catalyst, as the master dreamer who can still amaze us with the immense scope and unrelenting darkness of his vision.

I would recommend reading both short novels, in whatever order pleases you.
Profile Image for Heidi The Reader.
1,388 reviews1,469 followers
February 6, 2017
Weird and wonderful short tale of a university professor who is looking for a missing student. I hadn't read any of Lovecraft's stories but I still enjoyed this very much.

First of all, I learned what a group of cats is called: "A clowder had congregated with the quad, as well; they ceased whatever was their business and watched as Vellitt and Oure passed, and one, a small black cat, separated itself from the rest and followed them into Jurat's stairwell." pg 15. A clowder, how cool is that. I nearly have a clowder of cats at my house. Also, this story has a bit about talking to cats: "In her far-travelling days, Vellitt had known a dreamer who claimed to understand the speech of cats, but of all the cats she had ever met in Ulthar- a town crammed with them- none had ever spoken to her, nor anyone else; none that she knew, anyway." pg 43, ebook.

Besides all of the cat things, there is an awesome twist to this story: pg 29 If I had read a Lovecraft novel, I wouldn't have been so surprised about this aspect of the world. So, happy accident for me. :)

There's also a silly bit about librarians that I have to include because, well, you know: "She reopened the book and began to read, but an aged man in violet robes so old they had faded to lavender entered the room and castigated her for touching the books. Despite the differences in language, age, and sex, his tone was a mirror of that of Uneshyl Pos, the librarian at the Women's College; for all librarians are the same librarian." pg 55. Pretty much.

The criticism of the original work, that I only caught because it hit me like a ton of bricks, was the sexism built into it. Like I said, I wouldn't known, having not read it, but read this passage: "Women don't dream large dreams," he had said, dismissively. "It is all babies and housework. Tiny dreams." pg 71. Well, we all know that's not right. Thank you, Kij Johnson, for writing a version of the world that I really enjoyed.

Recommended for readers who enjoy adventure, horror, and fantasy fiction. You also may appreciate it more if you read the original text, but as you can see from my review, that's not required.
Profile Image for Samantha.
440 reviews16.7k followers
February 9, 2017
3.5 stars - I read this not originally knowing that it is a kind of response to Lovecraft's 'The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath'. Even without that prior knowledge, I enjoyed this but having read over the synopsis of the Lovecraft tale, I probably would have enjoyed it immensely more if I was previously familiar with that story. This would be good for fans of Lovecraft who are not fans of the blatant racism and sexism of that time.
Profile Image for Sarah.
733 reviews73 followers
September 8, 2016
The writing in this book was odd from the beginning. Very stilted. And then there were some seriously confusing sentences. Here are two examples:

He offered her two additional gifts of great value: a password that should secure safe passage and the aid of any ghouls she encountered, and a carved red opal suspended from a fine black iron chain, which would allow her to see in the lightless under-realms.

I had to reread that three or four times because I kept counting that as three gifts rather than two.

She took this to mean she should climb its back, and it was thus they crossed, her face inches above the gaping vertical mouth that split its head in half.

Again I had to reread because I thought the creature she was riding had its head split in half. I never did figure out what this one meant.

The writing bothered me, yes, but I also found the story to be rather dull. Of the 166 pages I think at least 140 was spent on the journey. I never felt attached to the college itself and didn't entirely buy the whole reason for the journey.

I wish I knew more about the Lovecraft story that inspired this. I'm guessing it was something about the gods themselves. Anyway, any interest I might have had in the story was killed by the writing, and I didn't have much interest in the first place.
Profile Image for Jason Thompson.
76 reviews14 followers
February 12, 2021
Many reviews of "Vellitt Boe" start with something like "I hate Lovecraft but I love this book" but as a fan of Lovecraft, and specifically "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" (I drew a comic based on it after all), I'm here to say that I, too, loved this novel.

It's interesting that out of all Lovecraft's books, "Kadath", which Lovecraft didn't even try to get published and which many Lovecraft fans dislike (because it's too fantasy and not horror enough), has inspired no less than two critical re-envisionings: Charles Cutting's graphic novel "The Dream-Quest of Randolph Carter" and this, Kij Johnson's Kadath sequel/retelling. That's the weird thing: there's no subaltern subversive rewrite of "The Call of Cthulhu" or "At the Mountains of Madness" (AFAIK), but there's something about the lesser-known "Kadath" that inspires critics of Lovecraft to revisit & wrestle with it: perhaps because it's just a really good fairytale quest story (oddly, it shares a lot with "The Wizard of Oz", and even more with Dr. Seuss's "I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew"), or perhaps because the protagonist is so obviously a self-insert of Lovecraft, criticizing "Kadath" is like criticizing Lovecraft himself. Thus in Cutting's version Randolph Carter is a complete asshole, a racist snob, and the whole story is about waiting for him to get his comeuppance. But if there's one flaw in Cutting's beautifully illustrated adaptation (which you really should read), it's that reading a 108-page story about an irredeemable, clueless jerk is kind of a drag. In contrast, Kij Johnson upends the story in a much more hopeful manner: by entering it herself -- or at least, by making the protagonist a 50something female professor. This is Vellitt Boe, professor at Ulthar Women's College, who goes in search of a lost student, a journey which takes her all around the world of dreams.

For those who haven't read the 1926 book, the Dreamlands of Johnson and Lovecraft are a surreal fantasy world of weird beauty, accessible to a fortunate few in their dreams, and ruled by unseen, vengeful, frankly evil gods. ("Worship them? We placate them," Boe is told by a disillusioned priest.) There's none of the now-familiar Tolkienisms like elves, orcs, dwarves, etc.: the natives of the Dreamlands are people, strange people but still people, and the monsters on the borderlands are inscrutable inhuman creatures with names like gugs, ghasts, ghouls, zoogs. Or maybe not entirely inscrutable, for Boe must deal with and negotiate with such monsters as she goes beyond the peaceful garden lands by the River Skai, into underground worlds and ruined wastelands where the wrath of the gods has left dead cities smouldering in flame or encased in glass.

All this is just like Lovecraft's "Kadath", but Boe reveals other peculiarities Lovecraft never would have written about: Dreamland's sky has a vaulted ceiling with only 97 stars, and there are very few women there (we never find out exactly how few, but Boe is amazed at the idea of a world with equal numbers of men and women), and male dreamers like Randolph Carter -- only men seem to be dreamers -- often visit the dreamworld and make it a canvas for their fantasies. As a middle-aged woman traveller, Boe endures subtle and unsubtle reminders that she is an unwelcome outsider even in her own world (and, as she eventually discovers, the 'real' world isn't that much better for women). Boe knows how good dreamers have it because she, herself, was once the lover and fellow-traveller of Randolph Carter, now the King of the dream city of Ilek-Vad. Memories of their failed relationship occasionally come back to her, and their paths cross again on the course of her journey, not a journey of a Waking-World Man going into Dreamland for conquest and discovery, but a Dreamland Woman going into the Waking World to save the ones she loves.

There's much here about sexism, and the reasons for men & women’s failed relationships, and the Orientalist narrative tradition to which "Kadath" belongs, stories of privileged adventurers acting out in distant realms. But notably -- unlike all the reviews which, again, focus entirely on this aspect and make the book sound like some manifesto -- Johnson makes this all actually SUBTLE. Like "Kadath", this is a personal journey of discovery, not a heavy message story. One theme made explicit in Johnson's afterword is the almost total absence of women from the "Kadath" (and Lovecraft's fiction in general). Lovecraft's stories suffer from omission of women, although his asexuality means that at least he never exploits women as sex objects like most of his pulp contemporaries. Most of his male protagonists are so essentially genderless, it's easy to imagine substituting female protagonists in their places, turning Victorian adventurer Randolph Carter into a Victorian adventuress like Gertrude Bell or Alexandra David-Neel, or Vellitt Boe. (Easier, anyway, than substituting a PoC protagonist into Lovecraft's overwhelmingly white racist civilization-vs-barbarism worldview.) When we eventually meet Carter himself in a short scene,

The really amazing thing about this book is the wonderful fantasy atmosphere and the great prose. Borrowing not only the quest structure but whole phrases and bits of language from “Kadath,” the prose updated just enough to remove Lovecraft's repetitive uses of words like "strange" and "cyclopean", Johnsson really gives the same feeling that of a long solitary journey, with beautiful descriptions of landscapes, color, nature, architecture, weird customs, disturbing glimpses of unseen dangers, strange names of places just over the edge of the map. Take this snippet from the very beginning:

Vellitt paused when she came to the top of Never-rye Hill, panting a little from the long ascent. Ulthar behind her was achingly beautiful in the rose-pink rays of the new sun: the Six Hills crazed as a tumbled quilt, a random patchwork of red gabled roofs frilled with ornamnetal iron chimneypots and lightning-rods, and the dark gaps that were roads and gardens. Crowning the highest of the hills, the Temple: a tower surrounded by a grassy field, bright with the first tents for the great Sheep-fair, which was to commence in three days.…

Never-rye Hill was capped with a little shrine, knee-high and fashioned of porphyry so worn it was impossible to know what god it honored, whether Great One or Other or some being altogether different. It was traditional to leave a nut when one left Ulthar, and the shrine was half-buried in hazels and almonds, walnuts and acorns, everything much picked over by squirrels. She had forgotten to bring an offering, but a century ago, some thoughtful stranger had planted a walnut tree close by. It took but a moment to find a fallen nut in the long grasses and lay it among the others.

The small black cat from the College had seated itself upon the shrine’s stained offering slab (for it was not always nuts that were offered here) and was cleaning its ears with complete absorption. It was unlike cats to travel like this, but she also knew that cats lived according to their own schemes and agendas. “It grows harder from here,” she warned the cat, but it dropped to the path and walked forward as though to say, You are wasting time.

It gets weirder and darker as it goes on, but it’s always about introspection and the allure of the road. Completely in the spirit of “Kadath” (and Lovecraft’s own inspiration Lord Dunsany), this stands on its own, but it’s also the best Dreamlands-themed fiction in decades. Though a subversion of "Kadath", "Boe" is also a love letter to it.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,275 reviews228 followers
September 19, 2016
I'm not familiar with the H.P. Lovecraft short story that this is a reply to (The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath), but Lovecraftian themes abound and I recognize a lot of the references.

Vellitt Boe is a Professor at the Woman's College of her University when one of her students runs away with a man from the waking world. Fearful that the College will be disbanded because of this, Vellitt heads off in pursuit on foot to bring her back. Her only companion is a mysterious black cat that has chosen to follow her.

What follows is a fascinating story of a woman who was once a traveler discovering that she still is one and the otherworldy place that she travels through. Along the way she encounters horrors and allies, sometimes one and the same, and continues her journey at great personal cost with increasing stakes.

The way that Johnson uses language here is really evocative of the dream world, at once fantastic and terrifying, under the gaze of capricious and hostile gods (that Lovecraftian theme again). That being said, I'm not sure I loved it. There's something just a bit too apart about Vellitt Boe and I think Johnson communicates that as well, particularly with how she feels about the University at the end of the story. She remains a consummate traveler.
Profile Image for Navi.
112 reviews169 followers
April 9, 2018
What an amazing reading experience! I cannot believe that so much substance is contained in a short novella. It is a real testament to the author because no word in this entire story was wasted. The writing style is so enchanting, lush and evocative. I did not want to leave this magical world at all and when I did finish reading it, it was like coming out of a dreamy haze. Some of the vivid descriptions of the environment took my breath away. Even though it's on the shorter side, it took me a bit of time to finish. This is because I was savouring each and every word like a piece of chocolate- letting it melt and absorb into me.

The story follows a middle aged professor on a quest to find her star pupil, Clarie Jurat. Clarie has run away with a man who is a dreamer from the waking world. She is also the granddaughter of a god. Professor Vellitt Boe must find Clarie before her grandfather wreaks havoc on Ulthar, the university that Boe works at. The story progresses from here.

Vellitt faces many obstacles and challenges on her quest but the most emotionally riveting parts of the novella are when she is recounting her past experiences. There is a recurring theme of the things you lose (and gain) as you get older and the struggle to come to terms with that. I thought this was refreshing as it is hard to find perspectives of older characters in SFF.

I would recommend this to anyone who:
- wants a short piece of fantastical fiction that is satisfying with beautiful writing
- enjoys everything Lovecraftian
- wishes to read a perspective that is not often written about
Profile Image for Dafne ❀.
124 reviews10 followers
August 4, 2020
A premissa do livro é muito boa, mas não consegui me conectar com a prsonagem principal e achei o final um pouco anti-climático.
Profile Image for Fiona.
1,268 reviews231 followers
April 23, 2019
Her dreams were large, of trains a mile long and ships that climbed to the stars, of learning the languages of squids and slime-molds, of crossing a chessboard the size of a city.

Despite loving the idea of the Mythos, with it's Elder Gods and alternate worlds and roughly Victorian setting, I never could get into HP Lovecraft's work. And as much as I'd like to say it's the racism/lack of women, in the end they're something I've been able to get through before. The writing though, just leaves me cold, and I just can't keep reading something I don't connect to.

Thankfully, Kij Johnson and a whole host of other writers have decided that the worlds of HP Lovecraft could serve as useful settings for their own voices, and their works range from just a hint of tentacle to full blown adaptation.

Technically, The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe would sit towards the latter side of the scale - even the title is straight from Lovecraft. But this was so much more than just an adaptation! Kij Johnson tells her own story, and while the odd cameo might pop up here and there, the words that charmed, delighted, and ultimately completely captured me are all her own. Vellitt Boe is the kind of woman who does what needs to be done, and in a world where gods are not just real, but moody and prone sudden smitings, that takes a little more than just practicality. She's also responsible, kind, and honest - all without ever feeling anything but completely real.

This really is an absolute delight of a story. Kij Johnson has done an amazing job with it, and I very much hope she returns to this story again one day.
Profile Image for Mir.
4,867 reviews5,034 followers
December 16, 2020
I forced myself to read The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath for this. Was it worth it? This was fine, but DQUK was awfully boring, but I'm going to say yes. Just barely.

Prose: excellent. Kij Johnson is a very skilled writer. 5 stars
Content: A lotter better than Lovecraft, but she does closely replicate the form of the original, so there were still parts where it dragged dully. 3 stars
Character: Boe is a lot more interesting and sympathetic than Carter. I think rewriting this with a narrator *from* the Dreamlands was a great idea. 4 stars
Plot: This isn't super plotty, but more than the original "I just want to because" motivation of Carter's quest. 3 stars
Ending: Exellent and unexpected. 4 stars

If you're not a detail-oriented person, I say just skip the original and read this, and don't worry about figuring out exactly what a Ghast is etc.
Profile Image for Tijana.
764 reviews206 followers
February 7, 2017
Dobro, u ovoj noveli/kratkom romanu (meni je baš negde na granici između tog dvoga) svakako će više uživati čitaoci koji već poseduju neko pristojno poznavanje Lavkrafta i Dansejnija i... tako te ekipe od pre sto godina, ali i oni sasvim friški čitaoci će se vrlo lepo provesti. Kidž Džonson ovde malo odstupa od svog uobičajenog stila u smeru Lavkrafta (naučila sam nekoliko novih reči), ali su prepoznatljivo njeni i samotnjački likovi (naročito junakinja, sredovečna profesorka), i ljubav prema pešačenju i mačkama, i uvrnuta maštovitost kad su u pitanju nezemaljske rase (ovo je žena koja je napisala "Spar", mislim deco), i inventivnost u baratanju sa Lavkraftovim već dovoljno inventivnim konceptima i... uvrnuta maštovitost :) Ona je jedna od vrlo retkih osoba koja jednako dobro piše i mejnstrim fantastiku i SF i horor, tako da ne smem da se žalim što objavljuje srazmerno retko, treba valjda da se održi taj nivo.
Profile Image for Joseph.
697 reviews94 followers
October 26, 2017
One of my favorite stories by H.P. Lovecraft is The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, which is a shortish and somewhat formless novel about Randolph (Really, I'm Not an Author Insert) Carter's peregrinations through the Land of Dreams, which is suitably fabulous and occasionally nightmarish. But although I've read the story many, many times, I had never noticed: There are literally no women. No, I mean really. Not just that there are no women in the roles of major characters, but there aren't even any women given walk-on mentions -- no shepherdesses, no tavern wenches, nothing.

EDIT: Having just reread Dream-Quest, that's not actually literally true -- there are mentions of two separate wives (neither of whom actually does or says anything) and mention of Carter's nurse (a woman, I presume) wheeling him about in his childhood; and Queen Anne gets a shout-out. But the point still stands.

Kij Johnson has written the story of one Vellitt Boe, native of the Dreamlands and Professor of Mathematics at a college in Ulthar. One of the college's students goes missing (seduced, it appears, by a Dreamer from the Waking World), so Vellitt (in company with a small, black cat of Ulthar) sets out to find him. Her journey doesn't completely retrace Randolph Carter's, although there are many points of overlap, and at least a few characters who recur after initially appearing in Lovecraft's story.

Johnson does a fine job of simultaneously recapturing the weird magic of Lovecraft's Dreamlands, for which she obviously has a great deal of affection, and also updating them for the current age; and I daresay she may even be a better writer, all other things considered.
Profile Image for Matt Quann.
652 reviews387 followers
April 26, 2018
When one of professor Vellitt Boe's students makes an attempt to escape into the waking world, she goes in hot pursuit of her charge across an ever-changing, horror-filled dreamscape.

At first, I wasn't much for this novella, which seemed like it would be a fairly boring travelogue. As the book wore on, I ended up finding a lot to like in Vellitt's quest. The world in which the story takes place is visited by humans from Earth during their dreaming and is mercurial in nature. Distances that took three days to travel a few months prior might take years depending on the whims of the mad gods who rule the realm. Vellitt herself is a unique character: capable, wise, middle-aged. It seems an odd thing to say, but the genre isn't bursting at the seams with varying age groups of women and it is a pleasure to read some different representation.

I'm not at all familiar with the Lovecraft story upon which this is based, but I have read enough of Lovecraft to know his particular brand of cosmological horror. I didn't realize that this was a story based in his world of dreaming until after I had finished the novella. So, during the entirety of my reading I was shocked that Johnson had not further investigated the world. After all, it is exceptionally detailed and pleasantly horrific. There's a scene set at sea in which a giant horror approaches from the ocean's depths that is beautifully written. There's a lot more of that great scenery throughout this novella.

I had a good time with this one! The tor.com novella series has been a great source of fun and escapist writing for me over the past year. Worth a go!
Profile Image for Derek.
1,257 reviews8 followers
January 21, 2018
The writing is so good that it's actually distracting. I started by taking Kindle highlights of plot points, then for ideas and adaptations on Lovecraft's Dreamlands, and finally to capture the pure joy of the sentences, to worry over particularly well-wrought combinations and tasting how they fit together. This is _gorgeous_ stuff, all the more because it takes the Lord Dunsany mode that Lovecraft was operating in, welds it to an intensely personal experience and intimate thoughts, turns the perspective around at least twice, from a woman of the Dreamlands to that woman in our world, and also casting that gaze back at Lovecraft's original "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" and piercing the shell of Randolph Carter himself.

Boe has an inner life crushing that of any one-note Lovecraft protagonist. Hers is a complex play of emotions about who she is, where she has been, and what she has accomplished, all from the point of view of a woman with age-diminishing options and a mix of melancholy and pride.

And then the story builds richly upon the Dreamlands framework, adding details that neither Lovecraft nor Dunsany could have imagined or wrung such fantasy from: a low-hanging sky filled with half-shapes and patterns and only ninety seven stars. Truthfully, mentions of electric lights and machinery made me think of Zork more than anything else, and once that thought enters it is hard to expel.
Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 59 books8,610 followers
July 4, 2017
This was a glorious read. Set in Lovecraft's Dreamlands, a place of shifting space and time and malevolent yet stupid gods, with a ferociously strong-willed older woman as heroine on a quest to find a runaway student. It's lovely to see Lovecraft's imagination reclaimed with women and queerness, the atmosphere on Vellitt's quest is extraordinary and immersive, and the ending, a defiant shout against the gods, is marvellous. A thorough pleasure.

I have never actually managed to read the HPL story, but weirdly I have now read two books based on it (the other being the marvellous The Fear Institute) so at this rate I think I'll just continue to get it second-hand and stripped of racism and misogyny, which is clearly the best way to experience the old goat. :P
Profile Image for Peter Tillman.
3,682 reviews345 followers
July 5, 2020
A really good fantasy-adventure with some sharp social commentary, inspired by Lovecraft’s 1943 "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath," which I don’t think I ever finished, back in the day. Johnson is a whole lot better writer anyway, so leave Lovecraft be, is my advice. An easy four stars, highly recommended for fantasy-quest and Kij Johnson fans. And a fine introduction to her work, if you’ve missed her up to now. $4 Kindle edition, at Amazon.

I loved the main character, Professora Vellitt Boe, her adventurous youth and resumption of travel in late middle-age. With a sidekick, a small black cat. I love the cover art --and cover-cat!!

There are some good reviews here already, so I’ll refer you to them. I think my favorite is Lata’s, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Or maybe Navi’s, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Also see Julie’s, and Althea Ann’s…. I love reading good reviews of books I’ve just read, a lot more than actually writing one!

I got tired of the Lovecruft underworld stuff, with ghouls, ghasts, and a protector gug. Magic passwords, giant predator birds and other horror furniture, oh my ☠️. It was a real relief to burst out into a quiet Ohio graveyard, where Vellitt’s gug was transmuted into a 1971 Buick Riviera(!), and she drives off to meet her missing student in Miles City, Montana.
Profile Image for Connor.
693 reviews1,660 followers
March 7, 2017
[3.5 Stars] I thought this was very solidly written. I enjoyed following a character who has already had her greatest adventures, and is forced to go on one more. I would have benefited a bit, I think, if I had read Lovecraft first, but I don't think it overly affected my experience. I wish there was a bit of a more conclusive ending, but I liked what we did get.
Profile Image for Lata.
3,771 reviews207 followers
April 1, 2018
4.5 stars. Quiet, meditative, lovely. And a great answer to Lovecraft. Kij Johnson's Vellit Boe is a middle-aged woman who takes it upon herself to recover a student at her University who's taken off with a man. Boe used to travel in her youth, so is quite qualified to head off on her own after the young woman. And through Vellit, Kij Johnson responds beautifully to Lovecraft's stupid attitudes towards women:

'“Women don’t dream large dreams,” he had said, dismissively. “It is all babies and housework. Tiny dreams.” Men said stupid things all the time, and it was perhaps no surprise that men of the waking world might do so as well...'

'...disappointed in Carter. Her dreams were large, of trains a mile long and ships that climbed to the stars, of learning the languages of squids and slime-molds, of crossing a chessboard the size of a city. That night and for years afterward, she had envisioned another dream land, built from the imaginings of powerful women dreamers. Perhaps it would have fewer gods, she thought...'

'...She hadn’t loved Randolph Carter. He had been a man like many, so wrapped and rapt in his own story that there was no room for the world around him except as it served his own tale: the black men of Parg and Kled and Sona Nyl, the gold men of Thorabon and Ophir and Rinar; and all the women invisible everywhere, except when they brought him drinks or sold him food—all walk-on parts in the play that was Randolph Carter, or even wallpaper.'
Profile Image for Lucille.
1,079 reviews209 followers
September 17, 2016
(full review with quotes on my blog! https://adragoninspace.wordpress.com/... )

This story felt like I was going on a journey with Vellitt, I could feel the air and see the landscape through her eyes; as if I was accompanying her, like the little black cat you can actually see on the cover.

Talking about the cover : isn’t it wonderful ? It totally made me want to dive into the story immediately. The art is by Victo Nga and design by Christine Foster.

So we follow Vellitt, a middle-aged woman (around 55 years old) living in a dreaming world, which is actually the only reality its inhabitants know. They do know about the waking world but it’s more like a concept or how we would consider a distant island we know we won’t ever get to see.

The theme of the dreaming world is one I adore. I know it has been made before (like in one of my favourite French manga: Dreamland) but the execution is what makes it worth the read.

We quickly learn that Vellitt (formerly Veline) used to travel a lot when she was younger and that she finally settled in the Ulthar Women’s College to teach math and take care of the girls there. When one of them disappears with a dreamer (a boy from the waking world), she has to go after her as her father is someone important regarding the College and could close it down for good, which would be disastrous for the girls studying there (education for women is kind of a new concept over there).

It’s really interesting to see Vellitt going back into her old ways and realising how she has changed and how different she is, not necessarily in a bad way. She gets to remember who she is and gets to know her present self better.

When I was around page 20 I was like “Noooooo how is this supposed to be only 90 pages? I have so many questions and I want to stay there!” This world is so rich and has so many possibilities! But it is very well done and you don’t feel like something is missing in the end, you feel lucky to have been through this world and having experienced this great journey alongside Vellitt, learning more about her past and the great woman she is. I don’t know what I liked more, Vellitt herself or getting to know this world, full of vicious gods and dreamy & nightmarish creatures. I guess it was the combination of the two, with a slight preference for Villitt. I wouldn’t have liked this combination of story and setting as much if it would have been with another bland male character. The fact that it was about Vellitt and her life in this world as a woman made it even more enjoyable for me. As a matter of fact, Kij Johnson wrote this in the acknowledgments:

“And I must of course acknowledge Lovecraft’s The Dream-quest of Unknown Kadath. I first read it at ten, thrilled and terrified, and uncomfortable with the racism but not yet aware that the total absence of women was also problematic. This story is my adult-self returning to a thing I loved as a child and seeing whether I could make adult sense of it.”
Lovecraft without racism and with more women? YES PLEASE!

I won’t say a lot more, I went into this story not knowing anything and I feel that for a lot of books that is the best way to discover it. I don’t want to spoil any of the wonderful –and not that wonderful – things in it, so keep your eyes out for this novella in August!!

I will try to read more books by Kij Johnson because I loved her writing and how I was completely transported to her world!

Trigger warning:

A review copy (e-galley) of this book was provided by the publisher.
This is a novella, 91 pages on my ereader.
Profile Image for Craig.
5,141 reviews123 followers
June 19, 2023
This is an excellent short novel set in the world that H.P. Lovecraft created in his short novel, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. Unlike many of the modern Lovecraft/Cthulhu inspired works, Johnson does not overtly pillory the original creator for his misogynistic and racist leanings, but rather tells an excellent and entertaining story of cosmic horror and high fantasy. It's a quest tale in which a professor follows a runaway student from a women's college. She encounters many characters from Lovecraft's original and traverses the landscape he created but the story is told in much clearer prose (with dialog even!) than Lovecraft employed, though the influence of the origin piece is present. For example: "She looked out on an eternal, creamy sheet of clouds and above them the tesselate shell-forms and shingling scrolls of the louring sky, but after a while she descended into the clouds and saw nothing, emerging to observe that what had been a featureless sheet of cirrus from above was, from this side, no more than a single small puff capping Hatheg-Kla's heights." That's a nifty line that HPL himself would've liked! Lovecraft's story (which I've started re-reading after many years for purposes of comparison) always struck me as being somewhat atypical of his better-known works, and perhaps was heavily inspired by William Hope Hodgson's The Night Land. It didn't have dialog or female characters but is a cosmic travelogue through dream and nightmare. Johnson makes a few well-mannered and considered intelligent comments, such as this exchange Vellitt recounts from her early years in company with Lovecraft's protagonist Ronald Carter: ""Women don't dream large dreams," he had said, dismissively. "It is all babies and housework. Tiny dreams." Men said stupid things all the time, and it was perhaps no surprise that men of the waking world might do so as well, yet she was disappointed in Carter. -Her- dreams were large, of trains a mile long and ships that climbed to the stars, of learning the language of squids and slime-molds, of crossing a chessboard the size of a city. That night and for years afterward, she had envisioned another dream land, built from the imaginings of powerful women dreamers." The book is very thoughtfully and carefully written, similar to Lovecraft even to the point of having no chapter breaks but takes us to the waking world and back again with a somewhat undefined but satisfying ending. (Not to mention a loyal and nameless cat companion who gets a nice minced-mouse treat.) Recommended!
Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,161 reviews1,257 followers
September 8, 2017
I really enjoyed this novella. It is in dialogue with a short story by Lovecraft, which I have not read, but you don’t need to read that to enjoy this. And fortunately for me, this is fantasy, not horror. It is set in a portal world clearly conceived as the stuff of nightmares, with monsters, shifting natural laws and an angry sky; if this were made into a movie the horror would be inescapable. But through the eyes of a protagonist who hails from that world, these are simply facts of life, evoking no fear or disgust.

Vellitt Boe is a professor at the Ulthar Women’s College. She had an adventurous youth before going to college and settling down, so when a student runs off to the “waking world” (ours), putting the college in danger, Vellitt sets out on a quest to retrieve her. It’s an engaging story, written in Johnson’s smooth-flowing style that makes the book feel as much like literary fiction as fantasy. The world is highly imaginative, brought to life with a texture that must be Johnson’s own. And Vellitt is an interesting and endearing character, with a quiet toughness and the good sense one would hope for from a middle-aged adventurer.

This could easily have been expanded to a full-length novel, and I’m unsure why it wasn’t: Johnson takes some shortcuts through the waking-world portion, and the end is really the beginning of something else, providing little resolution. But it succeeds in telling a good story, while responding to the sexism and racism that was apparently rampant in Lovecraft. Sometimes Johnson is quite pointed in this, in other places subtle: Vellitt is apparently a woman of color, but the only indication I saw was the description of her hair. And when she arrives in the waking world, she remarks on the large numbers of women there, a clever dig at male-created fantasy worlds populated overwhelmingly by men.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed and would recommend this, along with Johnson’s other works, particularly Fudoki. I haven’t seen a bad book from this author yet, and look forward to more!
Profile Image for Kitty G Books.
1,563 reviews2,937 followers
November 6, 2016
In this novella we're following an ex-adventurer, Vellitt Boe, who goes out on a mission to retrieve a student who has run away from the Uni Boe works at. This student was extremely gifted and valued and it would do a lot of harm to the uni if she were just to vanish, so Boe heads off into the wilds of Drealand to find her again...

The story was truly captivating at first and I found the majority of it kept me excited as I was constantly imagining all the wacky and weird things that were being described. We meet whimsical creatures and sneaky ones, follow through lovely and troublesome landscapes, and it's all just cool... However, the ending fell a little flat for me and I just didn't care for the end. I think this is based off of another story and so maybe the end was inspired by what happened in that story, but I just wanted it to be more fantastical and less predictable so I gave it a 3*s overall.
Profile Image for Philip.
513 reviews683 followers
June 7, 2018
3ish stars.

Would probably be at least 4 stars but I had to skim through most of the middle. Writing was self-indulgent and the quest got really tedious. Cool concept, cool ending, brief flashes of coolness in between.

And a great-looking cover!
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books750 followers
October 24, 2019
A strange read for me. I hate the author of the lore this is based on, but I love the mythos. I love the writing of this tie-in, but I really did not like the structure.


Things that were fun:

-Vellitt. A strong, experienced, well-lived woman of a certain age and, I think, of color! You just don't see a lot of protagonists like this.

-The world. The Dreamlands are just cool to be in. There's a reason Lovecraftian horror continues to live despite the namesake's horrible politics and indifferent abilities. He wrote frustratingly fun worlds that spawned mysteries and terrors we just can't shake, and Johnson makes full use of those here.

-The writing. I think Johnson has a sweet, approachable style.

-Noting the source material. There were some lovely things about misogyny in early horror and the inclusion of people of color.

Things I did not like:

-The plot. Very thin. Really, really skeletal.

-The length. I think this would have been a good read if it was 100 pages. I think it would have been captivating if it was under 50 pages. It was waaaaay too long for the amount of concept we had to explore.

2.5 stars rounded up because I'd like to read more by the author, assuming her normal plotting and structuring skills are usually as strong as her writing and point of view.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,249 reviews192 followers
May 28, 2017
DNF'd halfway. I did not connect to this story in any way and it felt like a tour guide of a world I had no interest in.
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