Review: The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O'Brien

Thursday, February 11, 2016
Title: The Vault of Dreamers
Author: Caragh M. O'Brien
Genre: science fiction
Series: The Vault of Dreamers #1
Pages: 432
Published: September 16, 2014
Source: Finished copy from publisher
Rating: 4/5

From the author of the Birthmarked trilogy comes a fast-paced, psychologically thrilling novel about what happens when your dreams are not your own.

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.

The Forge School is a highly selective, highly competitive arts school. 100 incoming sophomores are chosen each year from all over the world to compete for 50 open spots in the curriculum. The catch? The school is also a reality show where each students' lives are broadcast from the moment they wake up until the moment they go to sleep. And the public chooses the 50 students who will continue on with their educations.

Rosie Sinclair needs to stay in Forge. She's a talented filmmaker and a good student, but back home in her abandoned train car, her school has fast tracked her to prison. She could give up art entirely and become a shop-girl, paying her abusive step-father's half of the rent to keep a roof over her little sister's head, or she can make an unprecedented 44 place leap in the Forge rankings in the next 11 hours.

The first half of the story, with its reality show plot is good but not really special in the YA dystopian genre. Like The Unidentified, which has a similar premise, I had trouble with the world building. In 30 years, very little has changed in daily life in America. Teenagers are still using Facebook. Two years after publishing and I'm barely still using Facebook. Thirty years ago we were just seeing early adapters getting online, but in this world nothing has progressed past today? It would be like writing a book where people are still using EFnet in 2020. Except for a few brief references to solar flares, I never once felt a 2044 time period. After the initial cut, Forge's status as reality show is mostly used to keep Rosie from discussing the real plot points out loud.

Something strange happens to Forge at night. Mysterious scabs, like IV marks, appear on girls' arms. Beds are in slightly different positions. Chunks of footage go missing. I really liked the tense, mysterious nature of this part of the book. While I didn't feel it fit seamlessly into the reality show plot, the solitary nature of Rosie's investigations lent to dread and suspicion that really drew me in. Even now, I'm not sure who around her she should have trusted.

The writing is very evocative, especially when describing Rosie's life prior to the Forge. I can see the beauty of the sunsets and Dubbs, her sister, on the train tracks. This prose lends itself very well to the final few chapters, which become very internal following the climax. So while it takes a bit too long for the title to make sense and the world building is practically non-existent, I'm comfortable with my star rating for a very well written second half and a hell of a cliff hanger.


  1. I thought this story was okay, the concepts were awesome, but they didn't mesh well, but the second book is fucking AWESOME, even though the concepts are not as appealing. I think the story would have been fine without the TV series angle, like there was too much happening. Are you going to read the Rule of Mirrors?

    1. ohhh dang it Lyn! I was all set to not read the next and here you are telling Dani that it gets really good.... Maybe I will give it a few chapters....


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