Caragh O’Brien’s upcoming novel, The Vault of Dreamers touches on the modern obsession with reality television as well as the importance (and current undervaluation) of art in our lives and especially the lives of children. The Vault of Dreamers begins with a strong and intriguing premise but slowly loses traction as it progresses to its vague and uncertain, albeit action-packed climax, leaving the novel rife with unfulfilled potential.
Rosie is part of the incoming sophomore class at the prestigious and famous Forge School. Each year one hundred students with hopes for specializing in different artistic disciplines from performing arts like acting and music through visual arts like painting, photography, and film making are narrowed down to fifty in front of a nation of viewers. With one day to go before the fifty cuts are made, Rosie’s ranking with the audience is unimpressive and it looks like she’ll be going home. So she skips the mandatory sleeping pill and sneaks out of bed, only to see things that make her wonder whether the school’s staff is up to something during those hours when the viewers aren’t watching.
The novel starts really strong. The emphasis on art in school and in general is fantastic and well done. The concept of the Forge School and the Forge Show are a very realistic extrapolation of where reality television is today. I enjoyed Rosie in the beginning and found many of the supporting characters to be compelling. As Rosie begins to suspect that there’s something more nefarious going on at night and actively investigates, the early stages are logical and thrilling.
But as they go on, there doesn’t seem to be much progression as far as her methods for trying to obtain evidence. While some of the specifics of what’s going on need to be held back or shrouded in confusion to maintain suspense and aid in the plot’s progression, eventually some light needs to be shed on the subject. But there is never any true clarity as to just what is happening. Towards the end of the novel I found myself repeatedly shaking my head because the characters’ decisions seemed less in character and more contrived and adjusted to fit the already established plot.
It’s difficult to tell whether subplots, supporting characters, and aspects of the main plot were simply underdeveloped or if they were abandoned altogether as the direction of the story changed. Either way, it left the conclusion not so much anti-climactic (the showdown is actually very compelling it’s just that I wish it made more sense to the story as a whole) as vague. There are a lot of questions and characters whose fates are left hanging and uncertain. It could be a result of the first person narration but I think it was intentional (I’m just not sure what the intended effect was meant to be). I’m all for ambiguous endings. Many of my favorite novels have ambiguous endings. But the ending to The Vault of Dreamers felt pretty clear; it was the stretch of fifty pages before the end that were confusing.
In the end, the book left me disappointed. I was so excited by the way it started off but it ultimately fell flat.
The Vault of Dreamers will be available for purchase September 16, 2014.