Book Review: The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh O'Brian

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.

Release Date: September 16, 2014
Age Group: YA
Source: Review copy from publisher
Reviewed By: Kelli

I love Caragh O'Brian's writing--her Birthmarked trilogy is one I'll never forget, so I was thrilled to receive an ARC of The Vault of Dreamers.  This book is very unique: combining a reality show with a boarding school for creative students.  I loved the premise, and the fact that the stakes are high for Forge School students.  The students are taped for 12 hours a day---the other 12 hours, they are required to sleep (and are even forced to take sleeping pills to keep them in bed from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am).  The show is broadcast around the country, and the students are ranked according to their popularity with the viewers.  If they are ranked highly, they make money from their banner ads, which run on their personal feeds.  Viewers choose which students to watch, and the more popular students seem to get everything: ad money, which they receive upon graduation, respect from staff and other students, and more job opportunities after graduation.

I like how O'Brian's books just start right in the middle of things, assuming the reader already knows what's going on.  It makes figuring the premise out a bit of a challenge, and definitely keeps the story interesting right from the beginning.  From page one, we know that Rosie is a rule-breaker.  She fakes taking her mandatory sleeping pill, to stay awake and see what goes on at night at The Forge School.  What she discovers is unsettling to say the least.  I have to say that I was sufficiently creeped out from the first time I read about the students' sleep shells.  I pictured them as a kind of see-through coffin.  The fact that there's so much emphasis on sleep at The Forge School was the first red flag that something sinister was going on at night.  And the plot only got more intense from there.

I liked Rosie from the start.  She's a classic underdog, with a home life that she is embarrassed of (her family is poor and her stepfather is abusive) and much to lose if she is kicked out of The Forge School.  Rosie's first obstacle to overcome is to survive Fifty Cuts.  Fifty Cuts describes the process of eliminating the lowest ranked 50 students at the school, and reducing the sophomore class from 100 students to 50.  Rosie is ranked well below the cut-off of 50, and knows she'll be sent home.  She doesn't have much to look forward to at home, no real career options, and therefore has a "nothing to lose" attitude.  Rosie is inventive, and decides to film the other low-ranked students to get to know them just a bit before they are sent home later that day.  A series of events unexpectedly bumps her up in rank, and she becomes quite popular in the span of one day's time. 

I like that O'Brian can describe one day in such great detail, as she does with the day of Fifty Cuts, yet keep from boring the reader.  I usually don't like it when too many pages in a book are devoted to just one day in time.  But, it completely worked for The Vault of Dreamers because so much happened on the day of Fifty Cuts.  The book ends up spanning several months in time, with the pacing being just right for the story.  As with the Birthmarked books, O'Brian's imagery was outstanding, as well as her characterization.  I love it when an author can make me care so much about their characters, even ones I don't particularly like. 

The Vault of Dreamers ends on a very surprising note.  I have to say that I was basically shocked at the ending.  To say it's a cliffhanger ending is putting it mildly...needless to say, I'm on pins and needles waiting for book two!

The Vault of Dreamers is futuristic, inventive, and thrilling.  I loved it and highly recommend it!


  1. Sounds awesome! Thanks for the review!

  2. Hi Kelli,
    how would you review this book from a Christian worldview? My 14-yo daughter would like to read it, and I was wondering if it would be appropriate.

  3. Hi Kelli,
    How would you review this book from a Christian world-view? My 14 yo wants to read it and I was wondering if it would be appropriate.


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