“She had no idea what to expect, so there was no predicting what would be needed.”
Vellitt Boe, Professor at the Women’s College at Ulthar, goes on a journey to find her student, Jurat, who has run off with a man she’s been seeing. He is planning to take her away to the waking world where, “He says there are millions of stars.” The problem is that Jurat’s father is a trustee of the board for the college and the board will likely get angry and shut down the women’s college. Plus, Vellitt finds out that the gods of her world have involved themselves in the situation and many of them wish to prevent Vellitt from succeeding for their own reasons. What begins as a short trip to stop an elopement, turns into a long journey across the world in the hopes of reaching the waking world, finding Jurat, and preventing the destruction of Ulthar.
“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.”
I was unexpectedly moved by the story, even though it was not filled with put-upon emotion. Instead, it was a journey through the world that Vellitt lives in, as well as remembrances of some of her past. She meets old friends along the way, but refuses to let them define who she is. There were plenty of dangerous encounters, but so much of what was important felt internal in the story. The journey was more important than the incidentals along the way. And Vellitt was wonderful–an intelligent, independent and capable woman; not young, foolish, or silly. I also loved her companion she picks up along the way.
“Well, this is us, then. Now what?”
I have not read the Lovecraft work that some of this is based on for comparison. All I can say is that I found the writing to be evocative and intriguing. Have you ever finished a book or left a movie and felt too surprisingly involved to be able to separate yourself from the story immediately following? I really struggled with this review more than my others because I feel like it deserves more than I can say about it. There was something about it that felt very personal to me, and I would highly recommend it. I will definitely be checking out Kij Johnson’s other books.