The Stuff of Dreams is yet another bit of the map in the atlas of the Vampire Hunter D universe, one where we see the first real test of the strength of D’s spirit instead of just his sword. The book gives us a new facet of the D mythology and explore it through a character we’ve come to know well — even if the sum total of D’s reactions to things is still stolid indifference. He’s more a mirror of his surroundings than an active hero, anyway, a catalyst for things to go wrong. He disturbs the equilibrium of evil more than he righteously seeks out the good. And while I’d rather see a character who’s more proactive than that, Hideyuki Kikuchi wraps enough goings-on around him to make him interesting by proxy.
Dreams opens with D — vampire hunter in a far-future world — sliding into a dream state in which a young girl calls to him from a chateau bathed in blue light. She is Sybille, and she lies in a hospital bed in a frontier town, victim of a vampire bite that plunged her into a kind of coma twenty years ago. Unaging, she has reached out to D with her mind and implored her to set her free … but even D is not sure how to do this, since the vampire who bit her appears to have fled a long time ago. He has no compelling reason to stay, and so he leaves … or tries to. And can’t. Like the dinner guests in Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel, something has rooted him to the town. Unless he finishes his mission, he will be stuck there — and each time he closes his eyes, he slides back into the same dream where Sybille calls out to him from her mansion.
Rather than deal with the whole thing as a contest of arcane strengths — D relies on the strange little symbiote that lives in his hand to unsnarl more than a couple of jams — Kikuchi sets it up like a kind of psychic detective story. Each of the townspeople who knew Sybille, from her childhood flame (now the town sheriff) to the sheriff’s wife, have some tiny element of the whole to contribute. But ultimately D has to go back to the Sybille for all the answers, and they turn out to be far more complicated and disturbing than he imagines. He actually picks up on what’s going on fairly early; it’s convincing everyone else — and determining how to act on it all — that’s the real kicker. Even worse, the usual band of competition (including a bizarre pair of killers [are there any other kind in these books?] called the Bio Brothers) gangs up on him to make his job all the more difficult.
Most of the D books are really not about plot, or for that matter, character or motive. They’re about atmosphere and ambience, about the strangeness of the world that D moves through and the strangeness of D himself. He’s neither human nor vampire, so he moves through both of those worlds with equal unease (or maybe just disaffectation), and so for him to be sucked into a dream world that has the most alienating qualities of both, ironically enough, is not that big a leap for him. That part of the dream involves a Utopian place where humans and vampires coexist, however, offers him something that even his stolidness can’t conceal a fascination for.
My other favorite of the D books so far has been Raiser of Gales, which had a mystery at its core as well, and paired D up with a female character who could have supported a book on her own. Dreams is not quite as good as a story, but it exudes a dreamy (both literally and figuratively) atmosphere that’s what I always sensed was really at the heart of this series. Let’s see more of that, if we can?