Snake is a healer in a post-apocalypse world. She has that name because of her three serpents, genetically modified to produce medicines and vaccines. Early on, she loses Grass, her Dreamsnake, due to a tragic misunderstanding. Dreamsnakes are alien creatures, and in desperately short supply, and Snake can't continue to be a full healer without one. So the rest of the book follows her attempts to solve this problem.
The first chapter, where Snake loses Grass, is the much-anthologised short story "Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand". That short story is very good, but the novel is even better. We get to see more of the varied post-apocalyptic world as Snake travels through it. Snake is a great protagonist -- it would have been easy to make her a super-competent saint, but instead she feels solidly real: competent in her profession, caring in a pragmatic way, but also often tired, dirty, depressed, angry, or scared. The minor characters are equally well-drawn and distinguishable. And the background world, with its strange mix of low and high-tech, and different cultures, feels like a real world, not just a hotchpotch of scenes for Snake to travel through.
[One feature of the book I never noticed until a discussion on the newsgroup rec.arts.sf.written concerns the character Meredith. When I first read the book, I assumed Meredith to be male, because I think of Meredith as a male name. However, I discovered that Meredith can also be a female name. And there are no gender references to Meredith at all. It is a fascinating exercise to read assuming one gender, then re-read assuming the other.]
All too often a travel story can seem episodic; the protagonist travels from scene to scene, and the past scenes seem to evaporate from the world. Here, however, there is a second parallel strand to the story, which manages to link the scenes together cleverly, so that you see a place continuing to exist after Snake has left it. This technique helps to make the world feel real.
Dreamsnake is one of the books I periodically re-read; it is also one I dearly wish I could read again for the first time.
-- Gary Farber, rec.arts.sf.written, 1999