“Merrick” wasn’t too heavy on the gothic atmosphere so it was not difficult to decide to pick up another gothic-themed novel for the R.I.P. IV Challenge. “The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters”, was initially quite far down my TBR list before this challenge; but, being one mentioned in the pool of books the challenge host, Stainless Steel Droppings, had lined for himself, I decided to plunge into this heavy, page-laden book for my next read.
Author : Gordon Dahlquist
Date of Publication : 2006 (Hardcover edition)
Publisher : Bantam Books
No. of pages : 768
The Story :
In Victorian England, a rich plantation heiress receives an abrupt “dear john” letter from her beau. In her pride, the stricken Miss Temple decides to follow her fiance to find out the reason for his rejection. She tails him on a long train ride and arrives at Lord Vandaariff’s huge labyrinthine Harschmort Manor where a masked ball is in full swing presumably for the engagement of Vandaariff’s daughter to the German Prince of Macklenberg. She is mistaken as a woman sent to undergo a mysterious “Process” but is soon discovered to be a gate-crasher, deemed to have seen too much. Suddenly Miss Temple finds her little adventure taking a dangerous turn when she is forced to save her own life.
At that same time, a half blind assassin, Cardinal Chang, is at the ball with a mission to terminate a Colonel Trapping. He creeps about for his quarry only to find him already murdered. But who, why, and how are questions that leave him baffled. A few days later, he is approached by a wealthy sophisticate who asks him to find a woman, Isobel Hastings (Miss Temple who gave an assumed name) who is believed to be the killer of the Colonel.
Meanwhile, Doctor Abelard Svenson of the Macklenburg Prince’s entourage loses his charge in Harschmort Manor. His search leads him to conclude that something sinister is brewing in the Vandaariff home. His independent investigation suddenly imperils his life but his duty-bound nature forces him to continue to try to protect his Prince.
In pursuit of their own agenda, these three people stumble on a secret cabal whose sinister plans involve strange alchemical scientific processes and malign blue glass books which serve as a dire yet addicting repository of memories while relinquishing a person of the same. Anyone who stares into its thin, crystal pages is stripped of their personal memories and turned into pleasure-addicted, compliant zombies, easily controlled and subverted to the group’s aims.
Miss Temple, Cardinal Chang, and Doctor Svenson propitiously meet and form an unlikely triumvirate bent on stopping this unholy cabal.
What follows is a merry chase with mystery, suspense, science fiction, and even a little romance. Lest this be construed as simply a long, quaint narrative, Dahlquist has thrown in a good deal of sex and a bit of gore in the mix which contrast quite nicely with its Victorian prudery and formality.
The Review :
“The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters” is a brilliantly creative debut from author, Gordon Dahlquist. It is a unique albeit outlandish novel that will, as you read, play out old-fashioned comic book scenes in your head. Indeed, the narrative would lend itself very well to comic strip illustrations of its events, complete with “Boom!”, “Pow!”, “Whack!” sounds written on it. And like an old-fashioned comic book, the heroes often extricate themselves from sticky situations after long dialogues with the villains, instead of each realistically going straight into action to resolve the conflict. Although an annoyance to some, it does have its charms, especially when executed with Dahlquist’s wonderful prose. Besides, such an outdated style is quite at home with the book’s outré antiquated atmosphere as well.
Although the book has this unreal yet special flavor, its characters are surprisingly well developed, each discovering himself/herself as the adventure unfolds.
Division of the book’s chapters deal with the narrative accordingly from one character’s perspective. So for instance, one chapter deals with adventures of Miss Temple, the next, those of Cardinal Chang, etc. Being long chapters, the reader may find himself going back through a previous few pages to refresh his memory of the others’ experiences. Still, it wasn’t much of an annoyance as, on the whole, the book had cast its charms on me enough to discount little bothers like this.
What is most captivating about the book is not its unusual plot nor its dark steampunk theme but its author’s ornate prose that gives so much allure to the novel. His style is romantic yet explicitly descriptive, laced with intelligent humor and irony:
“His hair was pale but streaked with grey, long and greasy, combed back behind his ears. His coat was fine enough but unkempt— in fact the man’s whole appearance gave the impression of a once-cherished article — a sofa, for example — that had been left in the rain and partially ruined.” — p. 155
“Moral perspective is what we carry around with us — it exists nowhere else, I can promise you. Do you see? There is liberation and responsibility — for what is natural depends on where you are, Bascombe. Moreover, vices are like genitals — most are ugly to behold, and yet we find our own dear to us.” — p. 164
To Read Or Not To Read :
To enjoy this book, be prepared to suspend disbelief and just go with the flow. After all, it is fantasy.
Mind you, this is a lengthy novel, of which its chief fault (according to some reviews), is its wordiness and long-windedness. For me, however, this is exactly the novel’s charm as it rests on Dahlquist’s excellent descriptive prose, without which a book like this can become rather tedious and boring when rendered with a flat, indelicate hand. Slash the verbiage and this may end up an unremarkable read — not bad, but not great either.
You must have the time to indulge in this book; otherwise, you’ll be better off with something else.
As An Aside :
For all my praises for this novel and despite its glowing reception by critics, Bantam Books, its publisher, has written this off as a massive failure. The book failed to pull in the sales and lost Bantam over U$850,000, after having advanced two million U. S. dollars to the author for a two-book deal.
Most of those, however, who have put in the time to read the book, review this novel with praises. Perhaps, in time, more readers will get to know this atypical literary work and appreciate it for its originality.
The sequel, “The Dark Volume“, must have already been released this year. This definitely goes into my list of “must-haves” for 2009.
In A Nutshell :
This is one of the best books I’ve enjoyed this year. Its strangeness and inventiveness coupled with Dahlquist’s superb writing skills really had me riveted. A definite keeper!
My Mark : Excellent