Alan's Reviews > The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist
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's review
Apr 01, 09

Recommended to Alan by: Cuppa Joad, the Alibris book blog
Recommended for: Adult fans of historical fantasy
Read in March, 2009, read count: 2

This is a hefty volume - over 750 pages in hardcover - whose elegant, fluid prose is of consistently high quality throughout: complex, bold and even witty. Frankly, The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters would be a tremendous achievement even if it weren't also a ripping good yarn. This is Dahlquist's first published novel, and he writes with an assurance beyond his years and experience.

Dahlquist establishes a trio of disparate, unlikely but likeable protagonists for his story: diminutive but strong-willed Celeste Temple, raised a child of privilege on a tropical island before being transplanted to London; Cardinal Chang, a scarred mercenary of the London streets; and Captain-Surgeon Abelard Svenson, personal physician to the Crown Prince of the Duchy of Macklenburg. Svenson is in London for the Prince's wedding to the beautiful Lydia Vandaariff. Each character - and I have only named a fraction of the host of individuals crowding these pages - is unique and interesting. Swapping viewpoints with aplomb, Dahlquist advances the story through each successive pair of eyes.

Temple, Chang and Svenson find themselves united in opposition to a vast and shadowy conspiracy (the best kind, at least for fictional purposes). Britain's rich and powerful are doing extremely uncharacteristic things - an atmosphere of bold licentiousness quite at odds with Victorian propriety prevails on the train to Harschmort where we first meet Miss Temple, and things get stranger from there. There is a mysterious Process, alchemical or scientific in nature, which seems to involve sheets of strange blue glass - the Glass Books of the title.

This book occupies much the same spot in my mental catalogue as Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell - not that they're very similar in detail, but they do both treat of a Victorian England colored with strange happenings, and they do share a delight in the precise use of the English language in all its complex glory, something of a rarity in these dark days.

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters is not by any means a perfect book, nor one for all audiences. The violence in Dahlquist's decadent Victorian world is frequent, graphic and often cartoonish - as is the sex. But I was, as local music critic Charles Mudede says in quite another context, "at once disturbed by the violence and drawn to the beauty" ("It's Tricky," the Portland Mercury (March 26, 2009), p. 17).

While I was finishing my second reading of this novel during a vacation in Port Townsend, Washington, not far from Dahlquist's origins, I was delighted to discover, entirely serendipitously, that he has also written a sequel, The Dark Volume, in which at least some of the characters from his first book make another appearance... I'll be picking that one up too, I do believe.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Jpmist Spot on review, particularly with your association with "Jonathan Strange. . ." Dahlquist is added to my small list of automatic grabbing-it-off-the-shelves authors I can't wait to read again.

Alan Hey, thanks for the kind words! Unfortunately, The Dark Volume falls off distinctly; at this point I'm hoping that volume 3 redeems the series...

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