the Little Red Reviewer

Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, by Gordon Dahlquist

Posted on: May 12, 2010

This review was originally published here

One day in a ficticious Victorian almost London, Miss Temple was uncerimoniously dumped by her fiance Roger. Thinking she will catch him with another woman, she follows him to the train station, onto a train, to a country manor, and into a blushworthy masked ball full pawns, scantily dressed women, greedy aristocrats, desperately ambitious servants, and more intrigue and conspiracy than you can shake a stick at. Miss Temple returns home the next morning covered in someone else’s blood, and wearing a thin white robe that isn’t hers.

At the masked ball, a criminal known as Cardinal Chang (he is neither ordained, nor Asian) finds the man he was hired to kill is already dead, not to mention horrifically scarred. The next morning, Chang is hired to find a short young woman who was at the masked ball and was seen leaving in a white robe and covered in blood. Chang may be a hired killer, but he doesn’t enjoy the work, and has quite the chivalrous side.

Dr. Abalard Svenson of Macklenburg discovers a conspiracy that the Prince of Macklenburg has become the victim of. A loyal servant of the crown, and not knowing the details of the con, Dr. Svenson attends the ball in the hopes of rescuing his Prince from the scheme stemming from his engagement to the daughter of a wealthy mining magnate. Svenson has spent his entire life loyally serving his country, and he doesn’t expect to stop now.

Temple, Chang, and Svenson make an unlikely team – the naïve debutante who has the cash, the professional criminal with the weapons and skills to use them, and the military doctor with the government connections, and find themselves embroiled in a conspiracy that would make any sane person change their name and leave the country.

 Dahlquist has a great time getting the three protagonists into insane situations, forcing each one to face their fears. This book may have it’s weaknesses, but character development isn’t one of them. In lovely contrast to our “good guys”, we have a cult-like cabal of wealthy aristocrats who after tapping into the alchemical properties of “indigo clay”, bring people under their power through painful procedures, glass books full of addictive erotic experiences, and plain intimidation and blackmail. Like other mad scientists, their goal is to take over the world.

Goods guys with great hearts, and bad guys consumed with lust, greed, and ambition. Mad scientists who promise people their dreams will come true then horrifically transform them into glass monsters who read minds? Sounds like a genius recipe for a steampunk suspsense novel.

Unfortunately, Glass books of the Dream Eaters is an inadvertent poster child for “not quite”. The story is sexy, fast paced and fun, but overburdened with detail and useless internal monologues. Yes, I’m interested in what Miss Temple is going through, but the wordiness got plain rediculous after a while. The triumverate of good guys barely escape with their lives so many times I got to the point where I was hoping one of them would die, just for a change of pace. Dahlquist’s painfully grammatically correct style of prose is so jarring you fall right out of the action, trying to figure out who he’s talking about and what was going on before the sentence was interrupted by another thought.

This novel is anything but simple, and in this case, that’s a bad thing. The book suffers from Wheel-of-time-itis, or perhaps Neal-Stephenson-itis – a severe lack of editing. For a book with so much action (I don’t thing anyone sleeps, ever), so many awkwardly fun erotic scenes, so many pawns switching aliances, and cabal leaders killing off anyone they don’t trust, I was bored out of my mind.

It took me about a week to read this book, and spent nearly the entire wishing it was better, because it has so much potential to be a great book – a morbidly fascinating scientific cult, bad guys who are pure viciousness, and ingenious methods of blackmail. Dahlquist could have had a winner on his hands, but he just never quite got there.

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5 Responses to "Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, by Gordon Dahlquist"

Goal for this week: Use the phrase “Neil-Stephenson-itis” as often as is humanly possible.

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lol! we need to enter that into urban dictionary or something! I feel terrible using that phrase, because the more Neal Stephenson I read, the more I love how he puts things together. . . .but yeah, man could seriously use an editor.

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I slogged through “Anathem” a while back… took FOREVER to get going, and 300+ pages to get to where stuff gets interesting is kind of ungodly.

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I agree with you on this one – it was simply too wordy. I really don’t need a 2-page description of how Miss Temple takes her tea (I do however want her green ankle boots). This could have been very good if it had been 200 pages shorter.

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I really enjoyed Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, though I was seriously annoyed by Miss Temple’s character – at least for a goodly portion of the novel. I actually quite liked the wordiness, in its faux-Victorian style, and, not being familiar with or having read any steampunk, liked the world in which it was set. Chang was probably my favourite character, since I thought his motivations were a good deal more believable than Miss Temple’s.

Have you read the sequel, The Dark Volume? It’s on my to read list: I started it a while ago, and was disappointed enough by the beginning to stop. I must give it another go some time.

By the way, the UK cover art for Glass Books of the Dream Eaters is really good, and much better than the US edition (in my humble opinion!): all turquoise and black and gold.

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