Regular readers might have noticed that I’ve dropped the ball recently when it comes to the Literary Exploration Challenge. For the past couple of months I’ve been really busy at work and also seem to have had an array of way-too-tempting titles at hand that just didn’t fit in with the specifications of the challenge. But I’ve given myself a good pep talk and have resolved to carry on in earnest. Even if the chances of completing the list before the end of December are looking slim, at least I can carry on pushing my own boundaries and discovering new avenues.
Enter G.W. Dahlquist. I cannot for the life of me remember how this series landed on my radar but it had been on my wishlist for a while and I snapped it up in the charity shop next to my dentist's as a treat after a particularly nasty filling. Glass Books of the Dream Eaters is quite an imposing book but I had the impression that putting the effort in would reap rewards. It seemed to be a more ‘grown-up’ Steampunk choice that would satisfy my inner literary snob.
The plot of Glass Books of the Dream Eaters is complex and almost impossible to summarise. We make the acquaintance of three characters from wildly different backgrounds and with completely separate agendas who get thrown together, finding themselves fighting a common evil. The well-heeled Miss Temple is a refined lady who is trying to find out why her ex-fiancé had a sudden change of heart about their forthcoming nuptials. Svenson is a doctor – though you wouldn’t believe it from his incessant chain-smoking – who is acting as chaperone to the wayward young prince of his obscure Germanic state. And the (almost) blind assassin Cardinal Chang is shocked when he turns up at his latest job to find someone has already done the hard work for him, leaving a still-warm corpse in their wake. Somehow this unlikely trio end up working together against a deadly league of soldiers, aristocracy, prostitutes and general wrong ‘uns.
The first thing I need to do is state the obvious and warn you that this is a very long book. And to be honest, it’s longer than it strictly needs to be. Be prepared to read through lengthy descriptive passages and lots of scenes of action and killing that don’t serve to further the plot in any significant way. I wouldn’t class it as a particularly ‘easy’ read, either, being a novel that really demands your attention and needs to be devoured in thick wedges to maximise your enjoyment. There are countless extraneous characters with unpronounceable names to try and remember. But I found it to be worth making this effort.
Dahlquist has created an enchanting environment rooted in 19th century England but with just enough ‘off’ details to make it feel slightly otherworldly. It has all the classic hallmarks I was hoping to find in a Steampunk novel – horse-drawn carriages, a labyrinthine manor house, alchemy, dodging of bullets, airships, and heaps of derring-do. There’s a lot of action and a lot of fun. At the same time there is a subtle eroticism running through the whole thing, and not in a Fifty Shades way. I also adored the sparky dialogue, particularly the ascerbic wit of Miss Temple:
"First you say I am a murderer - an agent in league against you - and now I am a deluded heartsick girl! Pray make up your mind so I can scoff at you with precision!"
It is strange that despite finding this novel a dreary slog at times, I couldn’t put it down. I would find myself thinking ‘oh come on, get on with it’ but at the same time was compelled to read more. It is a flawed book in many ways but gets away with it as there is so much really great stuff in there too. I wonder if it might have benefited from a more ruthless editing process to prune out the filler. In any case, I found it very enjoyable and would definitely consider finding out what happens to the trio in the next volume of this series the next time I have some spare hours on my hands.
Since finishing this book I’ve discovered that the Literary Exploration blog has written a handy post which is a good place to start for anybody considering dabbling in Steampunk. Does anybody else have any recommendations of Steampunk favourites for me to try?