Thursday, 15 November 2012
The Glass Books Of The Dream Eaters
In September, I was given a Kindle for my birthday. In October, I finally got it out of its box and started to use it (it always takes me a while, I'm not one of those people ripping it open and booting it up on the day). I went through the set-up, then started looking through the catalog to find a book to read while travelling to Melbourne. I searched on a few authors whose writing I knew I liked, and came across The Chemickal Marriage, by Gordon Dahlquist. At that point, I'm pretty sure I made a noise only dogs could have heard. It was the third in a series of books I had been dying to finish.
The fabulous binding was only a preview: The Glass Books Of The Dream Eaters is a classic adventure-mystery, with bits of steampunk science fiction/fantasy and erotica thrown in. Set in a psuedo-Victorian-era city, the story follows three main characters - Cardinal Chang*, an assassin with bad eyesight and a fondness for poetry; Miss Celeste Temple, a stubborn, independent plantation heiress; and Doctor Abelard Svenson, a chain-smoking army surgeon attached to the prince of his country as he travels. Separately, the three come into contact with a sinister cabal intent on enslaving the upper eschelons of society and taking control of Europe, and when our heroes' paths' inevitably cross, they team up, intent on thwarting the plot. The glass of the title refers to the cabal's main weapon; a blue alchemical glass that can be used to steal memories and record them for others to experience. Using the glass also produces a feeling of erotic euphoria, ensnaring the hapless user in an addictive hallucination. As the story progresses, so does use of the glass, until a shocking and astounding alchemical transformation takes place!
And so, this began my interest in these books. The sequel, The Dark Volume, came out in 2008, and was an intriguing continuation of the story. It had an infuriating Empire Strikes Back-style ending, though, hence my excitement about the 2012 release of The Chemickal Marriage. And now I've finally read them all, and honestly, I found the conclusion totally satisfying. I thought the style and quality of the story and writing was consistent all the way through (it's always so disappointing when the end of a series is crap compared to the beginning, but that's not the case here) and overall, I find these books such an entertaining read!
They won't be what everyone wants in a novel, I suppose. The story is packed with a million characters, and driven by a crazy series of events - death-defying escapes, betrayals, encounters with members of the cabal, plus the detective-style work the three heroes are doing, trying to uncover the cabal's plot. Each chapter throughout the whole series is also told from the perspective of a different main character, rolling through them in a cycle, which has the advantage of uncovering a wider view of the overall conspiracy than a single perspective could portray, and also exploring how the main characters appear to other people, which is always intriguing. Of course, Dahlquist ends just about every chapter right on a cliffhanger, which is completely infuriating (and excellent). The books are also written in a slightly Victorian style, very much after Dickens, or maybe HG Wells or Jules Verne, and the language sometimes contributes a certain convolutedness for the modern reader.
However, if you can get used to the mannered writing, free-wheeling story and the perspective switches, there's plenty to reward you. Conspiracy, steampunk science, dissolute aristocrats, masked balls and murders. The villains, dastardly though they are, are a lot of fun - there's the Comte d'Orkanz, aristocrat-slash-artist-slash-mad-scientist and the creator of the science behind the blue glass. There's Francis Xonck, younger brother of a wealthy arms maker, who plays at being another dissolute aristo but has a greater ambition within the cabal than he pretends. Then there's the Contessa di Laquer-Sforza, a beautiful, enigmatic con-woman, orchestrating and manipulating even within the cabal. There are others, each convinced they are in control of their conspiracy, and the whole thing is naturally a house of cards, just waiting for the co-conspirators to betray each other.
I also really liked all the main characters. Miss Temple isn't a cookie-cutter heroine, and she refuses to be anyone's damsel in distress. She does start out searching for the fiance who threw her over, but continues to fight the cabal long after her interest in him has dissolved. Doctor Svenson is more reserved, even when the story is from his perspective, but his dry wit and ongoing loyalty, even to those who may not deserve it, becomes a welcome relief in such a mad-cap story. His chain-smoking and fear of heights also humanize him in appealing ways. And then there's Cardinal Chang, the consummate antihero; a talented assassin with a well-hidden reserve of courage and self-sacrifice.
So, if you feel in the mood for a thrilling, action-packed story, of sinister villains and a conspiracy that accelerates like a runaway train until it threatens to unseat an entire country, escalating to a horrifying, epic yet deeply personal climax at the end of The Chemickal Marriage, maybe these are the books for you...
(The Guardian has naturally written a better review than mine, if you need further convincing.)
Note: I hope they don't try to make a Hollywood movie out of these books. They'd have to tear them apart, and that would be such a shame. A really well-produced miniseries, on the other hand, akin to Game of Thrones or something, could be amazing.
*Not a real cardinal.