The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters

The Comte d’Orkancz stood up. With his cigar in his right hand he extended his left to her and as a matter of instinctive response Miss Temple allowed her own hand to be taken – her other groping for purchase on the pistol butt. He raised her hand up to kiss it, an odd moist, brushing whisper across her fingers, released her hand, and stepped back.

“You leave abruptly,” she said.

“Think of it as a reprieve.”

“For which one of us?”

“For you, Miss Temple. For you will persist . . . and such persistence will consume you.”

“Will it indeed?” It was not much of a tart reply as those things go, but the way his eyes glowered it was the best she could do in the moment.

“It will. And that’s the thing,” he said, placing both hands on the table and leaning close to her face, whispering. “When it comes, you will submit of your own accord. Everyone does. You think you battle monsters – you think you battle us! – but you only struggle with your fear . . . and that fear will shrivel before desire. You think I do not sense your hunger? I see it as clearly as the sun. You are already mine, Miss Temple – just waiting for the moment when I choose to take you.”

~ from The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, by G. W. Dahlquist

In an unfamiliarly familiar world of narrow streets, horse-drawn carriages, amber streetlamps and pea-soup fogs, three foolish heroes struggle wilfully against the forces of an unknown foe and their inconceivable, though certainly unimaginably wicked, plot. From dingy riverside dives to the deepest repositories of knowledge and learning; within seaport brothels and the finest hotels of a world capital; from the lowliest of servants’ passages to the foot of the thrones of two great nations; between filthy gutters and starlit rooftops, an unseen conflict builds like the pressure within a locomotive’s engine, stoked beyond boiling point . . . to explode.

Mere chance brings them together. A military surgeon from Germanic Macklenberg, torn from within by a tragedy of love in his past, now assigned to watch over his spoiled and fatuous Prince – only for this Prince to fall under the eye and the influence of strange and hidden parties; a rank killer, masquerading behind a wafer veneer of respectability and smoked-glass spectacles, which latter hide the fact that he is not, as his name would suggest, an amoral Asian assassin, but an ocularly occluded Occidental; and a prim and proper heiress, whose arrogant knowledge of polite society fails to mask her rough colonial upbringing, nor the depths of hurt, distress and outrage at the unexpected shunning of her fiancé and his instruction never to contact him again, an act which only fuels her need – no, not need, but righteously justified curiosity, nothing more – to discover what could have so changed his mind.

But the changing of minds is at the heart of the mystery.

He approached the gate with caution – being shot for trespassing would be a particularly stupid way to die – and found it chained. He called out to the small guard’s hut on the other side of the wall, but received no answer. He looked up – the gate was very high – and shuddered at the prospect of climbing. He preferred to find another, less egregious point of entry, and remembered from Bascombe’s blue glass card an image near an orchard, of a crumbled wall that, could he find it, would be simple to scramble over. He set off around the side, tramping through the high, dry grass drifting – from the wind, he supposed – up against the stone – like sand.

Svenson tried to form a plan of action, a task at which he never felt particularly skilled. He enjoyed studying evidence and drawing conclusions, even confronting those he had managed to entrap with facts, but all of this activity – running through houses, climbing drainage pipes, rooftops, shooting, being shot at . . . it was not his métier. He knew his approach to Tarr Manor ouoght to be an order of battle – he tried to imagine Chang’s choices, but this didn’t help at all: it only spelled out the degree to which he found Chang utterly mysterious. Svenson’s trouble was contingency. He was searching for several things at once, and depending on what he found, all of his goals would shift. He hoped to find Miss Temple, though he did not think he would. He hoped to find the woman from the train, which was to say that he wanted to know if Elöise was corrupt as he feared, or perhaps a duped innocent like Coates. He hoped to find some information about Bascombe and the previous Lord Tarr. He hoped to find the true nature of the work at the quarry. He hoped to find the truth behind Lorenz and his machinery, and what it had to do with these men from the city. He hoped to find who was in the coach and thus more about the two men who had journeyed from the city themselves to meet it. But all these goals were a jumble in his head, and all he could do was to enter the house and skulk about with as much secrecy as possible – and what, his stern sceptical logic demanded, would he do if he found someone from the cabal who could name him directly, aside from Lorenz? What if he were to be brought before the Contessa, or the Comte d’Orkancz? He stopped and sighed heavily, a dry pinch in his throat. He had no idea what he would do at all.

~ from The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, by G. W. Dahlquist

In keeping with the alleged writerly practices of the equivalent period to that of his setting, the author has no fear of words and does not shy away from using as many as are required to fully express the depth and reach of the world of his creation, crafting huge paragraphs with skill and flair that are themselves unafraid of containing quite long and startling sentences, employing as they do clause and sub-clause, digression and note; even – as in this very case! – (and on several an occasion) supposedly archaic and certainly temperamental congruencies of punctuation that challenge both the reader’s eye and mind to comprehend; most often, even invariably, while embarking upon a new chapter.

However, as a chapter progresses – each switching between one of the protagonists who, as do many of their adversaries, boast charming or unusual names – and the flow of the writing moves away from the inner thoughts of the current principle and plot again becomes dominant, a subtle metamorphosis begins to take hold and one finds the text as if in progress from verbose Jekyll to dynamic Hyde, shedding itself of such superficial literary trappings – dare one say, of some manner of intellectual endeavour? – and sinking deeply into base passions, lust and violence and all the pounding thrills of the body.

Still gagged, Elöise did not answer, for her gaze was fixed – indeed, it was held – on the freezing abyss beneath her, suspended by Lydia’s tight handful of her hair, while, a step behind, the Prince had wrapped his arms around Elöise’s legs. Wrists and ankles tied, Elöise could do nothing to prevent them dropping her through.

”Let her go!” cried Chang. “Your masters are down! You are alone!”

“Drop your weapons or the woman dies!” replied the Prince, shrilly.

“If you kill that woman,” said Chang, “I will kill you. I will kill you both. If you release her, I will not. That is the extent of our negotiation.”

The Prince and Lydia exchanged a nervous glance.

~ from The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, by G. W. Dahlquist

So… within this shadowy world of intrigue, perhaps lies buried a minor gem – for though the needless layers of style envelop a mere fantastical yarn, a florid adventure of concepts tried and down paths well trod… there is something. It is a tale that, once lured into, once grasped by the spectacle, one feels drawn back to relentlessly, hopelessly, to be trapped within those shining blue covers, even against one’s will (unless one’s will is strong). Though those glimmering depths may seem too endlessly deep to risk…

Blah blah blah blah blah . . .blah blah blah blah blah such a fool blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah – blah blah blah! – blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah, blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah strangely erotic.

Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah flurry of violence! Blah blah blah blah blah. He’d been a fool.

“Blah blah blah blah blah,” said Miss Temple. “Blah blah blah blah blah blah foolish, blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Or else.”

“Blah blah blah blah blah,” replied the Contessa arrogantly, arrogantly brushing her fingertips across Miss Temple’s panties. “Blah blah blah blah blah blah foolish desires.” Blah blah blah…

~ paraphrasing The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, by G. W. Dahlquist

Some will steer a wide berth, warned off by a title as cumbersome as the work is long. Some, brave enough to venture forth regardless, will show that raw will, tear themselves free and escape unmarked. Others, however, will embrace the sensation and give in, to be swept away utterly until, after much twisting and turning and much like this review, it ends surprisingly – almost, one could say, disappointingly – abruptly.

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