Archive for March, 2015

G.W. Dahlquist – The Glass Books Of The Dream Eaters

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

Usually I ignore the promotional blurbs on the cover of a novel since they are always superlative and a recommendation from an author I like does not mean that I like what the author likes to read. However, for a very few numbers of novels these blurbs do hit their mark. This is the case for The Glass Books Of The Dream Eaters (2006) by G.W. Dahlquist, the first book of a nameless steampunk science fiction trilogy. According to Wikipedia the booksales were disappointing so this review will aim to give the series a new spin forward.

So yes, I am already giving away that this novel totally hit it home for me. I picked it up because it looked interesting but I had no idea if it was. As often I took it on gut instinct which is usually quite right.

The novel contains a number on ingenuities that make it different from other steampunk stories. The setting of the story is somewhat ambivalent. Many things indicate that the story takes place in London, England around the turn of the nineteenth century, but city and nation are never mentioned and very few of the names and places mentioned seem to match with reality. It seems like an alternative universe instead of simply twisting the technology as most steampunks do (although I have to admit here that I have not read that much steampunk to be an expert). This ambivalent settings already creates its own atmosphere of mystery.

The story is told through the eyes of three main protagonists. Each has a limited view of the events and to provide the reader with a greater picture Dahlquist tells certain events multiple times from very different perspectives. The plot is carefully crafted so that most events are not simply retold. The perspectives touch the events where necessary or simply take over where they touch. This way the reader knows much more but never everything.

Another ingenuity is that Dahlquist only uses a limited number of very long chapters, each following one perspective, which are each about 60 pages in length. This provides focus and allows for plenty of space to develop each of the characters. A special side-effect is that after perspectives change and the events start to overlap (or rather run chronologically simultaneously) the tension rises to great levels as each chapter ends in a cliffhanger and the reader has to read quite a bit before events get back to that point. You see things coming but it is never what you have expected.

Dahlquist turns in a huge and intense amount of twists. The long novel only covers a few days of time in which a great deal happens. The main protagonists change from pawns to players to game changers and back continuously. The lack of information and the ploys by the antagonists keep the reader guessing with little clue of what is really going on. It is an exhilarating ride and almost impossible to put the book aside. At times it felt exhausting because events became crazier in which the protagonists face many dilemmas and choices. Sometimes they make the right one or the bad one. You get frustrated with them or chear them on.

The novel is written in a modern classic style. Dahlquist has given his prose a flavor that is similar to that of the authors of the late nineteenth century, like Dickens, Collins, Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle but he avoids the tropes that can make their prose longwinded or old-fashioned. Instead he focuses on details and keeping a strong intensity in a strong pace while many scenes are reminiscent of the aforementioned authors.

So do I have any criticism on The Glass Books Of The Dream Eaters? All the things I have mentioned before can be considered negative as they are unusual and reader can be put off by the style and the plot structure. The book is certainly not easy. The reader has a limited point of view and not all information provided is clear or explained. Often the protagonists themselves are guessing. Within a relatively short timespan a lot of things happens, so much it almost seems impossible that it can. It must have been a great juggle, or at least an extensive write-out, of the whole plot structure to keep all simultaneous events coherent and believable. For the reader it is even harder to do so. You simply have to accept it and go with the flow. There are no clear flaws or plotholes but that is also because the density of events is so great that it is hard to discern them. That said I do have to say there are a some moments in the plot development that are hard to believe as I call them lucky coincidences. Even so I consider the fact that this vast and complex plot is constructed so well and never loses ground that a few minor glitches are not very noteworthy. It is actually a challenge to notice them.

The Glass Books Of The Dream Eaters is all that the blurbs on the cover make it to be. It is certainly my surprise find of the year. I do not think any other unknown work can top it as the novel will be highly ranked among the greatest novels I have read. For anyone who loves a complex plot, iconic and powerful characters and an intense reading experience, within a classic late nineteenth century atmosphere this is a must read. Highly recommended.