The Glass Books Trilogy by G W Dahlquist
Bantam in the USA, reputedly paid début novelist Dahlquist an advance of $2,000,000 for the first two installments in this series. Although the first was well received, apparently they lost shedloads of money on the deal. Penguin, the books’ publisher in the UK, also published the first volume with a big fanfare.
Initially it was only available on subscription, in ten limited edition weekly installments – the covers of which got darker in hue as the story progressed. The last one arrived just in time for Christmas together with a special sheet of wrapping paper. A standard hardback followed, but no prizes for guessing that I discovered it in time to get the installments! (See below).
The third volume is just out in hardback, and I’ve been immersing myself in it and its companions this summer. Having read the first when it came out, I just reminded myself of the names and places of it and how it ended. The three together total over 1900 pages of tremendous adventure and fun.
So what are the books all about?
I shall attempt to concentrate on themes and character rather than give too much of the plot away. One note before I start, despite the assertion that you can read the volumes out of order (there is a too short synopsis at the beginning of the third), you should only read them in the published order, especially to experience the adventure as our heroine Miss Celeste Temple does…
The era is Victorian, the location is an unnamed city – much like London, but in a continental sort of way – a bit Dutch, Danish, Germanic too. The story opens at the Boniface Hotel where a young plantation heiress, Miss Temple, is recently arrived pending her marriage to Roger Bascombe. When the engagement is ended with no reason given, Celeste feels the need to investigate, and ere long she gets herself into a bad crowd of debauched aristos which the boring Roger had been drawn into, known as the Cabal.
At a masked ball at Harschmort House, the home of the Cabal’s millionaire backer, Lord Vandaarif, Celeste meets the other key characters – both good and bad who play a huge part in her future. There’s the sensitive military doctor Abelard Svenson, personal physician to the Prince of Macklenburg and Cardinal Chang, a killer for hire with a natty fashion habit – and they’re the good guys! The villains are even more colourful – we meet the Comte d’Orkancz – a classic mad scientist firmly in the steampunk mode, and the Contessa di Lacquer-Sforza, a raven-haired, lusty Venetian who is playing the Cabal at their own game; here Celeste meets the Contessa for the first time…
Miss Temple turned to see the woman in red, from Roger’s car. She no longer wore her fur-collared cloak, but she still had the lacquered cigarette holder in her hand, and her bright eyes, gazing fixedly at Miss Temple through the red leather mask, quite belied their jewelled tears. Miss Temple turned, but could not speak. The woman was astonishingly lovely – tall, strong, shapely, her powdered skin gleaming above the meager confines of the scarlet dress. Her hair was black and arranged in curls that cascaded across her bare shoulders. Miss Temple inhaled and nearly swooned from the sweet smell of frangipani flowers. She closed her mouth, swallowed, and saw the woman smile.
The Comte has invented a new drug using mineral indigo clay – something Macklenburg has in abundance. This is used to make blue glass, a means to enslave and brainwash by putting people through a alchemical Process, or via blue glass cards, which can store memories and hypnotise anyone who views them and by which you can drain memories and then someone else can experience them, and once viewed, never forgotten.
The blue glass cards are very useful to the Cabal – programmed with erotic memories, users can have an orgy in their own heads. The effects can be lasting in a receptive mind, which horrifies the prim Miss Temple when she is subjected to a card containing some of the Contessa’s erotic adventures, which adds a certain frisson to the procedures!
The Cabal are out to overthrow the existing regime, using the corrupting influence of the blue glass process and the books, sowing chaos everywhere. Celeste finds herself linking up with Svenson and Chang to stop them – three against many. Their lives changed forever, the trio embark on an adventure, which will put their lives at risk countless times and take them to the limit of their physical being.
If the first volume is about the discovery of the Cabal and their plans, the second takes them out into the wider world with the trio individually searching for the key glass book, the third finally brings them together again.
Celeste, Chang and Svenson take it in turns to tell the story. All three volumes could have done with some editing, but they certainly are pageturners – once started, I had to finish. The sheer amount of action on each page is dizzying, be it fighting, spying, scheming, and not forgetting a lot of racy moments! The plot is totally convoluted, and the cast of supporting characters so huge, that you are always in danger of totally of losing where you are. Frankly, it doesn’t matter – as long as you believe that Miss Temple, Chang and Svenson are always doing the right thing.
My favourite characters were Chang and the naughty Contessa, visualising the dandy assassin Chang as Gary Oldman, (surely a great casting suggestion). While I couldn’t see a particular actress as the resourceful Contessa, she is definitely in the mould of ‘the woman‘ from the Sherlock Holmes mystery A Scandal in Bohemia – Irene Adler.
I think I enjoyed the first book the most for its mix of sheer inventiveness and heady action. The second was naturally perhaps rather transitory but certainly darker, setting up the grand finish in volume three, for as in Harry Potter, the Dark Lord of the Cabal must be defeated. The epilogue also leaves some intriguing possibilities open for further adventures.
If you’re tempted to embark on this journey, do start at the beginning. If you enjoy The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, you’ll likely get on with its sequels. If you do, I hope you’ll find it as much fun as I did.
Vol 1 (8.5/10), Vol 2 (7/10), Vol 3 (8/10)
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I bought the first two, and got the third from the publisher – thank you.
To explore further at Amazon UK, please click below:
The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters – Penguin pbk 2006, 784 pages
The Dark Volume – Penguin pbk 2009, 528 pages
The Chemickal Marriage – pub July 2012, Viking Hardback, 528 pages
11 thoughts on “The Glass Books Trilogy – an awfully fun adventure!”
I think I got the first volume out of the library when it came out but I can’t remember whether I tried it and didn’t get on with it or it had to go back before I had chance to read it!
It’s a shame when a gamble on a book doesn’t work out especially when it is an expensive one because it means that the publisher is both less likely to take a chance on something again and ends up sticking to what it knows will make it money – hence the proliferation of Twilight-alikes,Grey-alikes and Z-list celeb memoirs!
The second and third books certainly came out to no fanfare, but I had hoped they would appear eventually after the first one as it was such fun. Glad to see how this epic adventure resolved, although a lot of reading!
I loved the first volume and like you thought the second was transitory. But in no way did it dampen my enthusiasm for the series. I’m really looking forward to the third installment. And I have to say Cardinal Chang is probably my favourite character in this series!
You must read the third Sakura – it is a little more focused than the others, still totally bonkers though! I think everyone loves Chang, he’s certainly a bit of an enigma.
I’ve seen the first book around in the bookshops but never thought to pick it up. I certainly missed any fanfare when it was first published. I like the premise but at the moment committing to 1900 pages is not a good idea.
The first book is under 800 pages (!), but reads fast and is such fun if you’re ever in the mood for some mad steampunk adventure…
Liked your review.
I’ve never heard of these books but any review which boasts the words ‘steampunk’ and ‘alchemical’ is intriguing enough for me! I’ll add the first book to my what next list, which is now growing faster than my waistline!
I love steampunk and Victorian pastiche, so this was such fun to read. Hope you enjoy it if/when you read it Col.
I’m intrigued by the whole graphic presentation of the books – they sure put a lot of effort into it – especially the approximation to the Victorian style. Why do you think the book didn’t meet expectations? It seems to have a story/characters with great potential. Maybe the expectations were just too high?
I’ve not found anyone who has read the first that didn’t enjoy it. The hardbacks were nicely produced too with a neat deep blue transparent dustjacket. Book one is a chunkster though which requires some dedication to read. Also many booksellers may have filed under SF which it isn’t really despite some steampunk themes. That alone will have done for it in many quarters…