Review: The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by G W Dahlquist

In The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, three most unlikely but nevertheless extraordinary heroes become inadvertently involved in the diabolical machinations of a cabal bent on enslaving thousands through a devilish ‘process’:
Miss Temple is a feisty young woman with corkscrew curls who wishes only to learn why her fiance Roger broke off their engagement…
Cardinal Chang was asked to kill a man, but finding his quarry already dead he is determined to learn who beat him to it and why…
And Dr Svenson is chaperone to a dissolute Prince who has become involved with some most unsavoury individuals…
An adventure like no other, in a mysterious city few have travelled to, featuring a heroine and two heroes you will never forget.

I have an unfortunate tendency, when it comes to picking new things to read – I’m often attracted by an interesting title or front cover and I’ll purchase on impulse before paying proper attention to the blurb…  By reading The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, I’m finally reading part one of a trilogy, having managed to read part two, The Dark Volume, some years ago.  Having finally corrected my error – and enjoyed doing so – it all makes so much more sense!

My next difficulty is that The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters is very complex, with the adventures of Cardinal Chang, Miss Temple and Doctor Svenson intertwining until they become a team, working with a collective purpose to thwart a sinister group determined to control all those around them.  I very much enjoyed reading this mystery, infused with history, science and alchemy, although the style in which it’s written is very dense – I found it worked best read in small intense chunks, the novel equivalent of espresso.

It’s a real rollercoaster, or should I say steam express train, of an adventure, full of scandal, intrigue, and horror with a steampunk flavour, but the main trio of characters are also great fun.  Miss Temple, or Celeste to her closest friends, was initially drawn into events by wishing to know why her fiance had broken off their engagement, but quickly proves herself to be brave, determined, intelligent and matter-of-fact (outwardly at least).  Once she see that Roger has fallen under the influence of a pernicious group attempting to seize power behind the scenes of the (unnamed) country in which the story occurs, she doesn’t hesitate to act.

The story belongs equally, though, to Cardinal Chang, a skilled assassin so called for his red leather coat and scarred eyes and face, and Doctor Svenson, a former Naval surgeon now tasked with preventing the Prince of his small northern European country, Macklenburg, doing anything too foolish or disastrous.  Sadly for Svenson, the Prince also falls into the clutches of the same group but his loyalty to his nation means he will kill the Prince if he must, to prevent the county’s downfall.  Indeed, all three are characterised by their motivation and steadfast – stubborn? – determination to discover the truth and to prevent their adversaries from preying upon those weaker than themselves.

The plot uncovered by our three heroes is certainly dastardly; through a strange alchemical process, subjects surrender something of themselves in exchange for greater awareness and understanding, and an enhancement of their ambition and ruthless tendencies.  But they also enslave others, overwhelming them by plunging them into uncanny glass ‘books’, through which it is possible to become immersed in the experiences of others, simultaneously plundering their memories for profit and rendering them puppets to be controlled.  The language Dahlquist uses to depict these villainous enterprises fits perfectly with the time period evoked – again unspecified, although it seems to be sometimes in the 1800s.  There is a mixture of technology, science and magic at work which references the inventions of the Industrial Revolution, the works of Leonardo Da Vinci, the Middle Ages and the future – I loved being plunged, myself, back into this fantastical world of the experiences of others.  I just wish I’d read these books in the right order in the first place!  At least, now, I can read the third instalment, The Chemickal Marriage, fully understanding the events that have taken place.

If you’re on the look-out for an slice of fantastic, escapist adventure, this could be just the book for you.  The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters is available in paperback from Penguin, at £8.99.


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