Sunday, November 25, 2007

Book Review: The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters

Imagine Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell crossed with Perdido Street Station and you'll get The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, an over-long but largely entertaining novel with elements of steampunk, Gothic mystery, science fiction, and erotica.

We begin with Miss Temple, a ferocious young lady of means recently arrived from her island plantation home. The fair Miss Temple has been jilted by her fiancé, Roger, a up-and-comer at the Foreign Ministry. She refuses to take this lying down and shadows Roger's movements, hoping to determine the cause of her broken engagement. By bluff and bravado, she follows Roger to a masked ball in a remote country estate, but the party is marred by murder and she barely escapes with her life.

An assassin nicknamed Cardinal Chang also crashed the party that night, but discovered that the man he'd come to kill was already dead. The party's guest of honor, Prince Karl-Horst of Macklenberg, is subsequently abducted and only rescued by the offices of his personal physician, Doctor Svenson. All three become entangled in the schemes of the shadowy cabal behind the events of that evening, and only by working together will they be able to escape death.

There are a lot of narrow escapes in this book. The villains, a group of mysterious alchemists, have developed a "Process" of mechanical and alchemical brainwashing, which temporarily brands its victims with a loop of livid scars around the eyes, and a method of downloading and storing human memories in books of deadly blue glass. Their determination is otherworldly and their moral qualms nonexistent, yet they have a regrettable tendency to knock people on the head or drug them when they should be shot or poisoned.

The philosophical issues posed by the Process and the nature of stored and stolen memories are barely touched. Fully half the subplots and side trips could be cut, and by page 500 or so we are a bit bored by the constant cliffhanger endings to each POV chapter. The finale is also a bit of a letdown, but that's because it was set up to frame the coming sequel. All in all, though, it's an entertaining read, and worth checking out from the library.
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