Steampunk has always appealed to me. I dug The Diamond Age; I took great delight in the LXG movie even though it was, objectively, crap; Wells and Verne have been friends of mine since I was young. So when the spiffy blue acetate cover of Glass Books invited me to read the blurb, I saw enough to tempt me to buy.
That was months ago, but I’ve only just got around to reading it.
It’s a book of contradictions. The plot is very straightforward, but takes quite some concentration to follow. The characters are drawn with broad strokes, but are attractive and compelling. Once the violence kicks in (early on) it doesn’t let up as the book screeches from one rollicking set-piece to the next, right to the very end, yet Dahlquist intensifies his pseudo-Victorian setting by indulging himself in a tremendously luxurious and playful approach to language, taking his time over every phrase: it’s a bit overwritten, but all the more fun for it.
As a novel, it’s all about the indulgence, actually. Sensuality, hedonism, greed and their exploitation are kind of the point. Carefully formed, the ten long chapters were originally published weekly to subscribers. It must have been a fun way to read it. The chapters alternate each following one of the three main characters, expect for the single chapter where they are together. As the climax approaches, we see things from these disjointed perspectives, slowly building to a picture of the whole: the assassin finds the doctor’s blood-soaked coat lying on the stairs — the doctor encounters a large pool of blood on the floor — the heroic debutante is revealed as having had a hand in both.
The work of the villainous Cabal is undeniably sinister, made all the more so by the slow reveal all the way through, where even by the end you only just get the hang of all the bizarre things they were up to (the glass books of the title aren’t even the half of it). It’s worth the read just to see where on earth the author’s going with it all.
Far from perfect, ultimately this is the written equivalent of what you might get should Quentin Tarantino and Joss Whedon decide to co-script a gothic, neo-Victorian styled summer blockbuster to be directed by Tim Burton. Yeah. Exactly.
And that’s what makes it fun.
(Take a look at the official website for the book. It is worth reading, and gives a good feel for the novel.)