While it may be true that there is no such thing as too much of a good thing, too much of the same thing, no matter how good it is, can get tired after a while. At least this is the case with The Dark Volume, the conclusion to the adventures started by Gordon Dahlquist in his books The Glass Books Of The Dream Eaters Vol.1 and The Glass Books Of The Dream Eaters Vol.2, being published by Random House Canada on March 24, 2009. For what was novel in the first volume, had started to wear thin by the end of the second, and is just tedious here in the third installment.
Set in a fictional England during the Victorian era, the first two books brought together three adventurers from divers social backgrounds as they each accidentally stumbled upon a mysterious cabal who appeared out to control heads of state and captains of industry. Celeste Temple, a proper, upper middle class young woman of independent means; Dr. Abelard Svenson, a military surgeon serving in the navy of the German principality of Macklenburg; and Cardinal Chang, an assassin for hire who is neither Chinese nor Catholic but takes his name from the red leather coat he wears and the disfigurement a whip caused his eyes, are as an unlikely trio of allies you're liable to find anywhere. However, when circumstances brought them together they set aside their differences in the hopes that together they could thwart the cabal's plans.
Those behind the cabal have developed a process that allows them to distill emotions and experiences as a type of blue glass. When a person touches just a piece of the glass they immediately become immersed in, and relive the details of, whatever was "recorded" onto that piece of glass, which could be anything from sexual experiences to murder. Naturally for an era that prided itself on repressing emotions as much as the Victorians, exposure to these pieces of blue glass was rather an overwhelming experience. However, as shocking as the emotional voyeurism might have been, it was the recording process that was the real danger.
Advertised as a means of liberating oneself from the constraints of a hidebound society, the "process" was actually a means of a few exerting control over many. For each person who underwent the process had a keyword or phrase implanted into their sub-consciousness that allowed anyone speaking it to assume absolute control over them. Minor modifications to the process allowed the cabal to siphon memories and emotions from their subjects as well as to generate the material for the blue glass, while another modification allowed for a subject to be transformed into a being of blue glass who could use their thoughts and emotions to control others.
Over the course of the first two books we followed our erstwhile heroes as they tracked down the ringleaders of the group, first alone, and then working as a team. Each of them in turn experienced the blue glass first hand with differing results. For Celeste it involved the awakening of thoughts and desires that left her reeling, while the Cardinal experienced the dangers the material posed when one is forced to breathe in the substance that forms the blue glass and have it crystallize in your system. The Doctor meanwhile discovered that the glass also contained people's memories and saw how the cabal was using them to find out valuable information that could be used for their nefarious purposes.
Initially, especially as the trio were discovering just what was going on, the story was fascinating in the way it depicted the characters' reactions to what they were experiencing. This was especially true in the case of Celeste as we observed how she dealt with coming to grips with the pleasure she experienced via the blue glass. As emotionally repressed as any product of her times, she was both appalled and enthralled by her reactions, and continually struggled against this new awareness of herself as a sexual being. However, as the books progressed, and neither her experiences nor her reactions to them evolved, it began to feel like the author was writing his own version of Victorian pornography, instead of examining the effects of strong emotion on someone whose own have long been kept in check.
The fact that the plot began to feel like it was meandering towards a conclusion, rather than building steam for a denouement began to make it feel like the author was merely spinning out the tale so he could exercise his fascination with dark eroticism. It was as if it was becoming the reason for writing this final chapter, instead of it merely being a by-product of the plot, and reading variations on Celeste having to fight her urges became tedious. While the Doctor and Cardinal Chang faired slightly better at the hands of their creator, they too seemed caught in an endless cycle.
Each of them were either in constant pursuit of some quarry or another, which involved innumerable train rides, treks through the corridors of ancient houses, and fits of random violence. While inevitably their journeying did result in them arriving at a destination, it was definitely not a case of getting there being half the fun as it rapidly became an exercise in tedium. What had started off as an interesting voyage in The Glass Books Of The Dream Eaters Vol. 1 and had continued quite successfully in Vol.2, has become something of a trudge in The Dark Volume.
Far from being the "gripping tale of suspense" that it's advertised as, The Dark Volume is a rather tedious exercise whose "dark eroticism" is simply Victorian era pornography revisited. You'd be better off picking up a copy of Fanny Hill, for at least its honest about its nature.