There's something about the mid to late nineteenth century that makes it the ideal period for setting a mystery novel. Perhaps it's because of the atmosphere created by the lack of electricity and houses lit by gas or candles. Even in the best-lit houses there are places where the light doesn't reach, creating pools of shadows in which anything could happen. It was also a period of great political and social unrest as various nationalist interests across Europe strove for independence and the aristocracy was being forced to share power with the merchant class.
A writer couldn't find a better era to create intrigues involving people of power lurking in the shadows seeking to take advantage of the era's industrial and scientific advancements for nefarious plots. It doesn't hurt that the cities of that time would have been filled with rundown and desperate neighbourhoods and even in the better parts there would have been plenty of ill-lit alleys where anything could happen. It's an age that positively cries out for stories of secret cabals, knives in the dark, and other strange carryings-on.
Which is exactly what playwright turned novelist Gordon Dahlquist has done in The Glass Books Of The Dream Eaters Volume One, published by Random House Canada, which kicks off what promises to be an adventure/fantasy trilogy different from anything you might have read previously. Set in an era much like our nineteenth century, Dahlquist has created a tale of gothic splendour to match those written during that time, but laced it with doses of modern awareness. The characters might be governed by the morality of the times, but these people have thoughts that would never have made it to print in Victoria's time.
Through coincidence and luck three disparate characters stumble upon a plot involving people from the highest ranks of the military, government, aristocracy, and industry from countries across Europe. Exactly what the plot is neither Celeste Temple (a single woman of good background and decent money); Mr. Chang, the Cardinal (a killer for hire whose names are derived from his penchant for wearing a long red coat and disfiguring scars he received to his eyes when young); or Dr. Abelard Svenson (a military doctor assigned to the principality of Macklenburg's diplomatic mission as medical baby sitter to the state's heir apparent) are certain, except that it must be dark and nefarious. For even before fate brings them together to pool their resources, each of them has escaped death by the barest of margins.
What they have found out is that this mysterious cabal has discovered some sort of process that allows them to record one person's experiences and memories in such a manner as to allow others to relive them. They also discover that the people who undergo the process of having their memories duplicated become malleable to the point of being puppets. The implications are enormous, especially when Dr. Svenson discovers that his charge, Prince Karl-Horst, has undergone the process and has been taken into the plotters' inner circle.
With The Glass Books Of The Dream Eaters Vol.1 Dahlquist has created the perfect opening salvo for what promises to be an intriguing trilogy. Not only has he created a tantalizing trail for our three erstwhile heroes to follow, and us to be captivated by, he has created three characters that allow us to have completely different perspectives on the same situation. The experience offered by partaking of the blue glass allows an individual access to another's innermost feelings and passions, and each of the three are effected when they experiment with a shard the doctor finds.
To a typically repressed person of the era like Celeste, a glimpse of raw, unbridled emotion of any kind is both shocking and alluring. For while her conditioning tells her she should be repulsed by what she is observing, no decent person would give into those types of feelings, a part of her yearns for the freedom of emotion that she's experienced.
Not only do we begin to understand the allure offered by the process through the experiences of each of our main characters, it also allows Dahlquist the opportunity to give us a deeper insight of our leads. By allowing each of them to explore the feelings that looking into the blue glass awakens in them, he makes them far more interesting to read about. At the same time we also learn why each of them is willing to risk their lives pursuing a matter which they could just as easily have walked away from.
Dahlquist has done a great job of recreating the world of the nineteenth century through descriptions of the cities that the action takes place in and the behaviour of the characters. As you follow his characters into darkened corridors or down dimly lit streets you can almost hear the hissing of the gas lights or the clip-clop of the horse drawn carriages as they proceed along cobbled streets. Even the plot reeks of the time as a key element of the intrigue is offering people the temptation to free themselves to experience emotions and feelings they have long held in check because of the morality of the times.
He has imbued this setting with enough of a modern sensibility to make it exciting and interesting to a contemporary readership. The characters are intriguing, the action exciting, and the plot is full of unexpected twists and turns. If the final two books match up the standard set by Volume One, this trilogy promises to be one of the most unusual and unique fantasy rides of the last little while.