At the beginning of summer, I was browsing the Borders in Concordville without a purpose other than to obtain a vanilla cappuccino. Every New Year's, I make a resolution to not buy more books until I've read all the ones I've had, and somewhere at some point, I inevitably make this yearly infraction. So it was when my eyes caught the bright turquoise letters on brown, pulled the book from the shelf. The novel was called The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters. The title sounded so interesting. But was this some cheesy metaphor for otherwise uninteresting events within the novel? Or was the title a literal description? If so, wouldn't this belong in Fantasy/Sci-Fi instead (potentially doomed under judgement of being a throwaway full of cliches)?
Maybe, just maybe, this would actually be an extremely awesome piece of literature with a hint of unquestioned supernatural within the pages?
I read the first few pages in the store, and was already quite engaged with the author's style of writing. It seemed Victorian without completely replicating an archaic form. I needed no other reason. I had to have this book, and if the villains truly did tamper with the dreams of others, than all the better.
The novel begins with an introduction to the first of three protagonists. Set in a fictional town (perhaps in England?), Miss Celeste Temple is an upper middle class heiress who had just received word of a broken engagement from her now ex-fiancee, Roger Bascombe. Give me a break, right? Thankfully, her distraught predicament is short-lived in the pages. While yes, she does make active (although incredibly impulsive) efforts to follow Roger on a long train adventure, her character is already incredibly changed within the first eighty pages. The mopey heiress with perfectly set curls and delicate green boots in the beginning is a mere shell of the fierce, proud, determined, and bloodied woman who saves her own life by the end of the chapter. In a way, this character heavily reminds me of Alice, from her quaintness to a nature curiosity, and a stubbornness to keep going despite mishaps.
The second chapter interrupts the adventures of Miss Temple with a man by the name of Cardinal Chang, neither a clergyman nor Chinese, but nicknames given to him due to his red coat and injured eyes. He is an assassin by profession. According to other reviews, Chang seems to be widely favoured among the three. However, I found that each of Chang's chapters took me the longest to read. Not that his efforts and actions aren't impressively cunning and amazing, but somehow, as a rugged assassin, they're expected. The portions of the books with Chang do get progressively more interesting as different sides to his personality show, and as he becomes perhaps the most vulnerable of the three, and for some reason I suspect that this is likely the character that the author is most like himself.
And finally, my favourite, Svenson appears in the third chapter. Although his title is Doctor, he serves a better purpose as the novel's detective as he is observant to the most minor details to the point where he finds nearly invisible artifacts, sneaking with a sort of invisible stealth, but he is also utterly pusillanimous at times. But as Chang is changed by the events, Svenson is as well. Perhaps once like the most behaved of dogs, he slowly transforms into a more vicious and wolfish version of himself.
The three come together eventually and slowly learn more and more of their situations, their enemies, and of the collections of dreams harvested into blue glass books. If there is one thing above all that I appreciate about this novel is that it never goes into some lame description as to how the glass books exactly work. One of my pet peeves is when an author goes into a "scientific" description of something that doesn't even exist in the first place as it's always completely unnecessary and oftentimes ruins the mystique of the story. H.G. Wells certainly didn't need to draw out some fake blueprints for his time machine for it to seem believable in the context of his novel.
I have mixed feelings about the antagonists in this novel. Rare is it that I myself with be absolutely seething with hatred for a villain. Usually there is some sort of identifier, something that makes me feel sorry for the character for whom I may despise their actions but not their person. Not so with the primary miscreant, the Contessa, unwavering in her control, power, and beauty. As a whole, the group of villains are hard to identify with as they seem nearly godlike with their power, but considering the flaws of the protagonists, this worked for the most part since there was a genuine sense of fear for our heroes. In a way, I suppose Chang might be an anti-hero, but no villain by any means.
The last two hundred pages of Part II I read in a day. While I heavily enjoyed the novel throughout, the final chapter is incredible intense, and needless to say, this is now one of my favourite books. In other reviews, some remarked on the excessive violence and lewdness of the novel, but I thought it worked well. The author is after all a playwright by default, which certainly showed. It was almost as though I were reading a movie is that makes any sense.