There's nothing I like better than a good city story. Cities have their own character, their own moods and atmospheres. From the New York of Mary Cantwell's Manhattan When I Was Young to the New Crobuzon in China Mieville's Perdido Street Station, city-as-character is one of the few things that can really draw me into a story. Now we have a new city story, big and dark and frequently creepy, in a place that might or might not be Victorian London.
Gordon Dahlquist delivers a massive and intriguing jolt with The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters. Three people, not complicit but also not exactly naive, are thrown together in a struggle against a complex international plot to control society through the technology of dreams and blackmail. Memories drawn from both ends of society are stored on glass plates, bound in books and re-livable by the viewer for titillation, for power, or for revenge.
The novel begins with a Lady, wronged by her fiancé, following him to a mysterious gathering at a distant country mansion. Eyes opened by the sensual and violent nature of the group she spies upon, she barely escapes her adventure alive. On the train back she shares a compartment with a Killer, returning from the same gathering. They don't really talk, but are both charged by the other's presence. Finally, we meet a Doctor. Attached to the diplomatic party of a prince attending the gathering, the Doctor, and minor spy, becomes involved when his charge disappears.
These characters all have names, and backgrounds; it's not as mysterious as I may make it sound. Or, rather, it is that mysterious, and dangerous and sexy and exciting and complicated. The characters start out working alone, each with a separate goal, but quickly become a kind of team, partially because their aims are sympathetic, partially because their common enemies think they are already working together. This team-by-default struggles to find a truth hidden by iterated and recursive layers of deceit and betrayal among the plotters. It seems, in this, that the only people in the story who can work together are the ones who never planned to; betrayal needs foresight, and the heroes of this story have none. They struggle to the end just trying to keep up, not trying to finish first but just to finish standing.
The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters is, at heart, a grand adventure; a small band faces large odds, constantly reacting to whatever their very organized opponents throw at them. There are thrilling chases, near misses and an increasing level of strangeness as the book progresses. The long climb is worth it, as in a dizzying, spiraling conclusion plotters and protagonists alternate advantage, each hoping to have the final word, and the prize. At stake is the world, the prize between domination and choice and the conclusion isn't set until the very, very end. That is as it should be; reason to turn the page, and satisfaction at the final closing of the cover.
Galley Slave Galley Watch: The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox. Coming soon is another city story, this one of the Great Leviathan. Tormented by being wronged at birth and denied his due, Edward works the dark side of the streets of Victorian London, biding his time and gathering the evidence he need to claim his birthright. Edward believes in himself, his skills, and fate. Fate, as it turns out, also believes in Edward. Due in September, from Norton.