“Continuing the adventure of the three protagonists. Celeste Temple, Cardinal Chang and Dr Svenson.”

NO MAJOR SPOILERS

Stranded on The Iron Coast after an airship crash, our heroes, Miss Temple, Cardinal Chang and Doctor Svenson are beset by suspicious locals, bounty hunters and a number of gruesome and tantalisingly familiar murders.

It quickly becomes clear that the Cabal is not destroyed and the dread glass books are not all lost…

This follow-up to Dahlquist’s wonderful and epically racy adventure-drama The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters is a strange let-down. Where the predecessor led its readers on an exciting (and, admittedly unlikely) series of scrapes, escapes and pursuits through The City, Dark Volume is a curiously static affair, with little of the verve, brio and momentum that made Glass Books so thrilling. Much of the story is rooted in the coastal village and the heroine, Miss Temple, spends a good deal of the early chapters comatose with fever. This is not at all helped by the structure of the novel: like Glass Books, Dark Volume is written in chapters each of which addresses the point of view of one of the three protagonists. The first chapter follows Miss Temple, who has recovered from her fever and then the next two, in Svenson and Chang’s p.o.v., flash back to before this recovery and then progress past it. Consequently the story is, if not downright confusing, certainly fractured and fragmentary as well as stodgy and slow. Worse still, the three are joined by a fourth companion, Eloise, the doctor’s erstwhile squeeze. She, however does not get her own p.o.v. chapter so she is a bit of a gooseberry, an insider on the outside, breaking up the flow yet further.

The story seems to lack any sort of clear motivation, too. The protagonists undertake to return to The City (seperately in time, but by the same route, for no good reason) but their purpose in doing so is not obvious and it appears to be a matter of gravity rather than momentum, default instead of desire. Dahlquist seems to realise that his story is wanting of motivation and purpose and he makes some effort to inject some peril and mystery, but none of it feels particularly convincing, and even when the evil Contessa makes her appearance, it is a bit of a damp squib.

Dahlquist still writes well, with wit and intelligence, and the book stands by itself as a decent read and not especially egregious, but it just doesn’t capture the imagination of the first one. It feels like nothing more than an interlude between Glass Books and The Chemickal Marriage and I wondered whether the trilogy would have benefitted from it’s not having been written at all.

Cardinal Chang, an assassin, is breaking into a victim’s bedroom…

‘Chang turned the doorknob with the deliberate patience of a man stroking a woman’s leg during church service,’

Now, Dahlquist certainly likes his similes, and they do indeed get a little… overwrought, but that one is just utter genius.

 

Reviewed by:

Campbell McAulay

Added 19th April 2015

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Campbell McAulay