Finally finished! The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, Victorian pseudo-Gothic adventure, door-stopper, sapper of my strength. And patience.
Here's the blurb on the inside front cover:
"Three most unlikely but nevertheless extraordinary heroes become inadvertently involved in the diabolical machinations of a cabal bent upon enslaving thousands through a diabolical 'process'. Miss Temple is a feisty young woman with corkscrew curls who wishes only to learn why her fiance Roger broke off their engagament. Cardinal Chang was asked to kill a man but finding his quarry already dead he is determined to learn who beat him to it and why. And Dr Svenson is chaperone to a dissolute prince who has become involved with some most unsavoury individuals." (Has the Penguin blurb unit decided that the comma is no longer de rigeur, I wonder?)
Sherlock Holmes meets Rider Haggard. A tremendous act of imagination - and stamina - on the part of the author. A rollercoaster of an adventure from end to end. The Guardian called it "a page-turner", the Daily Telegraph called it "a feat of literary imagination", Time Out (that bastion of literary awareness) found it "genuinely exciting and intriguing".
For a while I thought this book had something important to say to me. Apart, that is, from numerous twists and turns, endless close shaves and extraordinary escapes, and endless interior ramblings from our three heroes. I thought I detected musings on the nature of self. I thought I felt an undercurrent of social comment in the descriptions of the supefying effect of the 'glass books' (read 'computers' if you will).
For a while the book shoved me along as I tried to work out where I was in the cavernous and diabolical Harschmort House, or the Escher-esque back corridors of The Ministry. For a long while, I was prepared to suspend disbelief as my male heroes took what to mere mortals would have been a physically intolerable bashing and still came up fighting. For a long while I read and read and read, feeling like I was ensnared in some strange Myst-like story without any idea which part of the landscape to click, what book in the library to choose, how to tune in the secret video message obscured by interference. For a long while I tried to remember the objects each hero was still carrying and which had been discarded in this Victorian version of Dungeons and Dragons. For a surprisingly long while I continued to care about who was dead, who was cunningly alive and who was injured and trailing blood all over the place.
And when I finally reached page 753. Oh yes, seven hundred and fifty pages - while the delightful (and very much shorter) Grazia Deledda languished on the shelf - when I finally reached page 753 I expected, nay required, a reward for my efforts. And I felt my heroes expected, nay required, a reward for their efforts too. (By that time, my heroine for one hadn't had a cup of tea for more than 24 hours, and I felt for her.)
But the reward didn't come. And, dear G.W. Dahlquist, I feel cheated. I feel somehow as if I've been tricked, hoodwinked, taken for a fool. There is obviously a sequel to this book, but this reader in Carmine Superiore won't be buying it.