The Dark Volume - Gordon Dahlquist apropos of nothing at all, and because no one asked, here is a list of the small number of steampunk novels i've read, in order of preference.

1. The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters... my favorite; pure pleasure from beginning to end
2. The Dark Volume
3. Leviathan... highly enjoyable - for teh children!
4. The List of Seven... fast-paced and atmospheric fun
5. and 6. Soulless and Changeless... amusing fluff. often eye-rolling and rather poorly written. i'm surprised by the accolades this series has received.
7. Boneshaker... pleasant but unremarkable. barely counts as steampunk
8. The Difference Engine... lamentably overrated
9. The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack... includes a great novel-within-a-novel. but the rest is shite.
10. Lord Darcy... tedious

The Dark Volume is book 2 in a steampunk adventure trilogy featuring the misadventures of three pretty awesome characters as they wrestle with unpleasant aristocratic types, devious plots to control the world, unpleasant military types, an evil woman made all of glass who can control your thoughts, unpleasant political types, glass books that suck away memories and allow others to absorb them, unpleasant english village types, lots & lots of murder, and various unpleasant debauched dionysian types.

Dahlquist continues his writerly conceit of overlapping the action & mystery through alternating third-person limited perspectives, chapter by chapter; it worked well in the first book and i'm happy to report that this style operates at an even higher level of finesse in the second book. the effect is similar to working out a puzzle by coming at it from entirely different angles. overall the level of writing is quite high and often surprisingly poetic; this is to be expected from an author whose resume ranges from playwright to experimental film director. plus, to be completely superficial, just take a gander at him: he has a shock of black hair, a bushy gray moustache, a vaguely Prousty style, and looks all of 21 years of age. he's got the look of someone with talent (and perhaps pretension) to burn. and i definitely judge a book by its cover.

"The Dark Volume" in question is pretty nifty. i think this is rather spoilery, so i'll just say that this new sort of blue glass book contains the experience of a person as he dies. it's a snuff film sort of experience and the author has a deft touch in showing how exposure to this book completely up-ends our heroine's state of mind, and most strikingly, her outlook on life itself - life's pleasures becoming nothing but potential rot in her eyes.

our deadly trio of protagonists remain, for the most part, quite delightful. Celestial Temple grows the most due to her extended exposure to various glass books. it is an interesting concept: gaining artificial memories that both your mind and your body remember as real experiences - by the book's end, the virginal Celeste has 'experienced' an excess of debauchery & death, and so in turn her outlook on life has become dark, jaded. sadly, for much of the narrative Celeste is forced to react rather than impact. fortunately, by the last third she has regained her footing and is knocking some bloody sense into folks left and right. Dr. Abelard Svenson is perhaps a little less delightful in this second book, as he spends most of his time mooning over the increasingly bovine Eloise Dujong, and we get to witness very little of his trademark anti-snob snobbery. sadly, there are no wads of phlegm hawked and spat at various jackasses who would dare to condescend to him. ah well, the guy's in love, and i guess that doesn't leave a lot of energy left over for the hawking and spitting of angry phlegm. however Cardinal Chang remains as persuasive a character as ever: the educated and angry assassin, always brooding, always sneering, always watchful for the slightest slight, a coiled and resentful anarchist. charming! he's like my brother from another mother.

the former prison-turned-palatial estate Harschmort Manor is revisited at length. a phenomenal setting: sinister, labyrinthine, and full of all sorts of secret doors & passageways & rooms. even better, since the events of the first book, about a third of it has been blasted into smoky ruins. this makes for a lot of scenes dripping with gloom and doom and eeriness. the extremely amusing and vicious villainess Contessa di Lacquer-Sforza also returns, murderous ambition and slashing wit all very much intact. and hey there's also a lesbionic interlude between her and Celestial Temple, free of charge.

although this novel lacks its predecessor's wonderfully bloody massacre in a dirigible as a finale, it still ends with a similar bloodbath - this time in a creepy forest and a creepier munitions factory. yahoo! i love it when assholes get slaughtered. does that make me a bad person?