The Chemickal Marriage by Gordon Dahlquist

Chemickal Marriage - Gordon Dahlquist

The Glass Books trilogy concludes with the marvelous Chemickal Marriage. I loved this book just as I loved its two predecessors. Together, all three books make for a major achievement and I'm really looking forward to rereading them. I just wish they had the popular success that they deserve.


This poor novel debuted with no fanfare and was nearly impossible to locate in advance on - ugh - Amazon's search engine. Quite a far cry from the first novel in the series: The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters made it to the New York Times' bestseller list and Dahlquist was reportedly paid an advance of 2 million buckaroos. Clearly Bantam was capitalizing on the popularity of steampunk and had high hopes that Dahlquist's series would proved to be a lucrative bridge between literary and genre fiction. Just as clearly - and despite its brief bestseller status - it proved to be a disappointment. Reviews were mixed, the public was often confused and annoyed, and it did not achieve the far-reaching, sustained popularity that was expected. Sigh. Fickle public! Well I'm just happy that Dahlquist stuck to it and completed his series, despite his dwindling readership.


The plot of the trilogy, in brief (and this will be difficult because this is a joyously labyrinthine series): young heiress Celeste Temple, damaged assassin Cardinal Chang, and teutonic spy Doctor Svenson find themselves mixed up with various sinisters cabals who want to control the British government - and then the world! - through the use of bizarre blue glass books with many properties including the ability to transfer memories and personalities to and from individuals into and out of the glass books themselves.


The trilogy is, in a word, delicious. A rich, scrumptious, lavish meal. Celeste, Chang, and Svenson are compelling, amusing, sympathetic, and all too fallible protagonists. Sexuality is a constantly bubbling undercurrent. The Victorian setting is vividly described. The huge cast of villains and supporting characters are spicy and strongly rendered - particularly the chief antagonists, the deadly and brilliant Contessa di Lacquer-Sforza and the visionary, thoroughly repulsive Comte D'Orkancz. The dialogue is juicy, with many a condescending quip hurled from protagonist to antagonist and back again. The writing is top-notch; I can't actually think of another steampunk novel that operates at such a high level and whose prose truly impressed me. The pacing is breakneck - except for a chapter or two in the beginning of each novel devoted to giving the protagonists some breathing room to plot and plan - the narrative is always in motion, hurtling forward as characters run, hide, run, hide, jump on trains, get trapped on dirigibles, cross rooftops, and skulk, run, and hide in various mansions and government buildings. I suppose the excess of characters and schemes and locations can be exhausting to some; for me it amounted to a thrillingly immersive experience, one where I just had to let go, go with the flow, and not worry about the barrage of information and potential villains being thrown at me.


And best of all is a resoundingly proletariat perspective that constantly chafes at the inequities that arise from money and class. The novel spits on aristocrats and politicians and power brokers. The protagonists often spit on those types as well, literally. Love that!