This week, we’re looking at two historical fiction novels that have popped up on the horizon–an old recommendation rife with murder and perhaps a touch of steampunk, and a very fresh recommendation that sounds amazing.
The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist
With translation rights sold in twenty-five countries, Gordon Dahlquist’s spectacular and extraordinary debut novel was one of the most-talked-about acquisitions of 2005. Now this monumental Victorian thriller is destined to be the publishing sensation of 2006.
It began with a simple note: a letter of rejection from Miss Temple’s fiancé, written on crisp Ministry paper and delivered on her maid’s silver tray. But for Miss Temple, Roger Bascombe’s cruel rejection will ignite a harrowing quest for answers, plunging her into a mystery as dizzying as a hall of mirrors—and a remote estate where danger abounds and all inhibitions are stripped bare.…Thus begins Gordon Dahlquist’s debut novel of Victorian suspense—at once a dazzling feast for the senses and a beguiling, erotic literary adventure.
Nothing could have prepared Miss Temple for where her pursuit of Roger Bascombe would take her—or for the shocking things she would find behind the closed doors of forbidding Harschmort Manor: men and women in provocative disguise, acts of licentiousness and violence, heroism and awakening. But she will also find two allies: Cardinal Chang, a brutal assassin with the heart of a poet, and a royal doctor named Svenson, at once fumbling and heroic—both of whom, like her, lost someone at Harschmort Manor. As the unlikely trio search for answers—hurtling them from elegant brothels to gaslit alleyways to shocking moments of self-discovery– they are confronted by puzzles within puzzles. And the closer they get to the truth, the more their lives are in danger. For the conspiracy they face—an astonishing alchemy of science, perverted religion, and lust for power—is so terrifying as to be beyond belief.
In a novel that shatters conventions and seethes with danger and eroticism, Gordon Dahlquist has made a spectacular literary debut. And in Miss Temple he has created an unforgettable guide through a disturbing, seductive, and all-too-real world. By turns brutal and tender, shocking and deliciously romantic, The Glass Books of The Dream Eaters is a novel for the ages, a bold and brilliant work of the imagination.
I remember seeing an advert for The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters in a book-related magazine–I want to say Publishers Weekly or Bookmarks, but I can’t be sure. For some reason, I was always under the impression that it was either fantasy or steampunk–I mean, the title is more than trippy enough for it. But upon closer inspection, it turns out to be actually historical fiction with a Gothic twist. And after all, it might include a little fantasy–I haven’t spoiled myself enough for it to tell.
Jo fro Jo’s Bookshelf adored it, especially praising its special flavor and well-developed characters, and Janelle from Eclectic Closet finds it delightfully overblown. However, both take care to point out that it can be an acquired taste and it requires a lot of time, a warning I wish I’d had for Dorothy Dunnett’s King Hereafter. I think this might be a player this summer, while I can keep a decent posting buffer up.
The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters was published on August 1, 2006.
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
At the heart of this vibrant saga is a vast ship, the Ibis. Its destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean; its purpose, to fight China’s vicious nineteenth-century Opium Wars. As for the crew, they are a motley array of sailors and stowaways, coolies and convicts.
In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a diverse cast of Indians and Westerners, from a bankrupt raja to a widowed tribeswoman, from a mulatto American freedman to a freespirited French orphan. As their old family ties are washed away, they, like their historical counterparts, come to view themselves as jahaj-bhais, or ship-brothers. An unlikely dynasty is born, which will span continents, races, and generations.
The vast sweep of this historical adventure spans the lush poppy fields of the Ganges, the rolling high seas, the exotic backstreets of Canton. But it is the panorama of characters, whose diaspora encapsulates the vexed colonial history of the East itself, that makes Sea of Poppies so breathtakingly alive—a masterpiece from one of the world’s finest novelists.
Sea of Poppies came to me through Eva’s review over at A Striped Armchair; it sounded amazing and I’m always eager to learn more about India. It sounds like it’s broad enough in scope to best utilize the time period and setting, but narrow enough for personal intrigue.
Eva found it absolutely transcendent, and I trust her judgment. However, Teresa over at Shelf Love, whose opinion I also trust, found the beginning a bit slow with the sheer amount of characters and the various language barriers Ghosh addresses, although she did love it in the end. I am an absolute sucker for language barriers for some reason, and an epic sounds delicious. I’m giving this one a lot of goodwill.
Sea of Poppies was published on October 14, 2008.