Fearful Symmetries

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23 October, 2013

The Cabal Strikes Back: The Dark Volume by Gordon Dahlquist

I so thoroughly enjoyed Gordon Dahlquist's Glass Books of the Dream Easters that I'm not quite sure why it took me so long to read the follow-up, The Dark Volume.

As the title implies, a pall hangs over the proceedings here. This would seem to be The Empire Strikes Back for the series. There is still plenty of action featuring our heroes squeezing out of perilous situations just in the nick of time, but there's also more introversion on their parts with each of them mining their souls and finding sadness.

Just as in the opening of the first book, The Dark Volume begins with Miss Temple finding herself abandoned. Instead of a husband gone AWOL, she awakens in a strange room in a strange house with neither Doctor Svenson nor Cardinal Chang present. She discovers that the three of them along with Elöise Dujong, tutor to the children of cabal member Arthur Trapping, all washed ashore on the Iron Coast after the events on the dirigible which closed out the first volume. Although Miss Temple survived the sea, she fell ill and came ashore unconscious.

The party was taken in by local villagers and they bided their time until Miss Temple awoke and was in good enough health to move. During this time the village was beset by a series of ghastly murders. Chang investigates but discovers soldiers who were likely sent by whomever in the government remains that is in league with the cabal. However, his unconventional appearance draws suspicion from the locals and he is forced to flee. Svenson also investigates and discovers traces of the indigo clay at the murder scenes and on the victims as well. It would seem that some members of the cabal had survived the dirigible crash as well. He pursues the killer trusting that Elöise will care for Miss Temple.

The book proceeds in chapters which alternately focus on one of the three main characters. Eventually everyone makes there way to a town where they can catch a train back to the city. Along the way Miss Temple runs into the Contessa and we discover that Francis Xonck is alive though decidedly not well. He used some of the blue glass to deal with the bullet to the chest delivered by Doctor Svenson. The glass saved his life but it has sickened him and he is obviously not long of the earth.

As I noted earlier, The Dark Volume delves inside the heads of our protagonists much more than did The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters. For her part, Miss Temple is plagued by salacious visions and urges that she received after an encounter with a glass book and which she, at times, cannot contain. She is disturbed at how she has been transformed from a proper lady who enjoyed, nay, demanded the finer things in life into a killer. At one point, however, she realizes that she cannot return to her former life no matter how much she wished to do so. In possession of a blue glass book that survived the dirigible wreckers and which the surviving members of the cabal seek, she plunges her hand into it and absorbs even more memories.

Doctor Svenson finds himself a wanted man by the authorities in his home of Mecklenburg as well as by those in the home country of the cabal which he visited as attendant to the prince. He has feelings for Elöise but she is not wholly able to return them. She had some of her memories drained away by a glass book and, like Miss Temple, is in the midst of an identity crisis. In addition, it would seem that she was in a relationship with another which drives Svenson away despite his attraction to her.

Cardinal Chang is still bogged down by his unrequited feelings for Angelique. Previously she had been turned to blue glass by the Comte and there is a rather doleful scene here in which Chang returns to Harschmort House and walks over her shattered remains. He makes his way back to the city and contemplates escaping to his old ways of being a denizen of the night who lives on the fringe of society. But a run-in with two old enemies from the streets convinces him that he cannot just melt back into the shadows and that he has no choice but to see his campaign against the cabal through to its end.

Indeed, this realization comes to Miss Temple and Doctor Svenson as well. Eventually everyone is back in the city, including the Contessa and Xonck. There it is discovered that the machinations of the cabal did not come to an end that fateful day out on the sea but rather that they continue. The Comte's machinery was taken from Harschmort House destined for a new home and the powers of the indigo clay to be harnessed by a new villain.

While the character development is most welcome The Dark Volume is, like its predecessor, just plain fun. Our heroes are frequently on the run as they learn the truth of the forces they face. They are captured and escape by the skin of their teeth. I liked how Dahlquist would present a scene from one character's point of view and then reveal in the next chapter that one of the other characters had been there as well. Plus he has a great talent for slowing down the action and ratcheting up the tension. For example, in one sequence Chang is chased from the Stropping train station into a tunnel which has a siding where rests the Comte's personal train car filled with his grim machinery for the Process. He takes refuge in the car and, when he hears people about to enter, hides in the coffin-like apparatus which transformed Angelique into a glass woman. Will they discover him or will Chang make a lucky escape?

A wholly different kind of tension is built up in a scene where Miss Temple and the Contessa are hiding out in a freight car on a train heading back to the city. We learn a bit more about the Contessa including that she is not totally without honor. However, this doesn't prevent her from toying with Miss Temple in a wonderful sexually-charged moment. Will Miss Temple be able to control the erotic urges spawned by the memories from the book that are trapped inside her mind? Or will she be able to release the tension?

The book ends with a clear setup for the third and, sadly, final volume The Chemickal Marriage. I, for one, will be sad to bid farewell to Miss Temple, Cardinal Chang, and Doctor Svenson.

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|| Palmer, 8:09 PM


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