Monday, July 14, 2008

[Lisa's Take] The Dark Volume - Gordon Dahlquist

The Dark Volume is the most disappointing book I’ve read in the last year. Maybe even the most disappointing book I’ve ever read, period. It’s certainly the biggest disappointment I’ve experienced since starting this blog.

The aforementioned offending book is the sequel to The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters – a book that would almost certainly make it onto my “book top 10 list” were I to compile one. Glass Books is kind of a victorian-steampunk-fantasy-intrigue-mystery hybrid, a genre niche that I don’t think I’ve ever encountered elsewhere. When I first started Glass Books, I nearly put it down after 30 pages – it was rather thick and slow and didn’t seem to be going anywhere. But I decided to give it my customary 100 page attempt, especially given how entertaining the prose was, and by the time I’d made it through one of each of the character perspective chapters, I was totally hooked. The story unfolded with tantalizing slowness and was totally unpredictable – because the genre is so different, I had absolutely no idea where things were going. The characters also developed with the same delicious unveiling – building upon them bit by bit, never revealing too much all in one go. Glass Books was a novel to savor, something to really immerse yourself in and get swept along. It accelerated to the grand finale, then finished with an incredibly Victorian ending... think The Awakening. It was brilliant.

And then The Dark Volume went and ruined it.

The book started out on the wrong foot by demolishing the open, dream-like ending that Glass Books established. It took away any sense of ambiguity, or any interpretive open-ness that the first book established by diving straight back into the plot where the first one left off. This immediately put me on guard, as the ending of Glass Books was one of the best (and most gutsy) parts. I suppose you could argue that this was unavoidable with a direct sequel, but it could have been approached less jarringly.

Unfortunately, it didn’t get much better from there. Where Glass Books took its time and ramped up slowly and steadily, introducing layer after layer of plot and intrigue, Dark Volume just sort of throws it all at you , one thing after another. And then this happened. And then this happened. And then this happened. The “and then this” storytelling technique seems to be a more and more common theme in books I read lately – how about some pacing, people?

I also had some pretty serious gripes around prose and character development. Whereas in the first book the characters were revealed and grew slowly but surely, the sequel did nothing to further develop or deepen the 3 main characters. The new characters that were introduced were largely forgettable. Secondary characters from the first book did improve a bit, but only from increased exposure to the reader, I think. Also, where the first book had very entertaining (self-consciously overblown) prose, the second book was just verbose, without the tint of self-deprecation (appreciation?) that made the prose of the first book tongue-in-cheek, rather than arduous.

As if all that isn’t enough, then we get to the book’s ending, where it committed two more grave crimes. The first was trying to redeem itself at the last minute by jerking emotional strings. Gods how I get sick of books that reach the ending and go “hmm, I’ve managed to only tell a mediocre, lackluster story. Let’s try to make up for it by senselessly killing characters off, in hopes that the emotional impact will make there reader think the whole story was actually emotionally engaging!” Yeah. Oh, and then there was one other little niggling problem with the end of the book... in that it didn’t actually end! That’s right! The Dark Volume (much like The Great Book of Amber) isn’t actually a book! Haha, fooled you – get to the end of that last page and just SEE if there’s any wrap up or resolution. I can’t even begin to explain how disgusted I am.

Is there anything else I missed? The lack of viciously double-entendre’d conversations? The non-existent opportunities for Svenson to be awesome, rather than a useless puppy-dog? Chang only really getting to be badass maaaybe once? Even Miss Temple’s characterization was hollow at best.

Anyway, I should stop ripping before I get even grumpier. There is only one good thing to say for this book: the ending makes it clear that a 3rd novel will be forthcoming, and I can do nothing but cross my fingers and fervently hope book 3 will right the many, many wrongs of the book 2.


Samuel said...

I quite simply have to disagree with you. Sure enough, The Dark Volume was no way near as interesting as The Glass Books - but it wasn't as disappointing as you make out.

Samuel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Samuel said...

Also, I cross my fingers for a third book. It would be amazing to see a third book in the series. I loved Miss Temple and the Contessa and want to read more of them.

LisaBit said...

Well hopefully I'm in the minority of disappointed fans - Book 1 was absolutely stellar, and I'd hate for Dahlquist not to succeed as an author!

I'll certainly be reading book 3 when it comes out; I was so very attached to the characters in the first book that I can't imagine not seeing how everything is resolved, especially after the cliff hanger at the end of book 2 :]

Nicole Cassandra said...

I wouldn't go so far as to say that it was the most disappointing book I've ever read (I've read much worse, unfortunately) but I agree with a lot of your points. The Dark Volume felt like an in-between book so I really really hope a third one is coming cause I could have lived with the Glass Books ending just fine but the sequel just left me craving closure like crazy!

LisaBit said...

Yeah, I might be given to exaggeration from time to time... I just had SUCH high hopes for TDV that I had a long way to fall!