The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters is a plump English tea cake of a book: messy, studded with treats, too big and too rich to finish in just one sitting. When Miss Temple a correct but plucky Victorian miss is spurned by her fiancé, the dour Roger Bascombe, she's more curious than heartbroken. Donning a dark cloak and hailing a coach, she follows him one night to Harschmort Manor, where she descends into a masqueraded whirl of dark, erotic goings-on. (Indeed, she shucks her clothes awfully fast.) But before she can learn exactly what Roger is up to, Miss Temple is discovered, and in her flight she kills a guard by driving her handy pencil into his neck. Not to worry: A crazy, deeply scarred assassin and a wacky doctor soon come to her aid.
But just when you figure out what's going on, the first-time novelist loses control, accelerating the action so madly that poor Miss Temple careens from page to page. Disappearing prostitutes! Magical blue crystals! Poisonous gardens! If only Gordon Dahlquist had practiced a little restraint and not thrown in about 25 extra plot points this would've been a truly remarkable book, especially given his beautiful writing: A woman's fan ''fluttered in the darkness like a night bird on a leash,'' and a brass doorknob ''turned with a well-oiled snick.'' But the voluptuous, unbridled excess, spilling from every page (all 760 of them), leaves you less satisfied than overstuffed.