The Glass of Time

A couple of years ago, I read Michael Cox’s Victorian mystery pastiche, The Meaning of Night. I enjoyed it very much — the rare authenticity of its voice, the dark twists of its mystery unfolding — but it took Teresa’s prompting me through our book swap to remind me that I still needed to read the sequel, The Glass of Time.

The Glass of Time picks up about 20 years after the murderous events of the first novel. In this book, a young orphan named Esperanza Gorst, who has been brought up as a lady by her guardians, has taken a position as a lady’s maid to the Baroness Tansor at Evenwood. In this position, she is to accomplish a Great Task, but she is in complete ignorance of the details of what she must do. Her guardians gradually enlighten her through letters and documents, while at the same time she is gathering information about everyone in the house.

Having read The Meaning of Night, I was in possession of a lot of background information the innocent Esperanza didn’t have, and so the actual mystery wasn’t very mysterious for me. I didn’t mind that, however, because I was mostly wrapped up in the characters. I wanted to see how Esperanza would accomplish her task, and what she would think of the moral dilemma it would present to her — is it justice or is it vengeance? — and how other characters would react, both to her inquisitiveness and to her discoveries.

There were a few nitpicky details that bothered me in this story. Having read a lot of Victorian novels, I was troubled by the idea that Esperanza would be so entirely accepted in the family as someone to talk to, visit family friends, and take long intimate walks with, in her role as lady’s maid. Even an exceptional person, raised as a gentlewoman, who was in the position of a servant and had no rank and no birth, would have needed to keep to her station. The other thing that bothered me was that the narrative veers between present and past tense, often in the same paragraph, for no apparent reason. I could ignore it, but I wish I hadn’t had to.

All that being said, I enjoyed this book very much. The tone is lighter than the last novel, because Esperanza — the narrator — is a young, likable, innocent woman, rather than a murderer bent on revenge. Watching her history unfold before her eyes was a great pleasure. It was saddening to know that Michael Cox’s untimely death prevented the third book in his planned trilogy from being written, but the two he left are good, satisfying novels; I hope that gave him as much pleasure as it did me.

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12 Responses to The Glass of Time

  1. Alex says:

    A friend of mine, whose opinion I valued highly was very critical of ‘The Meaning of Night’ and so I didn’t read it, but your post reminds me of it and how highly some readers did rate it. Perhaps I should find time to go back and test it out for myself.

    • Jenny says:

      Well, I thought The Meaning of Night was very good, and I think Teresa liked it even better than I did, and you know her taste is awesome. It was very engaging reading, nice and dark. See what you think!

  2. Deb says:

    I’m afraid I didn’t get much out of The Meaning of Night for one of the reasons you indicated above: characters are not true to the mores of their society. I vaguely seem to recall in Night there was a woman who had a long-term affair or who had a lot of lovers and the narrator was totally accepting–but I was not. I don’t think it’s nit-picking to expect historical characters to accurately reflect the standards of their era. Esperanza’s ease in moving above her station would make me resistant to the book, so I think I’ll give it a pass.

    • Jenny says:

      I do remember thinking that the main character was uncharacteristically feminist, but that there was a reason given for that (he was brought up by his mother, an artist.) Still, I know what you mean. Having lots of Victorian examples available means that it’s easy to follow them!

  3. Lisa says:

    I would also find that misunderstanding of social status frustrating. I’m reading Vanity Fair right now, and Becky Sharp though a governess (so above a lady’s maid in the social scale) has just spent a year scheming and plotting and working very hard to insinuate herself into the Crawley family (it helps that she is ten times smarter than almost everyone else in the group). But Thackery also shifts frequently between past and present tenses – I find it odd and a bit disconcerting.

    • Jenny says:

      That’s just the kind of thing I mean. Everyone seems to just “feel” that Esperanza must be a lady, even though she responded to an ad to be a lady’s maid. It’s not very realistic. But if you can get past those details, it’s fun reading!

  4. aartichapati says:

    I was just looking at this one on my shelf! I read the first one YEARS ago and really enjoyed it (yay, unreliable narrators!), but haven’t stepped up to read this one yet. Not sure why – maybe because I have forgotten the magic I felt with the first? But glad to know it was enjoyable, if not quite as hit-you-in-the-gut as the first was.

    • Jenny says:

      It definitely was enjoyable, if a little lower-key. I was sorry Michael Cox died before he could complete the trilogy.

      • aartichapati says:

        Oh, I didn’t know that he passed away, and I didn’t know that it was supposed to be a trilogy. I always feel sad when authors pass away, leaving work unfinished, but I suppose almost everyone does.

      • Jenny says:

        Yes — one of the reasons he wrote the books at all was apparently because he became ill. He’d been toying with the idea for decades, and finally wrote them under the pressure of his illness. Apparently there was a partial manuscript for the third, but not enough to publish? Anyway, it was sad to hear about his death.

  5. I have both of these on my TBR! will have to give the first one a try, maybe in October for the RIP Challenge.

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