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.