This is the sequel to Michael Cox’s The Meaning of Night, which I read earlier in the year. Although I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to read the books in the correct order, it would make sense to do so. You’ll definitely get the most out of this book if you’ve read the previous novel first and are already familiar with the plot and the characters.
The way The Meaning of Night ended had left me feeling dissatisfied, but The Glass of Time provides the perfect continuation to the story. Our narrator is Esperanza Gorst, an orphan who has been raised in France by her father’s friend Madame L’Orme and her tutor Mr Thornhaugh. When she is nineteen years old, she is sent by her guardians to the beautiful estate of Evenwood in England, where she will work as lady’s maid to Emily Carteret, the 26th Baroness Tansor. At first Esperanza doesn’t know why she has been sent to Evenwood and is told only that it is part of Madame L’Orme’s ‘Great Task’. As she learns more about her mission, however, Esperanza begins to unravel the mysteries of both her own past and Lady Tansor’s.
I enjoyed The Meaning of Night but I loved The Glass of Time even more. I thought Esperanza was a more likeable character than Edward Glyver (the narrator of The Meaning of Night), and the story also seemed to move at a faster pace. I literally didn’t want to put this book down and finished it in two days (considering it’s over 500 pages long that should indicate how much I was enjoying it).
While I was reading this book there were times when I could almost have believed it really had been written in the 19th century, as the setting, atmosphere and language are all flawlessly ‘Victorian’. Charles Dickens was clearly one of Cox’s biggest influences. In my review of The Meaning of Night I mentioned the Dickensian names Cox gave his characters, and there are more of them in The Glass of Time, from Armitage Vyse and Billy Yapp to Perseus Duport and Sukie Prout. But this time I also noticed lots of similarities to Dickens’ Bleak House: the young orphan searching for the truth of her parentage; the noblewoman with a dark secret; the way the story moves between an idyllic country house and the dark, dangerous streets of Victorian London; the intricate plot and the cleverly interlocking storylines.
I could also recognise elements of various Wilkie Collins novels including Armadale and No Name (Esperanza Gorst is even seen reading No Name at one point). In both writing style and structure this book does feel very like one of Collins’ sensation novels, filled with cliffhangers and plot twists – and with parts of the mystery being revealed through letters, diary entries and newspaper clippings. I did find some of the twists very predictable but that didn’t matter to me, because it was actually fun to be one step ahead of Esperanza, waiting for her to discover what I had already guessed.
It’s so sad that there won’t be any more books from Michael Cox, as he died of cancer in 2009, but together these two novels are the best examples of neo-Victorian fiction I’ve read: complex, atmospheric and beautifully written.