Review

The Glass of Time

by Michael Cox

Michael Cox has worked in the music business, edited horror
anthologies and is the biographer of the scholar and ghost-story
writer M. R. James. More importantly, his previous bestseller, THE
MEANING OF NIGHT, was the result of nearly 30 years of work. Having
been stricken with cancer and taking medication that threatens the
loss of his eyesight, Cox worked furiously to finish the book for
publication in 2006. In the follow-up companion piece, THE GLASS OF
TIME, he acknowledges several of his physicians that have kept him
going for the two years it took to write the sequel.

THE MEANING OF NIGHT featured an anti-hero who was morally
compromised, a lost inheritance where a legitimate birthright was
denied, and an ancient country house named Evenwood. THE GLASS OF
TIME picks up this story 20 years later in the autumn of 1876.
Nineteen-year-old orphan Esperanza Gorst arrives at the great
country house of Evenwood to become a lady’s maid to the 26th
Baroness Tansor. We had been introduced to the latest Lady Tansor
in the prior novel when she was still known simply as Emily
Carteret. Having survived the tragic murder of her beloved Phoebus
Daunt, she went on to marry Colonel Zaluski and bear two children
with him, Perseus and Randolph. Colonel Zaluski has since passed
on, and now Baroness Tansor, nee Carteret, resides in Evenwood as
the oldest living relative of the Duport bloodline.

Esperanza Gorst is more than just a mere servant. She has been
sent from France by the mysterious Madame de l’Orme to
uncover secrets that Lady Tansor has sought to conceal, as well as
seeking to right a past injustice that involves Esperanza in a way
that initially is not revealed to her. Esperanza has been
well-trained by both Madame de l’Orme and her private tutor,
Mr. Basil Thornhaugh. They have raised Esperanza since she lost
both her parents tragically at an early age. Madame de l’Orme
and Mr. Thornhaugh keep in regular contact with Esperanza via mail
and with each letter reveal a little more of the history behind
their extensive revenge plot.

While at Evenwood, Esperanza meets with Lady Tansor’s two
sons --- and potential heirs to the throne --- Perseus and
Randolph. Perseus is an aspiring poet and always overly serious,
while Randolph is the younger brother and far more adventurous. At
times throughout the novel, Esperanza wavers between her affections
for both brothers. She’s having a hard time acclimating to
the “upstairs-downstairs” social strata that exists
within Evenwood between the family and the household help. She
finds particular difficulty in figuring out Mrs. Battersby, the
head housekeeper, who is near her own age but seems to be
unwelcomingly jealous towards Esperanza.

Lady Tansor treats Esperanza as much more than a maid, and their
relationship grows to the point where she eventually elevates her
from the status of household help to Lady’s Companion. Even
though Lady Tansor appears moody and is quite secretive with her
late-night travels through unexplored parts of Evenwood, she seems
to genuinely relish her times with Esperanza. Lady Tansor, however,
has a small circle of mysterious confidants; one in particular, Mr.
Armitage Vyse, is not well liked by either of her sons. Vyse also
appears to be rather suspicious of Esperanza and suspects she has
an ulterior motive for being at Evenwood that goes beyond her
employment as a maid/companion to Lady Tansor.

We find Esperanza learning a little more of Lady Tansor’s
history with each passing letter from Madame de l’Orme and
Mr. Thornhaugh. She still does not fully understand where she fits
into this history and why the revenge plot is so personal to her
own existence. To reveal any of this would simply spoil things, so
let me leave the reader with the understanding that what takes
place during this perfectly plotted novel is a complicated web of
seduction, intrigue, deceit, betrayal and murder that is impossible
to resist.

In an interview, Michael Cox said he has rarely read anything
published post-1930. It is this dedication and understanding of the
past that helps him create the deeply layered atmosphere in THE
GLASS OF TIME. He has stated that he planned on this story to be a
trilogy; I eagerly await the finale in this wonderful saga and pray
that he remains healthy enough to bring the next tale to us
soon!

Reviewed by Ray Palen on January 22, 2011

The Glass of Time
by Michael Cox

  • Publication Date: October 5, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • ISBN-10: 0393337162
  • ISBN-13: 9780393337167