Michael Cox's The Glass of Time: A Novel (2008) is the sequel to his The Meaning of Night: A Confession (2006); like the first novel, it is a neo-Victorian novel in the sensationalist mode. In the first novel, the variously-surnamed Edward G. discovers his true identity as the heir to the Tansor estate, finds himself thwarted in his attempts to appropriate the property, and winds up murdering the forger-cum-poet who does inherit, Phoebus Daunt. The Glass of Time is told from the first-person POV of Edward's daughter, Esperanza Gorst, who has been raised to unquestioningly carry out a mysterious "Great Task"--which turns out to be marrying the eldest son of Edward's traitorous beloved, Emily (later Lady Tansor), in order to marry into the estate and thus complete Edward's quest. Needless to say, there are...complications.
The Glass of Time is keyed very closely to specific Victorian antecedents, especially Wilkie Collins' Armadale. Cox takes both the initial murder and the marriage plot from Armadale, along with some aspects of Lydia Gwilt--which are here incorporated into Emily Carteret. Some of Armadale's themes carry over as well, especially the problem of identity faced by a murderer's child. Esperanza herself, "an avid collector of facts" (47), becomes a detective along the lines of the protagonist in The Law and the Lady. There are also some similarities to Charles Dickens' Bleak House, particularly the Lady Dedlockish Emily Carteret and the equally Inspector Bucketish Gully; Esperanza's devotion to "Duty," given the duty under discussion, parodies that of Esther Summerson ("duty, duty, Esther"). Unlike The Meaning of Night, set before the sensation novel emerges as a significant genre, The Glass of Time is a post-sensation narrative, and its narrator is not only an enthusiast for Collins, but has actually read Armadale. And yet, she does not appear to notice that she is in Armadale's plot...
In fact, The Glass of Time is more explicitly a parody of sensation fiction than The Meaning of Night. To begin with, Esperanza frequently turns out to be a lousy detective, making multiple errors of judgment about other characters--and, the alert reader will note at the end, failing to draw an obvious conclusion about her husband's new publisher. Moreover, while Esperanza appears to be a more reliable narrator than her father, she so enthusiastically enters into his project for revenge (even after she learns his true identity) that the reader may wonder just who the villain is supposed to be here. (The circumstances of Lady Tansor's end are especially problematic, given how Esperanza goes out of her way to justify her own behavior.) The plot itself relies on a series of spectacularly "Victorian" coincidences, none of them justified by divine providence, ranging from a protective cab driver who keeps popping up at opportune moments to incriminating documents that just happen to be preserved intact. And Esperanza never seems to be in any real danger, despite all the time she spends eavesdropping, following blackmailers around, and the like (which is arguably the novel's greatest flaw).
In many ways, Esperanza spends most of the novel as her father's willing puppet, downgrading herself to the "collector of facts" rather than asserting herself as the agent of her own narrative. And yet, when she delights in "the now certain knowledge of who I truly was" (539), this triumphant claim of self-possession--not to mention the possession of the Tansor property--merely completes her father's goal. As I said in my post on the first novel, "Edward occupies a failed fairytale, playing the role of the dispossessed heir, raised in poverty, who returns to seek his birthright and assume his proper identity. But by insisting on the authenticity of that other life, Edward dismantles any chance he has to succeed in his own 'story.'" Esperanza is the protagonist of a purportedly successful fairytale, rising from (fictional) orphan to lady's-maid to companion to Lady Tansor, but this transformation still rests on a number of rather cheerfully-dismissed corpses. Esperanza herself notes uneasily at the end that there may be something illusionary about her new public and private identity: "We can never escape the legacy of what has been, especially here, in this house, where the past saturates the very air we breathe. Try as we may, for the sake of our son, we find that we are unable wholly to break free from the fetters that bind us to our former selves" (580-81). This is quintessential Gothic, the past always threatening to reassert itself, but Esperanza's decision to complete her father's quest binds her to "what has been"; in the end, she has bought into the "fetters" that her father has forged for her, even as she insists that "I shall be ruled by him no longer" (582).