London, 1892: James Norbury, a shy would-be poet newly down from Oxford, finds lodging with a charming young aristocrat. Through this new friendship, he is introduced to the drawing-rooms of high society, and finds love in an unexpected quarter. Then, suddenly, he vanishes without a trace. Unnerved, his sister, Charlotte, sets out from their crumbling country estate determined to find him. In the sinister, labyrinthine city that greets her, she uncovers a secret world at the margins populated by unforgettable characters: a female rope walker turned vigilante, a street urchin with a deadly secret, and the chilling “Doctor Knife.” But the answer to her brother’s disappearance ultimately lies within the doors of one of the country’s preeminent and mysterious institutions: The Aegolius Club, whose members include the most ambitious, and most dangerous, men in England.
Lauren Owen’s debut The Quick has drawn a lot of comparison to Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian. And there is certainly merit to the comparison: both deal with a quest to defeat an ancient evil, both of them are historical thrillers featuring vampires, and both are rather hefty tomes. For me, however, the comparison is most apt as regards my reaction to their respective endings—I felt both endings lessened the impact of their narrative and left me rather bemused and disappointed. That isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy The Quick, because I did and there is much to recommend the novel, such as Owen’s prose, the atmosphere the book oozes, and the relationships between several of the main characters.
The book is riddled with love stories as Owen showcases many different types of relationship, from sibling love, to romantic love and platonic love. There is the close and complicated relationship between our two protagonists, James and Charlotte Norbury, a brother and sister forced to rely on each other for love and support in the absence of a loving parental figure. The deep and abiding, but ultimately platonic relationship between Shadwell and Adeline Swift, the vampire hunters, is beautifully rendered. There is something inevitable about Charlotte’s relationship with her eventual husband and it sometimes felt a little forced, but it also felt genuine and in the end, it might have been my favourite thing about the book if not for James’ love story. Because James’ romance is lovely. Not to give any spoilers for it, but it was heartfelt, beautiful, and quite tragic and it truly broke my heart.
Owen’s writing was gorgeous and I really liked the different points of view she provides. While they don’t always propel the narrative onwards, they do serve to etch in the details of her Victorian Gothic London, which is soupy, luscious, malodorous, huge, and crowded. Some of my favourite bits were included in the secondary points of view, especially that of little Liza. The book does have an odd sense of pacing, where sometimes years or months went by in a sentence and yet much of the narrative only describes a few days. There were also some inconsistencies in the book that didn’t make sense to me. For example, some of the vampires living on Salmon street are children and they remain child-like in appearance and behaviour, no matter their true age. The fact that their appearance doesn’t change, that their aging has halted, isn’t surprising; what did surprise me was their child-like behaviour and thought process. Especially as it is stated that the adult vampires perhaps don’t age in appearance, but that they do get old mentally and sometimes go mad or despondent due to the never-ending duration of their unlife.
As I mentioned before, as with The Historian the ending did not serve The Quick well. The ending is sudden and feels as if it is just cut off. Like with The Historian, this
might beis to leave an opening for a sequel, but I’d not seen anything about a possible sequel to The Quick before googling it just now and it left me seriously hacked off when I realised that was the end. Additionally there are several threads which get tied off, but which don’t actually feel resolved or felt unnecessarily drawn out. Again, perhaps this will be solved in the sequel, but at the time of reading I didn’t know there would be one, so it was rather disappointing.
On the whole I enjoyed reading The Quick, but the disappointment of its ending and the unfinished feel of the story, left a bitter after taste. I didn’t want to throw the book across the room as I did want to do with The Historian and that’s not just because I was reading it on my iPad—Lauren Owen’s writing was reason enough to read the book. At the same time even though there will be a book two that finishes this story, I probably still won’t go back to it. I am however looking forward to reading other works by Lauren Owen in the future as she is clearly a very talented writer. And if you enjoyed The Historian and gothic vampire novels then The Quick is a book that will be right up your alley.
A Fantastical Librarian is just one of the stops on this blog tour. Please visit the other stops for different views on the book and giveaways.
Monday, May 5th: Bibliophilia, Please
Monday, May 5th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, May 8th: Too Fond
Friday, May 9th: October Country
Monday, May 12th: A Bookish Way of Life
Monday, May 12th: Let Them Read Books
Wednesday, May 14th: Must Read Faster
Thursday, May 15th: A Fantastical Librarian
Friday, May 16th: Bookish Whimsy
Monday, May 19th: River City Reading
Monday, May 19th: In Bed with Books
Tuesday, May 20th: Reading Reality
Tuesday, May 20th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Wednesday, May 21st: Love at First Book
Thursday, May 22nd: Luxury Reading
Friday, May 23rd: A Novel Review
Monday, May 26th: A Reader of Fictions
Tuesday, May 27th: Broken Teepee
Wednesday, May 28th: Book-a-licious Mama
Thursday, May 29th: Read Lately
Thursday, May 29th: Unabridged Chick
Friday, May 30th: Patricia’s Wisdom
TBD: A Daily Does of R & R