Lauren Owen – The Quick
Length: 530 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Started: 02 June 2014
Finished: 14 June 2014
Where did it come from? LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program.
Why do I have it? The description was all about Victorian London, and a dangerous and mysterious gentlemen’s club, and I was sold.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 09 March 2014.
If you’re going to get
caught up with dangerous folks,
write your sister first!
Summary: After finishing at Oxford, young James Norbury heads to London. He takes rooms with Christopher, a outgoing young aristocrat who begins to draw the shy James out of his shell. He tells all of this – well, not all of it – in letters home to his sister Charlotte. When those letters stop, and her own inquiries go unanswered, Charlotte herself heads to London to discover what has happened to her brother. But in order to get the answers she wants, she has to brave not only the unfamiliar streets of London, but also the dangerous – and mysterious – men of the Aegolius Club. She finds some unlikely allies, but the one thing she wants – to have her brother back – may be the one thing that’s beyond her reach.
Review: I’m being cagey in my summary, taking a cue from the back cover and a lot of the promotional copy about this book, which treat the “reveal” of what the book is really about (which happens on roughly page 100 out of 500+) as being a huge shocking secret. But on reflection, I think me being cagey is dumb, because I think the publishers being cagey is dumb. Because in my case, all of my expectations about what the book was going to be about were wrong, and I was instantly disappointed by what it actually was about. So skip the next paragraph if you are rabidly anti-spoiler, I guess, although I still think it’s kind of silly to call the main plot device of a book – one that shows up less than 20% of the way in – a spoiler.
So, okay: The title is The Quick. The immediate association is “…and The Dead”, right? Combined with all of the descriptions of this book as being atmospheric and gothic and Victorian London-y, and given the feeling of the cover, I was really expecting – and hoping – that it would be ghosts. So when I got to page 102, where James gets attacked my a mysterious and fast-moving stranger who goes straight for his neck, I actually said – out loud! – “Ah, crap, it’s vampires.” Not that I have any problems with vampire stories, mind you. But I’ve read a lot of them, and I’d really been hoping for ghosts. (I also only just now realized that the cover is supposed to look like it’s stained with blood, which might have clued me in. I’d been taking that for a curtain.)
But the pointless secrecy around the main plot element, and the mistaken expectations weren’t my biggest issues with this book. My biggest problem was that after the big reveal, when the story shifted from James’s point of view to Charlotte’s (and others’), it got really dry, and surprisingly lifeless, given how macabre and suspenseful the material should have been. And it’s not because Owen can’t write. Clearly she can – the first 100 pages are really, really good. We get to know – and like – James and Christopher, get to become part of their world, and that world is really lushly described… without taking focus away from the characters. The plot moves along nicely – it’s not the Plot yet, but stuff is happening – and there are some interesting twists along the way. If the rest of the book had continued in that vein, I would have been a happy camper indeed.
(“In that vein”, geddit? Because of the vampires?)
But after that main turning point, the book’s tone changes completely, and even though we spend much of the rest of the book with Charlotte – much more time than we spend with James – I never felt like I got to know her, or particularly care about her. I had the same problem with basically all of the secondary characters – particularly Adeline and Shadwell, Charlotte’s allies. Not that they were two-dimensional, exactly, but that the story would never get close enough to let us see the other dimensions they had. There were hints that there were interesting characters there, but we were kept at such a distance that they just seemed to flatten out. The plot suffered much the same problem – things happened, things that should have been horrifying or thrilling or sad or gruesome or exciting just felt flat, as if all the life had been drained out of them.
(Sorry. Sorry! I just can’t help myself!)
Overall, while I didn’t love it, I also didn’t hate it. The first part was really good, and there were some individual really good scenes sprinkled throughout the rest. The writing is also undeniably atmospheric, and evocative of the foggy streets of Victorian London with its street urchins and carriages and secret clubs. Owen also has some interesting ideas about The Plot Device We’re Not Supposed To Mention that were fun to mull over. But overall, after the first section, this book just failed to grab me the way that it should have. 3 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: You might get along with Owen’s style and characterization better than I did, so if this sort of thing is your cup of tea, then it’s potentially worth a try. But personally, I think there are other books out there that attempt similar things, and accomplish them in a more engaging way.
Other Reviews: Annette’s Book Spot, A Garden Carried in the Pocket, Popcorn Reads, Rinn Reads, and more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.
First Line: There were owls in the nursery when James was a boy.
Vocab: (see the whole list)
- p. 27: “He would be a flâneur, wandering the streets, seeing everything, observed by none.” – an idler or loafer.
- p. 73: “At the door he had had a stroke of inspiration about the play, in the form of a few lines of absolutely necessary badinage – he had wasted several minutes scribbling them down and admiring them.” – Light, playful banter.
- p. 108: “He had been threatened with rustication, had exchanged high words with his tutor – told me all this with a touch of pride.” – To go to or live in the country.
- p. 122: “Like the rest of the building, it is lavishly decorated – walls faced with marble, scagliola.” – Plasterwork in imitation of ornamental marble, consisting of ground gypsum and glue colored with marble or granite dust.
- p. 324: “Close by was a loculus, sealed with a square granite tablet.” – a small cavity or compartment within an organ or part of an animal or plant, as any of the cavities within a plant ovary. (in this case, inside a crypt)
- p. 338: “They sat in silence until the carriage started to move again – they passed a man in an ulster, walking close by.” – a loose, long overcoat made of heavy, rugged fabric and often belted.
- p. 407: “Chapter Five was entitled “Attack and Defence: Apotropaics, Deterrents, Possibilities of Cure.”” – things intended to ward off evil.
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