THE QUICK by Lauren Owen, Review: Underlying humanity

The Quick, Review - Lauren OwenThe Quick Synopsis

For fans of Anne Rice, The Historian, and The Night Circus, an astonishing debut, a novel of epic scope and suspense that conjures up all the magic and menace of Victorian 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. Alarmed, his sister, Charlotte, sets out from their crumbling country estate determined to find him. In the sinister, labyrinthine London that greets her, she uncovers a hidden, supernatural city 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 the exclusive, secretive Aegolius Club, whose predatory members include the most ambitious, and most bloodthirsty, men in England.

In her first novel, Lauren Owen has created a fantastical world that is both beguiling and terrifying. The Quick will establish her as one of fiction’s most dazzling talents.

(Random House)

Genre: Mystery, Action-Adventure, Historical, Literature, Thriller, Fantasy

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The comparison to Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian in the publisher’s blurb and, if truth be told, the wonderful sepia-toned cover art, are what drew me to Lauren Owen’s debut novel The Quick.

I’m not necessarily drawn to novels featuring vampires and the like, but if an engrossing storyline happens to feature such content I won’t shy away from it. The Quick is certainly engrossing. I was provided a review copy in ebook format and after reaching its conclusion I was genuinely surprised to find that the story I had just consumed amounted to more than 500 pages in paperback.

Owen’s prose is generous without being overblown, her evocative descriptions immersing the reader in the world of her characters.

The library was full of treasures. The cousin – the very distant cousin who had owned the hall before them – had bought books at a fearful rate, adding to an already extensive collection. There was no one to stop Charlotte and James from taking what they wanted, poring over whichever old, delicious-smelling volumes they chose. It was a beautiful room, too: there was a red carpet and red-and-gold paper on the walls and a beautiful marble fireplace with a pattern of grapes carved all the way around.

The Quick’s strength lies in its underlying focus on humanity; people’s want to do ‘good’ within their own contexts and the personal sacrifices they make in pursuing that goal.

Colourful characters

Owen has populated this novel with many colourful characters, some ignorantly evil, others endearingly resourceful and courageous. But none is more likeable than Charlotte. Her unassuming nature belies an inner strength, intelligence and determination that you cannot help barrack for.

While this novel does feature gore and mutilation inescapable in the vampire context, what engaged me was the fact that Owen held the characters’ quest for knowledge and the storyline’s problem-solving elements in the foreground.

But ultimately the story penned by Owen resonates a timeless quality, larger than any of its individual characters – it speaks to the transience of individuals while acknowledging the value of the knowledge they acquire in their lifetime, their legacy to the world.

The plotline is not without weakness (for example, a beginning slower than perhaps necessary and some character linkages improbable), The Quick is eminently readable and a strong debut from Lauren Owen.

While sad to see the curtain fall on some wonderful characters in The Quick, I am looking forward to seeing where Owen takes those that live on in the sequel she’s currently working on.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5

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About the Author, Lauren Owen

Lauren Owen studied English Literature at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford, before completing an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, where she received the 2009 Curtis Brown prize for the best fiction dissertation. The Quick is her first novel. She lives in Durham, England.

Other reviews of The Quick : The New York Times ; TOR.COM ; The Scotsman ; That’s What She Read ; For Book’s Sake

* My receiving an ebook copy of this title from Random House (via NetGalley) for review purposes in no way hindered the expression of my honest opinions in the above.