Thursday, April 17, 2014

Book Review: "The Quick" by Lauren Owen

Full disclosure: I received an advance readers copy of this book from NetGalleys in exchange for an unbiased review.

This was an interesting and well-written book, but so much of its appeal came from not knowing what to expect, so I'm going to be fairly vague in my review.

Siblings Charlotte and James Norbury grew up on an aging estate in the English countryside. With a deceased mother and a virtually absent father, they were raised mostly by servants and a distant relative, and left to their own devices. Charlotte took good care of her younger brother, serving as his teacher, protector, and occasional tormentor. But as the estate—and their family's financial position—declined, they were free to pursue their imagination and challenge their bravery.

Some years later, James is living in London, having graduated from Oxford. Shy and nervous, he decides to pursue poetry as a career, despite the fact that he lacks confidence in his writing ability and is displeased with what he produces. Through mutual friends, he agrees to share rooms with Christopher Paige, a young aristocrat somewhat on the outs with his wealthy family. Christopher is a bit of a bon vivant, and James lives vicariously through his (mostly alcohol-induced) adventures.

Christopher's life serves as valuable fodder to inspire James' writing, and he also pushes the reluctant James to experience society life. When James finds love in an unexpected place, and it inspires him to begin writing a play, it seems as if his life is finally reaching its promise. Then one late night, a strange event changes everything.

When Charlotte is unable to reach James following their aunt's death, she leaves their home and heads to London to try and find out what has happened to him. But nothing can prepare her for what she will find, and the strange people she will encounter, including the dastardly "Doctor Knife," and even more dangerous, those in the mysterious Aegolius Club, which holds secrets that will shock her—and all of London if discovered.

This book starts out going in one direction and quickly twists into an entirely different story. I'll admit I wouldn't have been disappointed if the book had followed its original path, but the world that Lauren Owen has created, and the characters that populates it, is well-written and interesting. This is not an unfamiliar story, but Owen adds some new elements to keep you reading. I felt as if the book was a bit longer than it needed to be, and I could have done without a few of the characters and just hewed to the main ones, but I actually think this could be a pretty fascinating movie. If you're a fan of gothic novels, or books like Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, this might be right up your alley.

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