Synopsis from Goodreads:
An astonishing debut, a novel of epic scope and suspense that conjures up all the magic and menace of Victorian London
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.
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.
Named One of the Top 10 Literary Fiction Books of the Season by Publishers Weekly
I have to admit: had I known what this book was really about, I would never have picked it up. Because of that, I’m torn on the whole thing, for a variety of reasons.
When my book, Idol Hands first came out, the description was purposefully somewhat vague. While I enjoyed the shock of people’s reactions to the book, I finally decided that it wasn’t fair to leave people thinking they were about to read a fluffy little boy band love story when in reality, that wasn’t what it was at all, and so I changed the descriptor. The point of all of this is to say that while I understand the idea of trying to have a big “twist” to the story, a descriptor that makes you think it’s strictly historical fiction, and then becomes something else isn’t exactly fair to readers.
But, that being said, I’d like to try and review the book on its own merits.
I was drawn in right away by the story of James and Charlotte as children. I’m a sucker for a “Victorian-era child virtually abandoned by their parent/guardian to be raised by servants in a mysterious old house” story. And so, I found it jarring when the story suddenly flashed forward, going from Charlotte’s perspective to James’. That was only the first of the many, many perspective changes throughout the book. The story went from a traditional 3rd person view, to an epistolary format, and from character to character. I actually enjoy this kind of experimental format generally, but for me, this time it became too much. It was as if the author was trying to tell too many different stories, instead of focusing in on what was – I think – supposed to be the main plotline. In the end, I wasn’t even certain of the details of what had happened during the book’s climax, because it jumped all over the place so much.
The book’s ending was also somewhat of a letdown. It felt tacked on, without much resolution, and I wasn’t sure if the last few lines were intended to set up another book, or just leave the reader hanging.
Is it strange, after all of that, to say that I didn’t dislike the book? The main characters, at least, were well drawn, and the main plot was interesting, if unexpected. I just wish that the author hadn’t tried to pack four or five books worth of stories into one.
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Rating: 2.5/5 stars