Friday, June 27, 2014

Review: The Quick by Lauren Owen

Title: The Quick
Author: Lauren Owen
Page #: 544
Book Blurb: 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.


That book blurb sounds fantastic doesn't it. I mean it promises brilliantly crafted prose with a detailed 1800s London setting and a host of characters so unique that it would be difficult to forget them. Too bad this beautifully crafted synopsis has very little to do with the actual 544 page story. In other words, it's a load of crap. The "secret world" referenced  in the book blurb has also been referred to as "the twist" in a number of reviews about The Quick, but it's not so much a twist, as it is an integral part of the majority of the story that should not in any way be kept a secret from prospective readers. In fact this so called twist actually defines the genre of the entire story and I have a hunch that many people like myself will be unpleasantly surprised to find out that the book they were sold in the blurb is not the reality of the text. For all those who don't want to know about the "twist" (even though you really should) just stop reading now. For those that actually want to know what they are getting into before starting this book continue reading.

So without further ado I'll tell you what this book is actually about: vampires. Yep, I said it, vampires. The Quick is yet another book to add to the already inundated vampire genre, which brings nothing original to the plate. The slightly gothic tone, the period setting, and even James Norbury's "friendship" all combine to create something I'll deem the poor man's Anne Rice. I know that might be rather harsh, but that's all I could think about while reading this book. Now that I got that out of the way, time for a discussion about more than just the premise.

In general the book suffered from a complete lack of focus. There were so many diverging story-lines and point of views that it just didn't feel like a cohesive novel. Readers start out with James and Charlotte's childhood and then quickly shift to James trying to become a writer in London. From there readers are introduced to The Aegolius Club and its vampires. Then the story shifts to Charlotte's point of view, where she sets out to find her brother. (There were plenty more shifts in the story, but in order to save space and my valuable time, I've decided to leave them out). As a result, I felt like there wasn't any identifiable plot to the book. The story just sort of meanders around without any sense of direction, which makes it difficult to stay interested. In short, there are a ton of pages, but no central story or conflict to push you on to the end. This book could have easily benefited from some substantial cuts to pair down the story and give it a narrative center.

As far as the points of view in The Quick are concerned, there are too many and they aren't successfully integrated with the rest of the novel. The blurb mentions a number of "unforgettable characters" that I'm sad to say are highly forgettable because their stories are buried under the weight of the rest of the prose. In particular I really disliked the diary entries from a number of characters interspersed throughout the book. Why you ask? Well, none of the characters are previously introduced before their diary entries, which renders the entire entry meaningless until you learn who they actually are and how they fit in with the rest of the story. Once I learned about the identity of the character, I ended up rereading the entry just so that I could get a grasp on the information revealed in that section. Another annoying aspect to the multiple points of view is that a scene is provided from one character's specific perspective, but instead of continuing on with the story from their pov, the book backtracks to the same scene presented from a different character's perspective. With the varying points of view and the large amount of characters, I found it difficult to emotionally connect with any of them, which is disappointing.    

After slogging through the various subplots and underdeveloped characters, I managed to make it to the unsatisfying end of the book. The finale of The Quick can easily be described using part of a T.S. Eliot quote and that is "not with a bang but a whimper." The last line in what I hesitate to call a cliffhanger seems to indicate that there will be a sequel, which I can honestly say I won't be reading. I'm sad to say that this is another over-hyped book that turned out to be a disappointment. I'm not sure I would recommend this book to anyone, but if you like the actual premise maybe you should see what Anne Rice has to offer first.