The Quick

By Lauren Owen

(Random House, $27, 544 pages)

Who is this author?

Lauren Owen, who lives in the north of England and is not yet 30, has a degree in Victorian literature, and that gives her debut novel, set in 1892, a strong underpinning. Owen studied at Oxford University and the University of East Anglia, where she won an award for best fiction dissertation. “The Quick” was chosen by Publishers Weekly as one of its top 10 literary fiction books of the season.

What is this book about?

It’s the late 19th century in London, and a young, aspiring poet moves in with a wealthy and charming young man, who soon brings James Norbury into his aristocratic circle, where he makes new friends and falls in love. But when James unexpectedly disappears, it is left to his sister, Charlotte, to leave the family’s country home and find her missing brother. Mystery and sheer horror await her as she discovers a supernatural netherworld in the great city, where the men of the upper-class and powerful Aegolius Club hold the answers she seeks and secrets almost too dangerous to face.

 Why you’ll like it:

Fall is fast approaching and with it, Halloween: time for some supernatural chills.  You may think the horror genre has done just about all it can with the subject of vampires, but think again. Owen, who has studied the territory well, brings her own perspective and perceptions to this venerable subset of scary stories, and reviewers are delighted with her blend of historical fiction about the Victorian era and the horror she cleverly and thoroughly invokes.

What others are saying:

In The New York Times Book Review, Andrew Sean Greer says: “…a good old-fashioned vampire novel…To cover such well-worn narrative ground, a novelist has to either invent new possibilities or invent new storytelling devices. Owen has chosen the latter, and the novel proceeds by looping back over the previous episodes, each time from a different character’s perspective. This has the pleasant effect of plunging us into invention and then, slowly, into recognition…The Quick is full of…wonderful inventions, while still providing the torn collars and hungry looks the genre demands. Like a corpse in a bag, Owen’s novel is lumpy in places, spattered in blood and eventually opens up to horror. What fun.”

Publishers Weekly’s starred review says: “Though currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity, vampires as we know them are a Victorian invention: Dracula came out in 1897. Debut author Owen sets her seductive book in 1892, in a late-Victorian London with a serious vampire problem. And like her Victorian counterparts, Owen depicts a host of characters: there’s shy, provincial poet James Norbury and his intrepid sister Charlotte; vampire hunters Adeline Swift and Shadwell; a rich American in danger; and Augustus Mould, who researches vampire myth and fact on behalf of the vampires, and who’s as warm and friendly as his name suggests. The vampire world is divided: the elite men of the Aegolius club coexist, not happily, with a ragged band of underclass undead. The book’s pleasures include frequent viewpoint shifts that require readers to figure out how each character fits into the story, new riffs on vampire rituals and language, plus several love affairs, most of which are doomed. And there’s plenty of action—Mould’s research, the clubmen’s recruitment efforts, escalating battles between vampires and vampire hunters and among the vampires, and Charlotte’s efforts to save James. Though the book has an old-fashioned, leisurely pace, which might cause some reader impatience, Owen’s sentence-by-sentence prose is extraordinarily polished—a noteworthy feat for a 500-page debut—and she packs many surprises into her tale, making it a book for readers to lose themselves in.”

Says Kirkus Reviews: “An elegantly written gothic epic that begins with children isolated in a lonely manor house; takes a spin through the velvet-draped salons of late-Victorian literary London; then settles in to the bloody business of an outbreak of evil magic. The novel draws from several genres and benefits from innumerable literary influences. Indeed, its many elements are so familiar that one feels—not unpleasantly—as if one has read and loved it already, years ago, but can’t remember exactly how it ends. The year is 1892, and James Norbury, a poet fresh from Oxford, has taken rooms with an intriguing young nobleman. Alas, the joys of youthful gay abandon don’t last long. James disappears, and his sister Charlotte takes it upon herself to come to London to find him. The ominous city that awaits her will please readers who love magical creatures of the elegant, bloodthirsty variety, and the vast cast of more or less creepy characters that populates the cobblestoned streets will satisfy admirers of ensemble novels. As in Dracula, an obvious influence, the supernatural mystery must be solved by a motley crew of avengers. And although the book is not as lushly described as The Night Circus, Owen’s soaring imagination and her light-handed take on magic save this story from being either obvious or boring. Eventually, Charlotte discovers that her brother’s disappearance can be traced to a secret organization of gentlemen—and no sparkling Beau Brummell or amiable Bertie Wooster is to be found among the terrifying and powerful inner circle of The Aegolius Club.A book that seems to begin as a children’s story ends in blood-soaked mayhem; the journey from one genre to another is satisfying and surprisingly fresh considering that it’s set in a familiar version of gothic London among equally familiar monsters.”

When is it available?

It’s lurking on the shelves at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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