The Quick – Lauren Owen

Book Cover: The QuickI have a soft spot for vampire novels, as long as they’re not paranormal romance. I have strong opinions about vampires and faerie being dark and terrifying; I can accept alluring and seductive, but not sparkly gushing. That said, I didn’t realise The Quick was a vampire story when I picked it up – it is described as modern take on gothic horror, and for some reason I thought it was going to be about magicians.

As a vampire novel, it has lots of traditional elements: secrecy, the upper echelons of high society, troubled priests, forbidden romance (James Norbury falls for the man he rooms with, which is unacceptable in Victorian London) and dogged heroism (Charlotte Norbury’s determination to save her brother from the vampiric Aegolius Club).

I liked that while Victorian vampire novels tend to involve women only as victims, Owen has 3 strong women in Charlotte, ‘professional’ vampire-hunter Adeline and streetwise Liza, vampire child of the Alia.

I also liked the details – this is a Victorian London that feels fairly real; bustling streets, dirt and noise, the baying of the mob and the disinterest of strangers all ring true (as does the geography, my bugbear from Sedition). Notably, Owen also portrays vampires of all classes: her East End Alia are a viciously delightful answer to the Aegolius Club’s superior gentlemen, and you could choose to read much into both Mrs Price’s rejection of Edward’s desire to use vampirism to ‘improve the lot of unfortunates’, and his intention to stop gaining consent to the Exchange.

But I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the book overall. Like Sedition, the pacing felt off (especially in the second half) and I found the narrative structure awkward. The novel is split into 5 or 6 parts; the first lengthy section focuses on James Norbury, his slow-blooming romance and the first hints that some of the cast may not be what they seem. The second is a disjointed collection of notes and diary entries from an array of characters we haven’t previously met, that confirm suspicions that this is a vampire novel and give us their perspective (sort of – the notes are actually written by a human associate). The next section re-introduces Charlotte in her search for her disappeared brother – well into half the book, it still feels like slow build-up.

My problem is that the climax doesn’t quite pay off all this world-building and scene-setting – and then there’s a further (lengthy) part of ‘and what happened after’, where once again I felt the final pay-off failed to deliver. I’m not a huge fan of the movie thriller trope where after the big climax and the villain’s death… the villain turns out not to be dead and comes back to have one last go when everyone relaxes. Thankfully The Quick doesn’t do this, but it doesn’t really do much else, either. It just sort of meanders and ties up loose ends – unnecessarily, I think.

It’s well-written and engaging, and I enjoyed it (and in spite of my carping, would recommend it) – but it didn’t feel balanced. I can see Hollywood picking it up and making a better film of it with good use of the cutting room floor.