Lauren Owen’s debut novel, The Quick, is an ambitious attempt at something that’s been done countless times before – the Gothic vampire novel. While there is much promise in its pages, the end result is a decidedly mixed bag.
The story starts out small, concentrating on two young siblings, James and Charlotte, growing up on a decaying country estate. Their mother is dead and their father stays away on business for large chunks of time. When he finally returns for an extended stay it is only because he is dying. Upon his death we skip ahead several years – Charlotte remains at home while James, fresh out of college, is moving to London to begin a writing career. James is a serious, socially awkward young man; his flatmate, Christopher Paige, is the anti-James. Opposites attract, as they say, and the two begin to grow very close.
Owen spends a hundred or so pages establishing a very specific tone and direction for the book, and then gleefully rips it apart with one shocking stroke. It’s as jolting a change for the reader as it is for the characters, as the book suddenly plunges into
London’s darkest side, a place of supernatural terrors that had barely been hinted at before.
If the book’s tone and energy made the same violent transition as the plot, I would be less ambivalent about it as a whole. However, there’s never a true sense of urgency to the story. There is plenty that should inspire urgency in readers and characters alike, as there appears to be a war brewing between London’s upper-class vampires (represented by The Aegolius Club) and their wrong-side-of-the-tracks brethren (the Alia). But while there is plenty going on, it all seems to take place in the same unhurried manner.
Owen expands the cast with a number of humans who find themselves (some willingly, some not so much) caught in the middle of the two groups. Unfortunately, Owen does little to distinguish these characters from one another, making it difficult to find anyone to invest in emotionally.
Despite these issues, I still found The Quick enjoyable overall. Owen has a smooth, graceful style that is a pleasure to read even if it isn’t the best fit for this particular subject matter. I think there is a lot here she can improve on, but there’s also proof that she’s got a solid career ahead of her.