Note: This review reveals details about the plot of the novel that might spoil it for those who might want to read it.
Lauren Owen's novel The Quick evokes convincingly 19th-century London and the world of amateur Victorian science, and it's a novel that works at several levels. First and foremost, it's a vampire story with a cast of quirky, interesting characters. It's also a story about the unwavering faith of a subset of Victorians in the ability of science and reason to cure or solve any problem. James Norbury, poet-turned-vampire, is the problem that needs to be
cured, and his sister, with the help of vampire "scholars" Shadwell,
Adeline, and Howland, spends much of her life trying to find the cure.
And it's a story about alternative forms of relationships: the relationship between Christopher and James; the relationship between Adeline and the much older Shadwell; the marriage of Charlotte and Howland, which remains unconsummated for an extended period; and of course the relationship between the vampire and his victim/source of life.
Owen's novel raises provocative questions, but it seems at times like he is trying to do too many things. For example, the short section of the novel which consists of the notebook of Augustus Mould, who is studying vampirism, is an interesting narrative strategy, but looking back from the end of the novel, I'm not sure why we get that, other than that it emphasizes the scientific approach to understanding vampires. I was also never entirely sure of how Mrs. Price and her crew were directly
relevant to the story, though that narrative thread was interesting in
its own way.
The novel rips along at a quick pace, and I often found myself completely immersed in the world Owen creates. It's a great read, and Owen is clearly a big new talent to watch in the coming years.