The Quick, But Mostly the Dead

Author: Lauren Owen

[Spoiler alert: this review contains what is apparently a fairly major plot twist/spoiler, although I don’t see how you can usefully discuss the book without it and I don’t think that knowing it will impair your enjoyment. So if you don’t want to know the so-called Big Twist of this book, don’t read a single sentence of this review!]

The QuickTo be honest, I probably wouldn’t have read The Quick if I’d realized it was a vampire book. So maybe it’s just as well that I didn’t know beforehand, because this violent, colorful historical novel set in Victorian-era London is light on the occult jibber-jabber and heavy on the horror, suspense, and extremely bloody killing. If you like your vampires less sparkly and romantic and more throat-chewing and sociopathic, then this will be your kind of novel!

It’s 1892, and James Norbury has fled his ancestral country estate to the bright lights of London in order to try his hand at the bohemian life of a poet. Soon, he falls in with a sophisticated set of society friends, and — much to his surprise — even finds love. James is enjoying his new life so much that he completely forgets about the dwindling family fortune, and the loneliness of his sister Charlotte, who’s stuck back at home managing the estate. James seems happier than he’s ever been… and then he suddenly disappears.

Increasingly worried about her brother’s silence, Charlotte journeys to London to track James down. London is not a friendly place for a young lady on her own, and almost immediately, her life is in danger. She has stumbled upon the existence of a secret underworld of vampires: brutal, inhuman monsters who prey on London’s impoverished slum-dwellers. Her only allies are the brave and heavily armed vigilantes who have devoted their lives to destroying vampires all over the world — and the tantalizing possibility of finding a cure for vampirism.

Many vampire books get caught up in their own overblown mythology, bogging the reader down with impossible-to-remember demonic names and pretentious pseudo-mystical jargon. The Quick is drastically different: the vampires just want to kill, and the vampire-slayers also just want to kill. Nobody is trying to decode ancient tomes, destroy unholy medallions, or discover their latent magical powers. But the story drags on far too long and all the bloody fight scenes grow repetitive, with too many secondary characters that we don’t really care much about. The cliffhanger ending is wide open for a sequel, but having slogged through hundreds of pages for meager gains, I’m not feeling inclined to spend more time on a follow-up.

The Quick has an enjoyably gory, Dickensian/penny-dreadful gothic flavor that should appeal to fans of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell or Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. But if you’re looking for more of an emotional connection with your vampires, the dull-eyed, remorseless monsters in this novel won’t do much for you.

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Stephanie Perry
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