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The Quick
by Lauren Owen
Random, $16.00, 560pp
Published: February 2015

This review has been a hard one for me to write, since part of me enjoyed the book and part of me didn't.

'The Quick' is a gothic-style vampire tale that tap dances around the term 'vampire' for most of the book. It mainly calls them 'undead' or 'undid,' depending on whose perspective you're reading at the time. The title is a reference to humans, for the undead have chosen to call them 'the quick.'

One of my biggest problems with the book is the inconsistency of style. The story is partly told in the first person, both in the past and present tenses, and partly through journal entries. It's also told in different voices as the author sometimes revisits territory already covered but from a different character's perspective. It's not always easy to follow the story when it changes gears like this and it leaves the novel feeling a bit out of sorts in my mind.

Another problem is that the back cover blurb is a bit deceptive. It suggests that the book follows Charlotte on her quest to find her brother James, who has vanished. However, while the story begins with Charlotte and James as children, it then branches off to follow James as he works through university and strikes out on his own in London. In fact, we don't really get to hear more than a word or two about Charlotte again until the book is about halfway through.

That first half covers the naive attempts of James to adjust to life in London and to struggle to come to terms with the burgeoning feelings he has for his roommate, Christopher. He finds that his friend has the same feelings and their blossoming, secretive and completely unacceptable love affair (we're in the late Victorian era here) leads them into trying to escape their world for abroad, fleeing from Christopher's older brother, Eustace Paige, who has threatened James if he stays with his lover.

In a fleeting moment of mistaken identity, James is unwillingly turned into a vampire and Christopher is killed, which, needless to say, changes James's 'life,' along with the dynamics of the storyline. By mere coincidence, we also find that Eustace, who blames James for his brother's death, is also undead and a member of the influential Aegolius Club.

During this time period, we are also given entries of a journal, written by a human named Augustus Mould, who is working with the vampires of the Aegolius Club. He's trying to learn more about how and why they exist, along with their strengths and weaknesses, by doing experiments on their kind. Most of them don't know or care why; they are upper class gents who have agreed to become undead for their own reasons. There is one who believes he can do good for mankind if he understood more about vampire history, so he enlists Mould to find out more.

Now the story starts to liven up a bit, James finding himself bereft of his lover and trapped in a room at the club, beside himself with grief, anger and pain. The Club members are trying to figure out who he is and how he is handling being changed into an undead without permission being given, which is apparently something they thought could not be done. He manages to escape, helping a human who was also being held.

Charlotte now re-enters the story as it picks up tempo. She tries to locate her brother and also stay one step ahead of the club members who are trying to find her to use against James. Along the way, she meets up with a small band of folks who make it their life's work to aid people escaping the notice of the club. She also meets Howland, the human her brother helped escape.

We now launch into quite a romp around London, introducing and giving more depth to many characters like Burke, the ancient guilt-ridden vampire who had his arms and legs cut off in penance for killing his friend and business partner when he was first inducted into the undead.  There is also another group of undead roaming the back alleys of London called the Alia. In contrast to the pale-faced elite of the club, these are Dickensian urchins, transformed as children and run by the ancient and streetwise Mrs. Price.

The book really gets lively during this part, undead factions fighting each other, while Charlotte and Howland attempt to launch a rescue mission for the recaptured James in the midst of a fiery inferno and bloody battle in the club.  I won't give any more of the storyline away, except to say that this was the best part of the book. I felt that the rest was too long and drawn-out and could have been cut down considerably and still work.

It was not a bad story and some might find it a really good read, but I personally had some issues with how much it jumped around and changed narrative styles. I also think it could have been edited down at least a hundred or more pages without losing the integrity of the story. ~~ Dee Astell

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