Thursday, 12 May 2016

The Quick by Lauren Owen

*Some Broad Spoilers Below, But Few Specific Ones*

I feel like this novel is trying to do a lot of interesting things with vampires, but doesn't quite stick the landing on many of them. The writing is good, and the ideas are intriguing, but almost none of them are followed to the point where I was satisfied. Time and again, the really interesting stuff was dropped long before I was ready to let it go. I've mentioned that I love Daryl Gregory for his ability to follow through on the implications of an idea far longer that I would have expected. This book has the reverse - there are ideas I desperately want to see developed further, but they just keep getting dropped.

Hopefully with further books, Owen will figure out how to make her ideas work together rather than using one for a while and discarding it. There is a lot here to like, and a great deal of potential.The style of the writing seems to be deliberately borrowing from the multi-narrator effect you get from Dracula or The Woman in White. It works not badly, although like The Woman in White, the story's never quite as interesting after you get away from the characters in whom you have the most invested.

The story starts with Charlotte and James as children, brother and sister, and their experiences growing up. It shifts then to Victorian London, where James has gone as a young man to try to be a writer. In what is probably the most interesting part of the book, he starts a sexual relationship with the other man who shares his flat, and their  desire and the repercussions are compelling.

It is therefore extremely unfortunate that the author then promptly kills one of the young men and turns the other into a vampire. Even more unfortunate, beyond jumping right into the Bury Your Gays trope, is the strange decision to have the vampires all be virtually sexless. There is no trace of sexual desire in any of them after this point, and given the discussion I sparked on my Facebook this morning, that's damned unusual.

So, not only does being turned into a vampire suck the sexual desire rightout of you, it also means that not only is one of the two gay characters dead, the other one's sexuality is just...dropped. Vampirism is generally all about desire, sometimes campily so, even if desire is transferred from sex to blood.

It becomes a question why the first part of your book focuses on this (and does it in an interesting fashion) and then has it disappear altogether! Unfortunately, this is only the first of several themes that are raised and then dropped.

Charlotte comes to London to try to find her brother, who is fighting giving in to his vampirism, and we're given a taste (so to speak) of that. The Gentlemen Vampires Club (The Aegolian, I think) behind James' transformation is delving into medical study of their own phenomenon, and we get slightly into a class war between the upper-fanged vampires who want to only turn the best and brightest, and the dingy biters of the streets, who are kept more or less under control in a Dickensian neighborhood, with more literal sucking dry of the poor.

Wait, I forgot to mention that it's pretty heavily implied that Oscar Wilde steals and rewrites James' play into The Importance of Being Earnest, since it is dropped mid-vamp attack on their way to visit him. But nothing's really done with that.

Meanwhile, Charlotte falls in with other roving vampire hunters, except that they don't really hunt vampires, since these vampires are much harder to kill than the ones we've come to know. Mostly they help vampire targets get the hell of the biting grounds. We get a little of what it's like to be a female performer/vampire preventer, but that's another theme that I would have liked to see a whole lot more about, not to mention the repressed love between her and her partner, the father of her former fiance. (This is the problem - this is all so interesting and really quite well written! But it's just not developed!)

From there, we focus on Charlotte's attempts to find a cure, but the pacing gets weird, and while again, there's some interesting stuff, it's not followed through on in a satisfying way. This is not a bad book. It's just somehow unfinished. If you have too many ideas, refocus. If you raise a provocative idea, follow through.

If I wanted to be a truly horrible person, I could end the review like this: it just doesn't have enough bite.

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