Author: Lauren Owen
Genre: Fiction (Historical / Victoriana / 19th Century / London / Supernatural / Secret Society)
Publisher/Publication Date: Random House (6/17/2014)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: Eh -- okay (with moments of like).
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: When her brother goes missing, a young Victorian woman leaves her family estate to find him, and is shocked by the world she discovers in seedy London and the truth about her brother.
Reading Challenges: E-book, Historical Fiction, NetGalley & Edelweiss
Do I like the cover?: I do but it only adds to my feeling of betrayal as it has really nothing to do with the book other than to convince you it's something it isn't!
I'm reminded of...: Elizabeth Bear, Karen Essex, Elizabeth Kostova
First line: There were owls in the nursery when James was a boy.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow.
Why did I get this book?: I love big chunksters set during the Victorian era.
Review: This is a cranky review of a book with a good deal of hype. The writing is nice enough, and there's lots of plot, and some historical ambiance; but I have a giant huge quibble with the marketing and mystique surrounding it which, for me, didn't enhance my reading experience.
I'm hesitant to even try to recap the book lest I give away something I shouldn't. In brief, it's set in the 1890s in London, and features siblings who have to find each other as adults after some dramatic stuff happens. There's lots of hype about a 'twist' in this book which I'll say is not a twist so much as a bait-and-switch.
Owen sets up her book deliciously -- a decaying country estate, two imaginative siblings, the push-pull of Victorian expectations for men and women -- and then, bam!, around 80 pages in, the wonderful sort of gothic-y family novel becomes something else entirely, and not, in my opinion, for the better.
In order to articulate why I'm so meh on this book, I have to just name what my problem with it was. I've done so over here on my GoodReads review, which has a spoiler tag you can manually click to see my beef. I'll add that I don't think knowing the 'twist' will hurt your enjoyment of the novel -- if it's your thing, you're going to be super happy, and if it isn't your thing, you might be glad for the warning!
After the 'twist', my other complaint is about pacing. Owen uses a mix of third person narrative interspersed with diary excerpts, and I found it slowed down the already creeping plot even more. Worse, the diary entries came before the characters were introduced, repeatedly, which made things even more frustrating. I think I get what Owen was trying to do -- these snippets avoided lots of exposition -- but they didn't keep things chugging along or amp up the tension. The novel's conclusion was uneven and meandering, and felt like Owen sandwiched together short pieces from other works.
Still, the writing was lovely, and there was great promise there; her articulation of a pragmatic marriage that might have, perhaps, blossomed into something loving, touched me, and I wished the novel had more of that, just as I wish the moodiness of the novel's start had lingered.
The raves for this book are unbelievable: Hilary Mantel, Kate Atkinson, and Tana French all blurbed it quite enthusiastically (although I did rather bitchily wonder on GoodReads what books they typically read if they found this one so swoon-worthy). But other fabulous bloggers with great taste enjoyed it, too, including Amanda of BookRiot, so obviously, it just didn't work for me but might work for you!
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