Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Quick by Lauren Owen

Title: The Quick
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!

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Quick to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only, ends 6/6.


  1. Great review. Thank you for being honest about the book.

    1. Thanks, Lauralee -- I wanted to like it so much more! :/

  2. I'm reading this now (almost finished) and my feelings about it are very similar to yours. I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more without the twist!

    1. Agreed. If I had known that would be the overarching plot, I wouldn't have bothered! (Or, I wish something seriously original had been done with it!)

  3. I have been trying to put my finger on WHY I cannot get more into this one and voila it's right here in your review! I gave in to the hype and requested this one thru NetGalley...haven't made it all the way to the twist yet but man oh man someone did a poor marketing job here {I just read the spoiler on your goodreads review}. I loathe that kind of "twist!" Never would have requested this one - Aargh!!!

    1. Stacy -- I had been on the verging of DNFing this one so many times! I'm unsure if finishing was for the best. I mean, I guess it was -- there was a delightfully bittersweet bit at the end that just made me angry -- I wished more of the book had that than this random foray into ... well, the "twist".

  4. Just skimmed your review to avoid any chance of spoilers, because I'm especially obsessive about avoiding the merest hint of a spoiler, but you definitely piqued my curiosity! Thanks for the giveaway!

    1. Laurie, I *think* I avoided all spoilers, but still, better to be safe! :) Glad you're curious!!

  5. I'm still intrigued by this book, maybe more so now that I know there's a twist. Being forewarned may alleviate the sense of betrayal :). I'm fascinated by the mixed reviews.

    1. Jaime -- I will admit I'm still thinking about this book many weeks later -- so I think it's quite good, despite my crankiness! If you end up reading it, come back and tell me what you think -- I want more people to chat about it with! (And of course, to see if I'm off the mark or what!)