cover image The Quick

The Quick

Lauren Owen. Random, $27 (544p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9327-1

Though currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity, vampires as we know them are a Victorian invention: Dracula came out in 1897. Debut author Owen sets her seductive book in 1892, in a late-Victorian London with a serious vampire problem. And like her Victorian counterparts, Owen depicts a host of characters: there’s shy, provincial poet James Norbury and his intrepid sister Charlotte; vampire hunters Adeline Swift and Shadwell; a rich American in danger; and Augustus Mould, who researches vampire myth and fact on behalf of the vampires, and who’s as warm and friendly as his name suggests. The vampire world is divided: the elite men of the Aegolius club coexist, not happily, with a ragged band of underclass undead. The book’s pleasures include frequent viewpoint shifts that require readers to figure out how each character fits into the story, new riffs on vampire rituals and language, plus several love affairs, most of which are doomed. And there’s plenty of action—Mould’s research, the clubmen’s recruitment efforts, escalating battles between vampires and vampire hunters and among the vampires, and Charlotte’s efforts to save James. Though the book has an old-fashioned, leisurely pace, which might cause some reader impatience, Owen’s sentence-by-sentence prose is extraordinarily polished—a noteworthy feat for a 500-page debut—and she packs many surprises into her tale, making it a book for readers to lose themselves in. (June)