My heart was beating so fast at the end of the first section of The Quick, and Lauren Owen’s ability to write a ripping cliffhanger at section ends was phenomenal. She also has a gift for developing characters that feel real and compelling; to be fair, not all characters – I thought James Norbury, around whom much of the action revolves, was kind of a drip, for example. However, when I thought back over what I read, there was little there there.
To take a step back, The Quick is set in Victorian England and opens, like a good gothic novel, with small children, for all intents and purposes, abandoned by their father at their family estate in Yorkshire. There is a creepy priest hole and a crumbling manor house, and Charlotte and James Norbury raise each other through a series of governesses and servants – pretty typical stuff, but beautifully written. Eventually, James leaves for Oxford and, ultimately, London, while Charlotte stays on the grounds of the estate with her elderly aunt. We follow James as he fumbles and dithers around Oxford and then London, where he befriends and lodges with a charming, partying aristocrat. Nothing much happens and then something shocking happens and we are back to meeting Charlotte (the much more interesting character) and an array of secondary characters that are fun and richly developed….but it all adds up to not much. Perhaps it was too many characters stretched too think across a poorly thought out plot? I enjoyed this book, but I didn’t love it as much as I could have, so for that, I give it 3 stars.