Day 637: The Quick

Cover for The QuickAt first, The Quick seems like a straightforward historical novel about a young writer in 19th century London. But it has a twist. To be honest, if I’d known what the twist was beforehand, I probably wouldn’t have chosen this novel to read, because frankly, I’m tired of this subject. That said, I’m glad I read the book, because it is absorbing, well written, and quite suspenseful.

James and Charlotte Norbury grow up neglected in a rambling house in Yorkshire. Their father rarely comes near them after their mother dies and seems to forget they might need attention or tutors or governesses. So, while the two children run wild, it is the older Charlotte who takes care of James and teaches him to read.

After their father’s death, James goes away to school while Charlotte stays in the care of Mrs. Chickering, an elderly relative. James eventually moves to London to try being a writer, but he is not wealthy and has difficulties finding acceptable lodgings he can afford. An acquaintance introduces him to Christopher Paige, a young aristocrat looking for someone to share his rooms. Although the more austere and shy James does not envy Paige’s life of frivolity, he slowly begins to realize that Paige is his first friend—then that he is more than a friend.

One night, though, a terrible event takes place. Christopher Paige is killed and James disappears. When James does not appear at Mrs. Chickering’s funeral, Charlotte travels to London to find him.

In London, Charlotte’s inquiries attract the attention of the members of a powerful and mysterious club, the Aegolius. There has been an unexpected event at the club, and other people are looking for James. Soon, Charlotte finds herself involved with a secret substrata of the city.

Owen depicts a wonderfully atmospheric London. Although I was at first disappointed with the direction the story took, I still was unable to put this book down.

Day 611: The Book of Life

Cover for The Book of LifePerhaps I’m the last woman left in the country who doesn’t think it would be romantic to be in love with a tall, dark man who could suck my blood at any moment. In any case, although I first thought that Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy was refreshingly original, by the third book I was not as charmed by this complicated series.

In The Book of Life, Diana Bishop, a timewalker and special kind of witch called a weaver, and her vampire husband Matthew Clairmont have returned from the past where Diana was learning her skills. They have one of three missing pages from a manuscript called Ashmole 782, or The Book of Life, and they are trying to find the others to reunite them with the book. It was Diana’s accidental retrieval of this book from the Bodleian Library that started all the action. Diana is also pregnant with Matthew’s children.

Matthew and Diana are in violation of the Covenant, an old agreement among witches, vampires, and daemons that they will not associate with each other. They think the Book of Life may provide information about the origins of the three creature races and even help Matthew with his research into a deadly vampire disease called blood rage.

In addition, they are being pursued by Benjamin Clairmont, a crazed child of Matthew who wants Diana and her daughter.

Like the second book of the trilogy, The Book of Life seems rather scattered to me, with Diana and Matthew running here and there on their various quests. The spots in the plot that could be climactic can be a bit of a let-down, as, for example, we don’t even get to hear what Diana has to say to the Congregation when she finally presents the evidence she and Matthew have collected.

After reading the first two books, I wanted to see what happened, and I was fond of several of the characters. But I didn’t think the novel was romantic, nor do I have much use in general for the overprotective male partner.

Day 552: Dracula

Cover for DraculaHaving experienced other gothic classics of the 18th and 19th century, I was delighted to find Dracula unexpectedly readable. I was also surprised to find how little it resembles its many theatrical and movie productions, even those that attempt to stay closer to the original work.

All versions begin the same, however, with poor Jonathan Harker sent out by his office to Transylvania to complete a property deal with his client, Count Dracula. While staying at Dracula’s castle, he begins to suspect something is badly amiss and eventually fears for his life.

Back in England, his fiancée Mina Murray corresponds with and later stays with her good friend Lucy Westerna at a seaside town. In one day, Lucy has received proposals from three different young men, who all feature strongly in the novel. Dr. Jack Seward is in charge of a local insane asylum. Quincy Morris is a manly, amiable Texan, whom I feared all along was designed for a ghastly death. Lucy’s chosen is Arthur Holmwood, another manly young man who is soon promoted to a lordship by the convenient death of a benefactor. (I don’t think these things work this way, since Arthur is not his benefactor’s relative, but never mind.)

After a freakish storm, a Russian ship arrives unmanned at the port where Mina and Lucy are staying with Mrs. Westerna, who is gravely ill. As it arrives, a large dog jumps off it and runs ashore. Aboard is not a single live human. We horror aficianados know that Dracula has arrived.

While Mina waits for news of Jonathan, Lucy begins sleepwalking and behaving oddly. Dr. Seward makes notes about a patient who eats bugs and babbles about his master. Soon Van Helsing will be needed.

Unlike in most of the spin-offs, except for Jonathan Harker’s experiences at the beginning, Dracula is mostly an unseen menace for much of the novel. I’m guessing that the original readers did not necessarily realize the identity of that bat fluttering outside Lucy’s window.

In any case, the novel covers a lot more ground than does the standard remake. It is epistolary, written entirely as letters and journal entries. It is well written and moves along nicely except for the occasionally long-winded expulsion of pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo by Van Helsing or Seward. In the true gothic fashion, it is a classic battle of good versus evil, with the prize the soul of our heroine Mina.

Modern readers may be bothered by the depiction of the two women. Lucy is supposed to be a modern woman—who else would have three suitors at a time? She is both innocent and pure in herself and quite the seductive vamp when under the spell of Count Dracula. The men do a lot of harm to both her and Mina by trying to protect the “little women” from knowledge of what is going on. Again, try to judge the novel’s attitudes by the standards of its own time, when it was simply considered a whomping good tale.