I am sad.
When Random House gave me permission several months ago to read Lauren Owen's debut novel, I was very excited.
**Before reading anything further, please understand that I'm providing some spoilers here, and not skirting around the twist the book is marketed to have. I feel like reviewers on places like goodreads and publications have already neatly revealed the twist, and I also feel like one can see it coming a very long mile away, so I'm not hiding it here. So if you'd like to read the book and don't want to be disappointed by a spoiler, stop reading.
I understood early on that there was a twist and because of the cover and trends in the publishing industry and some early reviews by fellow early readers, I quickly started to suspect what it might be and so I stopped reading any early opinions about the novel.
Because I very much thought I'd like it, and I very much wanted to like it. Because even if it hadn't had a fantastic synopsis from the publisher, pushing all my literary fun-buttons, it was also touted by TANA FRENCH! Hilary Mantel! Kate Atkinson! Two of those women are within my top five favourite authors, the third is very high as well.
And so I am saddened.
The twist is that vampires exist in this world. You didn't figure that out already, by the cover? You didn't figure that out because, well, so many books these days have vampires?
But here's the thing: I didn't dislike this book because of the vampires. Sure, it probably doesn't hurt that I really liked The Historian and in my youth I was nurtured on Anne Rice (the quality of the former is greater to me than this novel was, and because of said youth and decades of separation, I won't counter a current opinion on the latter). I don't turn a book down because of vampires.
But when the introduction of the vampires inexplicably caused the writing to degrade to cookie-cutter vampire characters and clichés, I cooled significantly towards the book.
So I enjoyed what I read (disclaimer: although I read a significant portion, I did not finish the book) in terms of the humor and the friendship/relationship between Christopher and James, and gothic/Victorian London, I felt like the book suffered from the introduction of the twist. Which is kind of a silly complaint, as that's the true narrative and story of the book, but I just can't help wishing things hadn't changed. When reading, I kept thinking I would write that this book is a fun gothic adventure. If you're okay with the vampires and otherworldy characters being fairly disappointing as these characters go and are just looking for a vampiric adventures in the streets of Victorian London, then read on. I enjoyed the writing in many places and it moved quickly through the part I liked. Given the opportunity, I would certainly like to check this author out again, though I have to say I'll approach any new work with slight suspicion (and hope that suspicion turns out to be a good thing...)