set in the 1890s
She found herself engulfed by a crowd of fellow passengers, hemmed in on all sides and borne helplessly forwards. She could smell dirt, sweating human bodies and damp wool and wet dog fur, a thousand other ripe and rotting things all blended together. The station was cold, and she felt insignificant beneath the ceiling, as if she had dissolved entirely into the crowd. The taste of smoke lingered at the back of her throat.
She had never seen so many people gathered in one place. The women were almost as soberly dressed as the men, in dim tasteful colours from which the odd touch of brightness stood out sharply: an Indian shawl, a blue woollen scarf, a red travelling cloak. She passed servants carrying travelling furs, an elderly couple struggling with a large picnic basket, a Scotch family with a pack of lively dogs, a little girl and her nursemaid – the woman reaching a swift hand, pulling the child back from the platform edge as a train began to move with a wrench of metal and a billow of smoke.
****CONTAINS A SPOILER, which I consider unimportant but YMMV****
This new book is tipped to be a big best-seller this summer, and indeed has a lot to recommend it. But the question of the spoiler is a difficult one. About one-fifth of the way through (thank you Kindle) you find out what the key driving force of the plot is. The whole of the rest of the book is entirely predicated on this, it is basically the subject of the book. It would be a recommendation to most of the people who want to read it – so why is it not straightforwardly being pushed as what it is? - which is:
… a book about vampires.
I would imagine most people will know before they read it. The opening chapters suggest dark Victorian Gothicism with some supernatural element just out of reach, and there is also another plot element, another feature of Victorian and modern life (which is then almost completely ditched in the rest of the book). I can’t understand why it is not being marketed as a vampire book.
Anyway. It is long and quite slow, you have to have some faith and confidence that Ms Owen is going to get you there – the book starts with a long description of a miserable childhood, a brother and sister pair. The boy grows up and goes to university and then London, where the plot really gets going, in what would seem to be the 1890s. He shares lodgings with another young man, tries to write, goes to see an Oscar Wilde play, makes small forays into society. He’s not a particularly appealing young man, and very socially insecure. The readers get hints of a secret and sinister gentlemen’s club called the Aegolius – what can they be getting up to there?
Once we know, the book packs in fake scientific research, diaries, new characters, a whole world in a different part of London. It is in turn infuriating and entrancing – it is difficult to keep track of the various threads, especially as at the end of a scene the author might or might not go back to tell you what led another character to the same place – and it’s by no mean always obvious whether it is old or new activity. I wish someone had edited the book severely. But it is very well-written, with some great descriptions and atmospheric scenes. I would not normally be that interested in a vampire book, but this one was overall an enjoyable read – an excellent choice for a long journey or a beach read. Ms Owen has plainly left the way open for a sequel.
Charlotte above – an excellent heroine – is travelling to London in search of her lost brother: the description is of Kings Cross, where she arrives in London, while the picture above (from the Library of Congress) is of York station in the 1890s, where she begins her journey.