Whilst catering to the popular appetite for recent vampire fiction such as True Blood and the inescapable Twilight sensation, Lauren Owen infuses her novel with a literary flavour and satisfyingly gritty description. A sister must leave behind a happy, if not idyllic, childhood in a Yorkshire country estate to follow her little brother into the depths of dangers too terrible to speak of. Eventually, her quest will take her further than she could ever have imagined.
This is the first novel of a 28 year old writer who grew up in Yorkshire, and York and Aiskew occupy a special significance in the narrative; a point of reference which I enjoyed as a student at the University of York. However, the protagonists take a train journey from King’s Cross to York under very different conditions to that of the average student, having experienced the demise of the secretive Aegolius Club. The novel maps the city of London and expands further to remote regions of Europe, as a couple seek the destructive knowledge that just might save a loved one. The reader can only guess the movements of the mysterious Rag and Bottle library which carries manuscripts and documents so secret it cannot be trusted to remain in one place for long. Along the way and out of the shadows, a few of the characters will find a love that is carefully depicted and always, inevitably, restricted. You will meet Liza, a little match girl who could have possessed the beauty of Little Bo Peep. A favourite is Christopher Paige, effeminate, intellectual flâneur with a zest for life and comic drinking habit. Brideshead Revisited springs to mind. Many of these figures will meet an untimely end, or worse.
Owen’s research is embedded in the plot. For a particular scene at the nineteenth-century theatre, she utilises a contemporary account to describe Oscar Wilde’s speech at the premiere of Lady Windermere’s Fan. Amidst twists and turns as dark as the shadiest streets of fin-de-siècle London, the changing face of the city is depicted smoothly; from the dubious gentleman’s club, to the disreputable Salmon Street and to eerie underground stations which begin to pop up below the surface.
As Charlotte muses: ‘that’s the thing about horrors. They reconcile you to the ordinary.’