This novel, set in late Victorian England, centers around James Norbury and his sister Charlotte. After growing up isolated in a crumbling country estate, James is eager to move to London and try his luck as a poet. He slowly begins to conquer his shyness and mix a little in society, and eventually he even falls in love. But everything changes one fateful night when James is attacked, kidnapped, and initiated into the sinister Aegolius Club. Meanwhile, Charlotte has grown more and more anxious about her brother, who seems to have vanished without a trace. She journeys to London and attemps to discover what has happened to him, but what she finds out is more shocking and horrible than she ever could have imagined. As the Aegolius Club’s secrets are slowly revealed, and its members become more and more dangerous, Charlotte realizes that her only course of action is to destroy the club; but even if such a thing were possible, would she truly be able to rescue James?
I find that I really can’t talk about this book without mentioning one significant spoiler, so please STOP READING NOW if you don’t want to know anything else about the plot of this book! … If you’re still interested, here goes: this book is about vampires. I mention it because there is nothing in the book’s description or on the cover blurb about them, yet they are central to the entire book! Personally, I’m not a big fan of vampire novels and would not have picked up this book if I’d known they would be such a big part of the plot. That said, I actually really liked it a lot; Owen is a wonderful writer, and I found the novel a real page-turner despite the fact that it’s over 500 pages long. In fact, my other complaint is that it could probably have ended a few chapters before it did. I wasn’t a huge fan of the (largely depressing) ending, and I would have liked a little happiness for the main characters in the end, after they’d suffered so much. Still, this is a very accomplished gothic novel, and I’d definitely consider reading more by Lauren Owen.