“With echoes of Station Eleven, The Martian, and, yes, Jane Eyre, this is a gripping and unconventional novel with an unforgettable heroine.”
“An enthralling, romantic and powerful testament to human strength and frailty.” — Courtney Summers, author of Sadie
There’s a timeless quality found in the pages of Kate Hope Day’s sophomore novel, In the Quick (Random House). Set in an undefined near future, the story follows June: a brilliant young mind with a talent for mechanical engineering. After the death of her uncle and mentor, June enrolls in an astronaut training program at the boarding school named after him. She’s too young for it, but the school makes an exception, immediately putting June in the position of needing to prove herself — a theme that continues through the rest of the book.
Indeed, despite the advanced fuel cell technology that powers the plot of this novel, the story would feel equally at home in context of the space-race fever of the 1960s or the shuttle-fueled optimism of the 1980s. June’s struggle to be taken seriously — to be listened to — is something to which women of all eras can relate.
CLASSIC LITERATURE FINDS A HOME IN THE SPACE-FARING FUTURE
What really sets this book apart from something like The Martian (one of its comp titles) is the fact that In the Quick is a not-so-secret Jane Eyre retelling. While it’s entirely possible to start reading the story without realizing this, it’s impossible to unsee it once you do. (And if you haven’t read Jane Eyre yet, you have little excuse! Since it’s in the public domain, it’s readily available as a free Kindle book.)
Of course, the setting is rather different from Jane Eyre’s brooding Moor House. After years at boarding school, our quiet but fiercely brilliant June spends time on a space station before a brief trip back to Earth and then, finally, off to a remote moon base. But while the swirling pink sands surrounding her are clearly not the Moors, the atmosphere they create is every bit as mysterious and alluring, by turns riddled with danger and desperately romantic.
It’s at the moon base where the most iconic Jane Eyre scenes are transported and transformed. June’s sullen James isn’t exactly Mr. Rochester, but he serves the role as well as any 19th-century gentleman. Throw in a mysterious nocturnal fire, plenty of secrets and an urgent search for the truth, and you’ve got everything a modern Brontë fan could ask for.
LEANING ON ITS CHARMINGLY PLAYFUL NODS TO JANE EYRE
Unfortunately, the result is a book that may struggle with readers who are not delighted by the parallels to Gothic literature. To be fair, as a classic retelling in space, it more than does its job with abundant charm and playful nods to the source material.
However, if what you’re looking for is a sci-fi adventure, a survival story, or a tale of humanity reaching past its previous limitations to branch into exciting new worlds and discoveries, this book will be somewhat lacking. Worse still, at the midpoint, it teases the possibility of finally veering into those territories — only to spend the introspective second half leaning hardcore into its Jane Eyre roots instead.
To be honest, I went into this book expecting something along the lines of Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut series: a delightful stretch toward the stars by a richly complex woman pushing beyond the limited expectations placed upon her. What I got instead was not a bad book — but it also wasn’t the book that the blurb and cover led me to expect.
FOR TALENTED WRITER DAY, HAVE HER CREATIVE RISKS PAID OFF?
In the end, I’m not entirely sure who this book is for (other than Jane Eyre fans), although it sadly wasn’t meant for me. The slow unfolding of the plot would have been fine if it had led to something more substantive, but ultimately I kept waiting for the story to reach its full potential.
Which is a shame. I dearly loved Day’s debut novel If, Then, to the point where I was willing to ignore so many of my early misgivings in this one. Even the lack of quotation marks was not enough to deter me. However, I am forced to admit upon finishing this book that the story I wanted and the story the author wanted to tell were two very different things.
And that’s all right. Kate Hope Day is clearly a talented writer with plenty of unique ideas, willing to take creative risks and put her whole heart into her books. If some of them don’t quite land for me as I’d like, I’m perfectly willing to wait and see what she does next.
In the Quick will surely find its place in some reader’s hearts, and in the meantime, I’ll reread Day’s earlier work and look back fondly on the parts of this book that did hit home.