First Impression Friday: “Opium & Absinthe” by Lydia Kang

After seeing Opium and Absinthe on several Top Ten Tuesday: Mardi Gras Colors posts, I realized I’d chosen it as a Kindle First book at some point last year but had never bothered to read it, so I found it again on GoodReads and decided that a snowy day in February was the best time to start. (Can you tell how far ahead I’ve got these posts scheduled?)

From GoodReads:

New York City, 1899. Tillie Pembroke’s sister lies dead, her body drained of blood and with two puncture wounds on her neck. Bram Stoker’s new novel, Dracula, has just been published, and Tillie’s imagination leaps to the impossible: the murderer is a vampire. But it can’t be—can it?

A ravenous reader and researcher, Tillie has something of an addiction to truth, and she won’t rest until she unravels the mystery of her sister’s death. Unfortunately, Tillie’s addicted to more than just truth; to ease the pain from a recent injury, she’s taking more and more laudanum…and some in her immediate circle are happy to keep her well supplied.

Tillie can’t bring herself to believe vampires exist. But with the hysteria surrounding her sister’s death, the continued vampiric slayings, and the opium swirling through her body, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for a girl who relies on facts and figures to know what’s real—or whether she can trust those closest to her. 

Opium and Absinthe

I feel like everyone has gone through a vampire phase in their lives, whether it be Twilight related, Dracula related, or – oh, what’s the other one about vampires – something else. There are so many different stories to read. I was surprised that we’d be reading about New York City instead of London, because I’ve been reading so many books set in either London or a London-esque world recently, and Edwardian New York is something different all together.

The first chapter of Opium & Absinthe does a good job of letting the reader know that Tillie (real name: Mathilda) is a terrible child and a disappointment to her family at the age of eighteen, forever cast in her beautiful older sister’s shadow. However, less than a month before Lucy’s wedding, Lucy disappears and turns up dead, and the penny papers are reporting it as a vampire attack because of the cause of death. How fun!

The descriptions of Tillie’s grief over her sister’s loss are some of the most real I think I’ve ever read in a YA book, and the addiction that Tillie is developing to opium/laudanum is alarming. (But it was used for everything back then and doctors called it “completely safe,” and Tillie even mentions that her maid should give her more because “they give even larger doses to small children,” so it must have been a banging good time.) I have a feeling this is going to be one of those novels where it turns out that the monsters have been inside us all along/are people that we know and love (I’m putting the blame on Lucy’s fiance, James, to be honest) and Tillie is going to have to come to terms with some pretty tough life lessons. Let’s see if I’m right.

And as always, keep reading.

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