Review: Opium and Absinthe by Lydia Kang

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.


What is Opium and Absinthe about?

On the surface, this book is a mystery surrounding vampiric deaths taking place in historic New York. As the mystery expands, the evidence both continues to include that of vampires and seems to indicate something more tragic has befallen the victims. As Tillie herself succumbs to the power of opium during her investigation, it seems there are more than one secrets that are to be revealed.

Genre: Historical Fiction

This book nestles neatly into the realm of historical fiction, with a splash of mystery and romance here and there. Unfortunately for me, I misinterpreted the summary to indicate this book would be actually vampire fiction, which it’s not. I’ll touch on that later.

Tropes: Abstinence and Romance

A common theme/trope of this novel is the juxtaposition of those that abuse substances and those that abstain. Characters that are cast in a negative light tend to have substance abuse problems or promote those problems in others. Characters that are positively or romantically received tend to resist those temptations. The message was a bit heavy handed to my taste, but I’ll touch on that later.

Plot: Sadly, not vampires

Yes the plot here is very much a murder mystery in which there are several wild theories, none of which are as wild as the truth.

The Good

Altogether, this book is a solidly good historical fiction read. The romances in the book are somewhat adorable, but are very much not the focus of the story. The dialogue was often surprisingly funny, largely thanks to Tillie being an unconventional lady for her time. Tillie makes for an interesting protagonist thanks to her scholarship, and I did enjoy seeing her embark on greater research and writing throughout the story.

The Okay

I can’t say that everything about the big reveal lined up for me, but I don’t want to spoil anything so I won’t go further in depth on that.

The Bad

Though I appreciate the author not glamorizing the misuse of medicines in the time period–and in fact using some of her medically inclined characters to call out some of the stubbornness of the field–I did not enjoy the borderline preachy message of abstinence. Stories of addiction and sobriety have their place, and I’m not sure this book with all else it had going on was the place for such a heavy handed discussion of it. I enjoyed certain factors–such as characters with deeper motivations pushing others to indulge in drugs. But overall there was a strong preachy feeling about the message that did negatively impact my reading of the book.

Final Thoughts

I did enjoy this book, I promise! But unfortunately I am writing my review a while away from reading it due to personal reasons. The unfortunate fact is the strong abstinence message stuck out to me more than anything else about this book. The plot twists were interesting, if not wholly believable. The characters were overall pretty good. I didn’t really enjoy all the layers of deception and social drama going on, mostly because Tillie as a protagonist didn’t care enough to give us the good details and always missed something. The ending was cute, if not wholly satisfying, and I did enjoy Tillie’s rising journalistic tendencies.

By Catherine

I'm a lover of books, coffee, wine, and bees. Happy to join the ranks of book bloggers everywhere!

2 replies on “Review: Opium and Absinthe by Lydia Kang”

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