Deceivers and Reclaimers clash in The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman–a tantalizing opening to a brand new trilogy.
Title: The Dark Days Club
Author: Alison Goodman
Genre: Speculative Fiction, Historical Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 2016
Hardcover: 496 Pages
New York Times bestseller Alison Goodman’s eagerly awaited new project: a Regency adventure starring a stylish and intrepid demon-hunter!
London, April 1812. On the eve of eighteen-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall’s presentation to the queen, one of her family’s housemaids disappears-and Helen is drawn into the shadows of Regency London. There, she meets Lord Carlston, one of the few who can stop the perpetrators: a cabal of demons infiltrating every level of society. Dare she ask for his help, when his reputation is almost as black as his lingering eyes? And will her intelligence and headstrong curiosity wind up leading them into a death trap?
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Lady Helen trilogy
How did I get this book: ARC from the publisher
Format (e- or p-): Print ARC
The year is 1812, the place Regency England. War is brewing with America across the Atlantic to the west, and to the south on the continent Britain also faces a formidable foe in the figure of the French Napoleon Bonaparte. For young Lady Helen Wexhall, however, the largest and most pressing concern lies not with matters of state, but with her official entree into society. A wealthy young woman of good standing, fortune, and health, Lady Helen’s otherwise fine reputation is blemished by her parentage. Her late mother was accused of treason to the Crown–a stigma her Uncle reminds both Helen and her elder brother of constantly. Despite having grown up under the care of her kind and loving Aunt (berating Uncle aside), and despite being mindful of her mother’s reputation of treachery, Helen cannot help but yearn for her late mama. Certainly, she has a hard time reconciling the playful, intelligent woman of her memory with the wanton traitor her Uncle rails against at every opportunity.
Little does Helen Wexhall realize that, on the eve of her first season, her life is about to change.
Helen’s mother’s legacy is far more complicated than some mere black-and-white treason–and this particular legacy extends much deeper and farther into Helen’s own life, Helen’s own destiny, than she could ever fathom.
The first novel in a brand new trilogy from Alison Goodman, The Dark Days Club chronicles the adventures of Lady Helen Wexhall as she discovers that she is one in a very limited line of demon-hunters, called Reclaimers. As it turns out, in Goodman’s version of Regency England, there are monsters among us–Deceivers, who walk unnoticed amongst regular folk, who feed on the life force of others, and who, on occasion, glut themselves to grand extremes and cause chaos and war in their wake. Lady Helen’s inheritance is a rare ability to see, track, and combat the monster menace with her gifts of extreme agility, strength, and an ability to manipulate the stuff of souls. And the best part? All of that is absolutely as cool as it sounds.
I’ve been a big fan of Alison Goodman’s since I first read Eon and the subsequent Eona, for the strong characterizations, the historical detail married with the speculative fiction elements, and the subversive take on gender roles explored within. I’m so very happy to report that like the Eon duology, The Dark Days Club embodies all of these similar strengths with aplomb.
As a heroine, Lady Helen Wexhall is headstrong yet bound by duty and honor. In fact, her character in a single word (in this reader’s opinion) would be: honorable. She believes in duty and responsibility, but she also is true to her own desires and truths when she confronts them; what information she is given, Helen digests and reflects upon before making her own decision. I love that Helen is intrinsically bound to her mother and the fraught memory she has of the woman who gave her life–she fervently tries to preserve this bond, despite the censure she faces from others. When confronted with a horrible decision–for, in the Queen’s words, sometimes there is no good choice–Helen makes the best choice she can, with the information given. As Helen discovers more about herself, her lineage, and her abilities, she always questions and stays true to this core kernel of truth–and that is freaking awesome.
As much as I loved Lady Helen, I very much also loved the intricate approach to worldbuilding and level of historical detail present in The Dark Days Club. The concept of Deceivers and Reclaimers–demons and demon hunters, that is–might not be entirely novel, but it’s a trope that I truly love. From vampires to other creatures of the night, and those who hunt them, this is a standby in speculative fiction particularly of the Edwardian or Regency era, and when done well it’s superb. Lady Wexhall’s indoctrination to the eponymous Dark Days Club is every bit as intoxicating as reading the works of Mary Robinette Kowal, or Patricia C. Wrede, or Marissa Doyle, or–dare I say–Naomi Novik. (The paradigm has shifted, but the underlying thought is the same.)
Of course, there’s also the relationship angle to this book (both romantic and platonic). I absolutely loved the relationships Lady Wexhall forms and enumerates in this novel–particularly with her lady’s maid, Darby. Of course, we only see Helen’s view of the relationship through the third person narrative; that said, Darby’s devotion and strength are palpable things, and Helen’s care for her friend is similarly powerful. The two women choose and trust in each other, over all other things, and that is pretty awesome. The romantic angle is similarly well developed if slightly more predictable–Helen (of course) forms an attachment to the mysterious and very good looking and dangerous Lord Carlston, who (of course) is off-limits and a ton bad boy. Similarly, another man in the form of Duke Selburn forms an attachment to Helen (of course), and similarly has a grudge to bear against Lord Carlston (of course). All of this is, obviously, formulaic… but it works in the context of this novel. And… I liked it all. A lot. (YMMV, of course.)
On the negative side, the book is slightly slow to start and I wish was more well-rounded in its conclusion. I also wish that Helen’s pivotal choice in the last chapters of the novel was not coopted by chaos–though she honestly does make a decision of her own choosing based on the options at hand. (That sounds very cloak and dagger, but I don’t want to spoil anything.) There’s a tendency towards melodrama, too, but it’s actually a strength because of Alison Goodman’s damnably hypnotic writing–this book is just shy of 500 pages, but I devoured it in a single sitting (basically).
In other words: The Dark Days Club is a tantalizing, fully awesome read. The novel ends on a tantalizing note, and I absolutely cannot wait for the next book in the series. Wholeheartedly recommended for readers of all ages and persuasions–especially those looking to revive some spark in the regency or paranormal fantasy realm.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
Wednesday, April 29, 1812
In the sun-warmed quiet of her uncle’s library, Lady Helen Wrexhall spread the skirt of her muslin morning gown and sank into the deep curtsey required for Royal presentation: back held straight, head slightly bowed, left knee bent so low it nearly touched the floor. And, of course, face set into a serene Court smile.
“Your Majesty is correct,” she said to the blue brocade sofa doing duty as Queen Charlotte. “I am the daughter of Lady Catherine, Countess of Hayden.”
Helen glanced sideways at her reflection in the glass-fronted bookcase that lined the wall: the best place in the townhouse to view the whole of her tall self. The curtsey was good—it should be, after so many weeks of practice—but she sounded far too surly. She tried again.
“Yes, Your Highness, I am indeed the daughter of Lady Catherine.”
No, too jaunty. She rose from the curtsey and dropped the folds of her gown, opening her fingers into long spreads of frustration. Her aunt had told her to find a tone that acknowledged her connection to Lady Catherine, but also maintained a dignified distance from it. A great deal of meaning to place upon a few words. She backed a few steps away from the blue silk bulk of the substitute queen. Flanking Her Majesty were two matching brocade armchairs: the Princesses Mary and Augusta. Helen eyed the makeshift Royals, already sensing disaster. Tomorrow she would be curtseying to the real Royal ladies, and there could be no room for awkwardness or mistake. She had to have an answer ready about her mother, just in case Queen Charlotte mentioned the infamous Countess of Hayden.
It did not seem likely. Ten years had passed since Helen’s mother and father had drowned at sea. Surely Lady Catherine would not be on the mind of a queen burdened by a mad husband and a profligate son running the country to ruin. Helen pressed her palms together. Even she could not remember much about her mother. Lady Catherine’s name was only uttered as a reproach in her aunt and uncle’s house, and her brother never mentioned their mother any more. Yet that morning at breakfast, Aunt Leonore had suddenly told Helen to practice a graceful answer to a possible Royal inquiry. Perhaps the Crown never forgot a noblewoman whose name was shrouded in rumor. Especially when those rumors were wound tight around the word treason.
One more time, then. Helen held up the edges of her gown and glided into the low obeisance.
“Yes, Your Majesty. My mother was Lady Catherine.”
That was better; the less said, the smaller the chance of making a mistake.
You can read the full excerpt on EW.com.
Rating: 7 – Very Good, with loads of potential for more