Title: The Dark Days Pact
Author: Alison Goodman
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 2017
Hardcover: 496 Pages
June 1812. Just weeks after her catastrophic coming-out ball, Lady Helen Wrexhall—now disowned by her uncle—is a full member of the demon-hunting Dark Days Club. Her mentor, Lord Carlston, has arranged for Helen to spend the summer season in Brighton so that he can train her new Reclaimer powers. However, the long-term effects of Carlston’s Reclaimer work have taken hold, and his sanity is beginning to slip. At the same time, Carlston’s Dark Days Club colleague and nemesis will stop at nothing to bring Helen over to his side—and the Duke of Selburn is determined to marry her. The stakes are even higher for Helen as she struggles to become the warrior that everyone expects her to be.
Standalone or Series: Book 2 in the Lady Helen series
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the publisher
Format (e- or p-): Ebook
Lady Helen Wrexhall is the educated, accomplished, and well-mannered daughter of an Earl, and fully expected to make a good marriage following her debut into society. Fate, however, intervenes, and Lady Helen discovers that her birthright is actually far more complicated and perilous than she could have ever imagined. She, like her late father before her, is a Reclaimer: one of a precious few gifted humans with the speed, strength, and supernatural skill to fight demonic creatures in human form, called Deceivers. As if being the only female Reclaimer in England were not enough, Lady Helen also learns that the fact that she’s inherited her powers from her father is another portentous mark; she is a Direct Inheritor and thus a harbinger of terrible things to come. In Reclaimer lore, the appearance of a Direct Inheritor means that an equally powerful and terrible foe is also arrived—a Grand Deceiver.
Lady Helen has accepted her role in the secret society of Reclaimers and their network of Terrenes and aides, known otherwise as the Dark Days Club. Under the tutelage of the handsome Lord Carlston–the best Reclaimer in the land, but whose reputation is forever tainted by the disappearance of his wife (whom he is suspected of murdering)–Lady Helen continues her lessons in the art of slaying demons and their spawn. What she does not realize, however, is that being sworn into their order comes with secrets and a chain of command that she may question but cannot challenge. Her first mission as a fully inducted member is to recover a journal penned by the late Reclaimer Lord Benchley, driven mad by the taint of darkness in his soul reaped after so many reclaimings. Benchley’s journal not only contains alchemical mysteries and powerful magic, but also secrets that could be wielded for great and terrible purpose should it fall into Reclaimer or Deceiver hands–including the secret fate of Lady Helen’s parents, a dark truth about the Dark Days Club, and, possibly, a way to save the Reclaimer’s soul from turning dark and descending into madness after slaying so many Deceivers.
Lady Helen’s second adventure, The Dark Days Pact is everything a middle novel should be in a traditional hero’s journey tale: amped up stakes, tense drama (complete with huge reveals about key characters), and all the hard decisions for the greater good (no matter the personal cost). In this second novel in the series, Lady Helen has made peace with her outré from society, from her family (as her Uncle has disowned her), and from her betrothed, the charming and bewildered Duke of Selbourne. Devoted to her new profession, she grapples with balancing her alchemical studies with physical and psychic training, all while fighting a growing attraction to her mentor, the enigmatic Lord Carlston. All isn’t well with Carlston, however, and one of Helen’s greatest concerns in this novel surrounds Carlston’s increasing anguish and faltering control at the darkness within. Romantic tension, meet plot device–the storyline involving the recovery of an evil codex/journal/necronomicon has extra-special meaning to Carlston and Helen, as the object that could help cure the growing tinge of Deceiver evil within the romantic lead character.
Beyond the romantic shenanigans and the cleverly intertwined plot device, The Dark Days Pact shines because of three things: characterization (especially of Lady Helen), masterful pacing and action, and overall writing style. First, characterization–Helen is stubborn, prideful, and sometimes infuriating. She refuses to ask for help from those around her–for fear of putting them in harm’s way–which often turns out worse for Helen and the folks she’s trying to protect. I love Helen’s devotion to honor and duty, making her struggle with her romantic attachment to the still-married Lord Carlston that much more intense. Beyond Helen, the other standout character in this book is Mr. Hammond–Carlston’s aide, a homosexual man in love with his friend and who will do anything to protect him, and who forms his own bond with Lady Helen as they race to find Benchley’s journal. Also awesome: Quinn and Darby, the Terrennes for Carlston and Helen, respectively. Also also extra awesome: the reintroduction to Helen’s society friends, who she takes into her confidence (albeit to different extremes)–Delia and Pug.
As always, Goodman’s writing is superb; her command of action scenes and general tension is masterful. Additionally, I loved the incorporation of Brighton as the main setting for the story (having just visited there last year, it was fresh in this reader’s mind!). Hell, I even loved the melodrama–even the tussles between the Duke (Helen’s former betrothed) and Lord Carlston (reminiscent of Downton Abby, season 1).
In my mind, this second book outshines its predecessor, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. On the shortlist of my favorite ongoing series’ of 2017–and I cannot wait for book 3.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Buy the Book:
(click on the link to purchase)