From the desk of Lisa Galek:
Fantasy novels with a supernatural bent are all the rage right now. So, if you love a battle between the forces of good and evil… all set against the backdrop of the upper-crust society of 1812 London, then The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman should be on your reading list.
We meet 18-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall on the eve of her presentation to Queen Charlotte. Helen’s mother, who drowned at sea ten years before, was allegedly a traitor to England, and Helen’s current guardians—her aunt and uncle—really hope this won’t affect Helen’s chance of making a good marriage. After all, isn’t that the best that any young lady with fortune and tainted family connections can hope for?
But, Helen has other ideas. Wilder ideas. She gets the feeling she’s meant for something more than ballrooms and husband hunting. When she meets the mysterious Lord Carlston, who has quite the checkered past himself, she discovers that the growing spirit inside her actually points to the rare ability to identify and destroy a group of supernatural baddies that are overrunning England. Will Helen follow her demon-fighting destiny with Lord Carlston? Or will she resign herself to the life of a proper English wife instead?
The Dark Days Club is the first in what will be a series of novels focused on Lady Helen and her adventures in Regency London. It actually reminded me a lot of The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare (which actually has a Victorian spinoff of its own). The basic premise is the same—a young girl with a mysterious family history finds out she actually has the ability to fight supernatural villains. It’s miles from a Jane Austen novel, but the author does a great job of giving us the Georgian-era feel while still mixing in elements of mystery and fantasy.
It helps that Lady Helen is such a compelling main character. I loved following her as she struggles to come to terms with her past and what her new identity means for her future. Helen faces a difficult choice—will she battle demons at her own peril or will she do what’s expected of her as a proper young lady? Each new discovery and situation seems to change the answer, but her story flowed so nicely and naturally, that I just kept turning pages to find out more.
Even minor characters were complex and fleshed out. Lord Carlston has some convincingly mixed motivations and it was really interesting watching Helen try to figure out exactly how she felt about this dreamy if slightly mysterious potential love interest. Helen’s aunt and uncle are great characters as well with her aunt providing occasional comic relief and her uncle some occasional tyranny. The book is also obviously well researched, so we get to meet lots of real-life folks from Georgian England (such as Lord Byron and the Prince Regent himself). But, alas, the author of Sense and Sensibility doesn’t make an appearance in this volume.
At nearly 500 pages, this book is long, but it’s really a compliment to say that the author keeps every page suspenseful and engaging. Even before the big reveal about Helen’s abilities (which doesn’t happen until nearly a quarter of the way into the book), the stakes grow higher and higher with every chapter. The author also masterfully juggles multiple mystery plot lines and even manages to weave them together to a satisfying conclusion. Of course, she’s clearly keeping some threads dangling for future books.
If you’re not a big fan of fantasy, the book might lose you when it veers off into this area. It does seem to be written with a young adult fantasy audience in mind, so it gets jargon-heavy in places. (This SNL sketch illustrates this idea nicely.) There are Reclaimers and Terrenes and Deceivers. Reclaimers can see a person’s life-force. Deceivers grow whips when they are glutted. There is also a Colligat, one part of the Trinitas, which the Great Deceiver himself would like to get his hands on. I happen to love fantasy, so all this just added to my enjoyment of the story. Of course, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
Overall, The Dark Days Club is a really fun start to what looks to be a really well-crafted Regency-era tale that’s one part mystery, one part fantasy, and one part romance. Even though this first book was just released, but I’m already anxiously awaiting the next chapter in Lady Helen’s adventures.
5 out of 5 Regency Stars
The Dark Days Club (A Lady Helen Novel), by Alison Goodman
Viking Books (2016)
Hardcover, eBook & Audiobook (496) pages
Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Cover images courtesy of Viking Books © 2016; text Lisa Galek © 2016, Austenprose.com