The Dark Days Club (Lady Helen #1)
by Alison Goodman
First published December, 2015 by Viking Books for Young Readers
From Goodreads: 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?
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a book set in Regency era England starring a clever young woman will inevitably summon a Jane Austen reference. And so Alison Goodman’s Dark Days Club does with its talk of balls, gowns, ruined reputations, and twenty-something spinsters. London’s high society is in full swing when the story opens. Lady Helen Wrexhall is practicing her curtsey in preparation for her presentation to Queen Charlotte. She is also figuring out what she will say if the Queen asks about her mother, dead these past ten years, who fled England under suspicion of treason. As Lady Helen, a bright and curious young woman, must please her status-conscious Aunt and Uncle or be imprisoned within their home until she’s twenty-five, Helen must step carefully to attract a husband who will have her in spite of the dark cloud hanging over her name.
But Lady Helen’s curiosity will not be denied, and when she investigates the disappearance of one of the household maids, she finds herself drawn into a dark, supernatural world of demons and demon hunters, none of whom she feels she can fully trust.
The Dark Days club checked off so many boxes on the ‘Things I like in Books’ list: intelligent, proactive female protagonist; historically accurate setting; British setting; well-written secondary characters; vividly rendered setting… I could go on. Suffice it to say that the world Alison Goodman conjures up feels real despite the demons that dwell beneath the surface.
It’s a slow build, to be sure. Goodman takes her time in building Lady Helen and the world around her, introducing her to the Dark Days Club carefully, piece by piece so Helen doesn’t simply run away screaming. I can think of other books that simply plunge their protagonists into supernatural worlds, and they carry on like it’s no big deal to learn that the mundane world they’re accustomed to is actually peopled by demons and vampires and the like. Helen’s adjustment is central to the plot, though, and not an obstacle to overcome in order to get to the plot, and that’s what sets The Dark Days Club apart from other historical fantasies of the demon-hunting variety.
That’s not to say that the story drags. Far from it! Goodman’s writing is quick and clever. I flew through the pages without realizing how quickly I was progressing through the story. Whenever I picked it up again, I was lost in the story within a few pages. The characters and settling are picked out with such detail that it’s easy to imagine Helen’s world and how she must behave in order to keep scandal away from herself. Though the England of 1812 is drastically different from our 21st century one, it feels natural if infuriating at times.
And can I take a moment to talk about Lord Carlston? The ‘bad boy with a tragic past who is a jerk to everyone but is still sexy’ trope irritates me more than any other. But while Carlston is a handsome bad boy with a dark past, he treats people with decency and respect even if it costs him to do so. It’s a refreshing change considering how many ‘sexy bad boys’ are seen as ‘boyfriend material’. I appreciate how Goodman has handled Carlston’s character and his development, even if I wouldn’t consider him to be ‘boyfriend material’. Would I take him demon hunting with me? For sure. Would I take him to the movies? Hell no.
I enjoyed every last page of The Dark Days Club, and I loved how Helen changed all the way through. When I got to the last page where she makes a major decision about her future, I was almost giddy. This is a book I would happily read again, and I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series.