Author: Alison Goodman
UK Publisher: Walker Books
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Romance
I picked up The Dark Days Club and The Dark Days Pact at YALC last summer, after a pointless resolution to not spent any money that weekend. (I also bought a nail decal kit, because apparently I have ‘SUCKER’ written on my forehead. I have only used it twice.) The cover caught my attention, but reading the blurb I knew I was in trouble. It hit all the same notes a Georgette Heyer but with magic, and I was trotting merrily up to the counter with both copies with only a token resistance to the purchase.
The Dark Days Club follows Lady Helen Wrexhall, recently turned 18, as she tries to make her debut in polite society and distance herself from her late mother’s scandals. Scandals which may or may not include actual treason. This is made somewhat more difficult for Lady Helen than for the average debutante, as she discovers she has a number of mysterious powers – she is a Reclaimer, and destined to help protect humankind from the demonic Deceivers, who sap the life energy of those around them.
Naturally, of course, there is a love triangle – will she marry the extremely nice, and eligible Duke of Selburn, who will raise her above her family’s stain and make her respectable once and for all; or the volatile, cold Lord Carlston, who is trying to train her as a Reclaimer and seemingly ruin her reputation beyond repair. Le gasp!
However, the book is unexpectly long. Nearly 500 pages, much longer than the average Georgette Heyer novel, and it lacks the lightness of narrative that makes those bomb along. The first half of the book is bogged down with scene setting and exposition, making it quite slow to wade through. By the time you reach page 300 the pace picks up, but there are still 180 pages to go.
Perhaps my issue was in comparing it to Georgette Heyer, however. Heyer’s books are romantic comedies, fluffy and lightweight, and whilst they are extremely particular with the facts of the era – much like this book, which is researched in great detail – Heyer is less concerned with the peripheries of society, and more about the business of getting the main characters together. I suspect The Dark Days Pact will run a lot quicker than The Dark Days Club, as the world has been introduced, so the plot – and the romance – can continue a bit more quickly.
- The attention to detail and research for this book is impressive, which was another reason I initially associated the work with Georgette Heyer. Goodman clearly knows her stuff, and is prepared to make the most of it.
- The love triangle is perhaps a tired trope, but in this case there is somewhat more behind it than just a romance. The period setting means Helen is dependent on the men in her life to ‘protect’ her in a way which wouldn’t be the case in a contemporary setting. In this case, it isn’t just a choice between a dude with blonde hair and a dude with black hair, it is a choice between something which would grant her safety and security within society, and something which is likely to cause scandal and estrangement. The period setting for this does offer a twist which I haven’t seen before on this narrative, in showing how socially powerless Helen is – particularly compared to modern protagonists.
- Related to this, despite the obvious plot-based threat of the Deceivers, I actually found Helen’s uncle the most sinister figure in the whole book. Conservative, controlling and judgemental, we are given to understand he has been physically violent at times as well. He says some horrific things, and he has Helen and his wife completely in his power as the head of the household. He has control of Helen’s money until she is 25, so she has literally no chance of independence for another seven years unless she marries – and he is aiming to control her marriage as well. This part of the story could be potentially triggering for people who have experienced abuse, and been unable to remove themselves from the situation, but I found it very unsettling and effective.
- Whilst the book is somewhat front-loaded with exposition, the plot does hold its own and speeds up nicely towards the end. I am hopeful that book two will be much quicker out of the gates now the backstory and setting have been established.
Rating: 3/5 – it starts slowly, but it does pick up and makes the most of the setting. I have high hopes for the sequel.