By Alison Goodman
Format: Print ARC
Publication Date: January 26, 2015
To Sum It Up: Eighteen-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall is about to be presented at the court of King George III and Queen Charlotte. Despite her rank, however, her marriage prospects are somewhat questionable because of the rumors surrounding her mother’s reputation, whispers that go so far as to label Lady Catherine a traitor to England. But Helen’s concerns become far more serious after one of the maids in her aunt and uncle’s household disappears, and Helen’s own inquiries into the matter lead her into a shadowy world that she had no idea existed. Helen also finds herself under the unwelcome scrutiny of Lord Carlston, an earl with a highly disreputable character of his own but who may be the only person who can explain why Helen is so keenly perceptive and what secrets her mother may have hidden.
Review: I am still swooning hard over this book.
Like Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, Cassandra Clare’s The Infernal Devices, and Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle novels, The Dark Days Club brilliantly pairs a specific time period in English history with the paranormal. While those other series are set in Victorian England, The Dark Days Club takes place during the Regency. If you love Jane Austen’s novels and ever wondered what they would be like with a supernatural element to them, this book is one thousand percent for you. In case you couldn’t tell already, this is going to be a gushy review.
Not only am I still swooning over this novel as a whole, but I’m still utterly in awe over Alison Goodman’s superb recreation of Regency England. I’m not an expert or anything on the time period, but the descriptions of the clothing, the food, the dances, the specific places in London—they all feel so incredibly authentic. As a huge fan of Jane Austen’s works, I inhaled every detail here. Some readers may find the painstaking attention to the world a bit much, but I absolutely loved the fully immersive reading experience. Whenever I had to put the book down, I did not want to leave the Regency!
Lady Helen is a fantastic protagonist, all thanks to Goodman’s exceptional writing. I instantly appreciated Helen’s sharp wit; in that way, she reminds me of Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. While very mindful of the behavior expected from a lady of her rank, Helen also isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of propriety when deemed necessary, like becoming personally involved in investigating the disappearance of a maid in her aunt and uncle’s employ. By Helen’s side is her steadfastly loyal lady’s maid, Darby, and despite the upstairs/downstairs social divide à la Downton Abbey, there is genuine friendship between the two young women.
It’s also refreshing to see Helen struggle to come to terms with the truth about who she is and why she possesses an uncanny knack for reading people’s faces. I don’t want to give too much away here because the gradual unveiling of the book’s paranormal aspects is a key part of its compulsive readability. I’ll just say that Helen has to choose between the life she’s been raised for (marrying well and managing a household, attending balls and other high society events) or helping defend England against a supernatural threat that most of its denizens know nothing about. Unlike some other heroines who discover that they have otherworldly talents, Helen isn’t clamoring to enlist in the fight against evil. She’s truly torn, and some of her hesitation can be attributed to being uncertain of whether or not she can trust the person who introduces her to that other, terrifying world: William Standfield, Earl of Carlston.
His lordship is a most enigmatic figure, with a very bad reputation to boot. Goodman certainly gives the reader a workout trying to figure out the earl’s character. Even Helen, with her acute perception, finds reading Lord Carlston extremely difficult. My intuition tells me that the gossip is untrue and that there’s a tragic past lurking somewhere. I just don’t believe that he’s on the same level as some of the book’s shadier characters. I must admit—the earl intrigues me very, very, very much, and in spite of her misgivings, he intrigues Helen, too. There is palpable tension between the pair straightaway, and with both of them being such strong personality types, many of their interactions result in some highly entertaining verbal sparring that I loved. I suspect another character of villainy, and therefore I stand by Lord Carlston!
The sole itty bitty quibble I had with The Dark Days Club was that the ending felt a bit rushed, but this is one of those instances where I’m looking the other way. When I consider the novel as a whole, I cannot give it anything less than five stars, and that’s just for the two scenes that brought to mind Lizzy and Darcy’s dance at the Netherfield ball in Pride and Prejudice. The novel also fully delivers on the “dark” part of its title; I cannot blame Lady Helen for thinking twice about signing up for this particular club. Do not think twice, however, about picking up this amazing book if you love all things Regency like I do. If I could jump back into that world this very second, I’d be there.
All in All: Be forewarned: this is the book I’m pushing on everyone this year because it deserves all the love with its beautiful prose, outstanding portrayal of its historical period, and complex protagonist. And yes, I think Lord Carlston deserves some love, too.