The year 1812 is famous for the war that saw the United States of America against the United Kingdom in what was essentially an extension of the American Revolutionary War, as well as for the continuation of the Napoleonic Wars, a segment of which pitted the UK against France. So, the British were very busy fighting their known foes at the time. But, what about those enemies who lurk amongst them in plain sight? In The Dark Days Club, the streets of Regency-era London are more dangerous than anyone can imagine.
In this first Lady Helen novel, set in 1812, 18-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall lives in London with her aunt and uncle. Now that she’s of age, her family is putting their efforts into finding a suitable husband for the young woman, who suddenly finds herself questioning that kind of life that’s been arranged for her. It turns out she’d rather just keep house for her older brother, which would give her a little more freedom, and spend time investigating what really happened to her mother, who died labeled a traitor; to her best friend, who recently ran off with a man she wasn’t married to; and to one of the maids in her home, who’s suddenly gone missing.
But, unfortunately for Helen, a lady does not have the leeway to go about as she pleases, or to inquire about things considered unladylike, which becomes increasingly frustrating to her. As she considers her future prospects, her life is turned upside down after she mets Lord Carlston, a man with a sullied past who introduces her to the London underbelly where demons known as Deceivers roam the streets, siphoning life from their victims, and it’s up to the demon-hunting Reclaimers to destroy them. And, unbeknownst to her, Helen is one of these rare Reclaimers.
Alison Goodman creates a fascinating alternate England where a young lady can actually be more than she’d relegated to be. The author adheres to the propriety of the time while managing to cleverly have Helen skirt it repeatedly in a believable way. There were times where Helen was stuck in a situation where it seemed there’d be no way out — her cover would surely be blown — yet she perseveres, especially during the times where things don’t actually work out.
Helen has a great relationship with her personal maid, Darby, who becomes like a sidekick and who I’d love to see get her own series! Helen herself is a very likable heroine, who’s grounded and smart, but not invincible. Even as she comes into her powers and learns to hone more of her skills, she’s clearly vulnerable and in danger.
But, being a 19th century Lady means that Helen still has to contend with her social duties, including attending the Queen’s court, being the guest of honor at her coming-out ball, and considering the offers of potential suitors, one of whom she can truly see a future with. She has no obligation to join the title club of Reclaimers, but she most certainly has one to make a good marriage and bring honor to her family. Throughout the story, the author has the audience wondering which way Helen will turn, because either way, Helen will be leaving something behind.
While Helen’s journey is an entertaining one, at nearly 500 pages, the novel does lag in a few spots, and it takes nearly half the story to get Helen into the thick of things. But never once did I want to put the book down. I think I would have been happy with hundreds of pages of Helen talking about her life, because the novel is very well-written; all of the characters are intriguing; and the situations are entertaining. I loved that although Helen is not the perfect heroine with all the right things to say and an overly clever wit, she has an admirable inner strength, compassion, and smarts. Her story is one you want to hear; as she grows and learns about herself and her mother’s past as well, you are invested in it.
One of my favorite non-action parts from the book was when Helen was walking quickly down the street to escape a pursuer and a woman she didn’t even know tsks at her blatant impropriety! I had a good laugh at that.
Of note, The Dark Days Club is labeled a YA novel, but I don’t feel that it really fits into this category so neatly. It doesn’t really read like a YA novel, and also there were sexual situations/rape of a supernatural nature, along with descriptions of a graphic image of group sex. Plus, there’s the usual 1800s London prostitutes sprinkled throughout. So, the book would not really be appropriate for those in the younger part of the YA reader age range.
The Dark Days Club is Book 1 of the Lady Helen trilogy, and Goodman uses this first installment to provide a lot of set up and world building, so there’s no real resolution at the end. But, the novel does give us a great new female literary character and an intriguing alternate 19th century London that will leave you wanting to know more.
By the way, I also loved the U.S. cover of the book, which with one glance made me instantly want to read it.
Official synopsis from the publisher:
New York Times bestseller Alison Goodman’s eagerly awaited new novel — a Regency adventure starring a stylish and intrepid demon-hunter!
Helen must make a choice: Save her reputation, or save the world.
London, 1812. Eighteen-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall is on the eve of her debut presentation at the royal court of George III. Her life should revolve around gowns, dancing, and securing a suitable marriage. Instead, when one of her family’s maids disappears, she is drawn into the shadows of Regency London.
There, she meets Lord Carlston, one of the few able to stop the perpetrators: a cabal of demons that has infiltrated all levels of society. Carlston is not a man she should be anywhere near, especially with the taint of scandal that surrounds him. Yet he offers her help and the possibility of finally discovering the truth about the mysterious deaths of her parents.
Soon the two of them are investigating a terrifying conspiracy that threatens to plunge the newly Enlightened world back into darkness. But can Helen trust a man whose own life is built on lies? And does she have the strength to face the dangers of this hidden world and her family’s legacy?
Set in the glittering social world of the Regency upper-crust, the Dark Days Club is a supernatural adventure that introduces New York Times best-selling author Alison Goodman’s Lady Helen Wrexhall””another heroine whom, like Eona, readers can take to their hearts.