This year at Sydney Writers Festival I attended my first TeenCon.
As we filed into the room, volunteers handed each of us a calico bag containing six books. Yes, six. Not three years old, let’s-chuck-‘em-out books, but ones published within the past year, many within the past six months. The first one I read was by Alison Goodman.
Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club was already on my radar,
as I love Alison Goodman’s writing.
However, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Descriptions in some reviews, including “Jane Austen meets Cassandra Clare”, sounded to me a lot like a Regency version of Clare’s prequel novels (The Infernal Devices). Instead I found a meticulously researched story with a heroine who is gutsy but consistent in her era.
The protagonist, Lady Helen, understands and complies with the proprieties of the time, believing in the limitations women have been socialised to accept, but though she resists the call of her growing knowledge, she steps up when it counts.
The Dark Days Club is best described as an urban fantasy in Regency era London.
The Dark Days Club begins in 1812, the second year of the Regency. Lady Helen lives with her aunt and puritanical, oppressive uncle as her parents, the Earl of Hayden and Lady Catherine, died a decade before. Rumours persist that her mother betrayed England to Napoleon.
When Lady Helen attends the palace to be presented before Queen Charlotte with other young ladies of genteel families, she is introduced to Lord Carlston, who reputedly murdered his wife three years past, though it could never be proven. So begins her entrée into the world of the Dark Days Club and the hidden perils from which it protects all of Britain.
Goodman has managed to walk a fine line.
She presents Lady Helen as a product of her age rather than an anachronistic modern feminist, while still portraying her as a strong character who doesn’t shrink from the difficult role she is being called to fulfill. Her initial reticence is a common part of any hero’s or heroine’s journey, serving only to underline her later determination.
The story builds gradually, layer by layer, well-paced and well-crafted, and though this is the first in a series, provides a resolution that doesn’t leave the reader hanging.
This isn’t just a story with a Regency backdrop. Neither is it a Gothic novel, though it contains some Gothic elements. It’s a story of a Regency young woman, faced with secrets and responsibilities she’d rather not have, coming to terms with who she is in a society that has little tolerance for female non-conformity.
It’s also got some kick-ass action scenes.
I had high hopes for Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club, and it didn’t disappoint. I’ll be watching out for the second instalment, The Dark Days Pact, in January 2017.
Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club
Angus & Robertson
Pub: Dec 2015
Guest review contributed by 26 Letters. This blogger aims for book reviews with style, a coherent review of the genre, story, language, depth of character, and overall response to a book, with reasons for her opinions. A book takes care and attention to write, and she believes a good review needs to take the same type of care and attention on a smaller scale.