Have you ever wondered what would have happened if Buffy Summers from Sunnydale (ie. Buffy, The Vampire Slayer) had been born in Regency England, specifically in 1812 London? The Dark Days Club gives you a bit of hint of what she and her world might have looked like. Now having made this comparison I must set a disclaimer– this is not a vampire novel in any way, shape or form. Supernatural yes, vampire no.
Meet Lady Helen Wrexhall, an eighteen year old heiress, who is standing on the precipice of her first season in high society. Her first introduction into it will be held in the drawing room of Queen Charlotte (the wife of Mad King George), where a curtsey, a murmured greeting, and a kiss from the Queen would determine so much about how successful Lady Helen’s season (and for that matter the season of every girl who managed to secure a place on the presentation list) would turn out. On the brink of this most important day, one of the household maids goes missing. Albeit this is not an unusual occurrence in a household staff as large as her Aunt and Uncle’s, but it does upset her friend/maid, Darby, so Lady Helen promises to do what she can to help locate the missing girl, since the rest of the household seems disinterested in her fate.
This is not the only mystery which has crept into Lady Helen’s sphere; it is, however, the newest and the only one she has the smallest hope of solving. Well, it is the newest mystery until Lord Carlston (distant familial connection and black sheep) steals an irreplaceable treasure from Lady Helen while she is waiting for her royal presentation. These two seemingly unrelated events crack Lady Helen’s clear and simple world into one filled with more shades of grey than she knew ever existed.
While I was reading the opening chapters leading up to Lady Helen’s presentation I felt the pressure I usually feel when reading Regency pieces– a sense of foreboding that somehow her curtsy would go wrong and she’d end up on her back with her underpants being shown to the world (due to her hoop skirt) or she would say the wrong thing about her mother (whose death was mysteriously linked with treachery) or a multitude of other social faux pas which could and did happen to heroines written during this period. But Lady Helen’s sheer wit and humor propelled me through the pages, and we both made it through her presentation with questions but on the whole unscathed.
Goodman’s prose is really strong and gave me faith my worries over her employing well worn and potentially trite plot devices would be unfounded. Boy was I right! Goodman does a fantastic job pairing Regency social rules with a seriously paced supernatural mystery. At the same time Goodman makes sure her characters care about keeping with propriety even when faced with challenging circumstances. Lady Helen does not throw caution to the wind to follow where events are taking her, thus making her an object of ridicule– which is unlike many books with a similar feel. But Goodman keeps this focus from making the book feel stiff or from stealing the focus from the mysteries Helen is trying to solve.
The DDC also does a wonderful job in showing (never telling) a wide range of views and the power men held over women during this period without ever making it feel stilted or unbelievable. Goodman also shows to varying degrees how women themselves coped in this male dominated age, all of which helped propel the narrative forward at an increasingly breakneck speed!
This is a fantastic book! While labeled YA it really doesn’t feel that way. If you read Pride and Prejudice (Dark Days Club is far more dynamic and exciting– sorry P & P) or Soulless (DDC is not the least bit steampunk– and has more manners and less skin– but they share a similar wry humor) or Deanna Raybourn (similar feel to the pacing of mysteries both in the ones solved and in those left for us to speculate on while waiting for the next in series) I think you’d really enjoy this book.
The paranormal element is worked cleanly into the story and makes sense historically speaking with the amount of unrest during this period. Luddites, Napoleon, the specter of the French Terror, poverty, and the general lawlessness rampant in parts of the country– these historical facts (and use societal rules for that matter) lend the book an air of credibility, making it feel far more plausible than other books written in a similar vein. Again while this information is present it is not trying to teach you– like message books do. Goodman simply slips the history in as background details. Once again showing her readers rather than telling them about what is going on in this day in history, Goodman is flawless in her ability to slip details in.
I cannot think of a better book for a fan of this period looking for something a bit different. I really enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone and everyone who will listen. If you need something to break up the post-holiday blues, I think this will be the book for you!
FYI – This series will be a trilogy with the next two books coming out in succeeding years and I simply cannot wait to read them! Can you tell that I liked it?
— Amber, Seattle Mystery Bookshop, Seattle, WA