Tuesday, 7 June 2016

'The Dark Days Club' (Lady Helen #1) by Alison Goodman

*This review will contain spoilers!* 
'How many times had she observed the secret truths etched into the faces of those around her? Truths that were often in contradiction to the handed-down wisdom of society. She had seen keen intelligence in Lady Trevayne's black foreman, the swift rise of lust in a visiting vicar, and even a look of soul love between two men.' 

'In the sun-warmed quiet of her uncle's library, Lady Helen Wrexhall spread the skirt of her muslin morning gown and sank into the deep curtsey required for Royal presentation: back held straight, head slightly bowed, left knee bent so low it nearly touched the floor. And, of course, face set into a serene Court smile.' 

In Regency-era London, there's more going on than meets the eye. Behind polite society is a fight between the Reclaimers and the Deceivers: the former of which number only eight, while the latter are in the tens of thousands. Deceivers use feeder tentacles to suck energy from humans, but if they take too much then the humans die. Reclaimers need to police the Deceivers, ensuring that they're only taking enough energy to survive and don't go on ravenous killing sprees.
Lady Helen has just been presented into society and should be worrying about finding an appropriate husband in her first Season. However, when her distant cousin the Earl of Carlston turns up and tells her she's a Reclaimer, she needs to face up to her predetermined destiny and help protect humanity, or give up her powers - and part of her essential self - for good...

This book was about three hundred pages too long. I've never encountered anything that was so badly paced. The first hundred pages establish Helen's character beautifully, giving her a complex and emotional back story and making it very easy to care about her, but then the next hundred pages are completely pointless.
Then there's the first mention of the Dark Days Club, falling at around page 200 and accompanied by a very rushed and shallow description of all of the different kinds of Deceivers. There are four different types of Deceivers: three types too many. We only needed Deceivers, not the Pavor, Luxure, Cruor and Hedon classes of Deceiver. By the end of the first book only two of the types have become relevant, which makes that even more meaningless.
After the reveal of the Dark Days Club and Helen's Reclaimer powers, there's three hundred pages of Helen wondering whether she should get involved with the Dark Days Club, or whether she should give up her powers for good. Based on the fact that this is the first book in a series, the choice was extremely obvious and therefore another waste of time.
The descriptions of Regency London felt genuine, and the use of real places as settings was a choice that not many people make anymore, and definitely added to the atmosphere (particularly as I read half of this book meters from the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens). I appreciated the focus upon costume, which was a concern of citizens who attended regular balls in this period. The casual sexism and racism was irritating, but also very true to the time period.
Helen's inability to comply with her uncle's demands of finding a husband were endearing, and definitely made me respect her character, but on the whole she's extremely irritating. I'm hoping this is something that will change through the later books in the series, following her estrangement from her family and her finally embarking upon Dark Days Club training with the Earl of Carlston, because her character does have a lot of potential.

This definitely suffers with first book over-explanation. If someone went through and chopped all of the boring, dry chapters out, it would be a concise and exciting twist for Regency novels. There are far too many characters name-dropped that won't become relevant later, five or six subplots going on at the same time that never really become relevant, and an awful lot of gobbledegook and babble that just made me want to tear my hair out.
If the second book in the Lady Helen series is anywhere near 400 pages, I'm going to scream. Less is more, people! But if you like a slow, long read that will really (and I do mean, REALLY) give you a lot of description, you should pick this one up.

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