#LoveOzYA : Lady Helen and the Dark Days Pact

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I’ve been waiting excitedly for a year for this, the second book in Alison Goodman’s historical, fantasy, ass-kicking, demon-slaying Dark Days Club series to drop and thanks to HarperCollins Australia, I finally got my grabby paws on a copy of Lady Helen and the Dark Days Pact.  In case you haven’t come across this series before, we boldly claimed it as a Top Book of 2016 on January 1st last year, for its extraordinary blend of meticulously researched historical content and original and creepy paranormal elements.

If you haven’t read the first book, you really need to do that now.  Go on, we’ll wait.

The second book serves up more of the same delightful Deceiver destruction and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The second novel in the thrilling LADY HELEN series sees Helen following orders that could bring about betrayal and annihilation. 

Summer, 1812

After the scandalous events at her presentation ball in London, Lady Helen has taken refuge at the fashionable seaside resort of Brighton, where she is training to be a Reclaimer with the covert Dark Days Club.

As she struggles to put aside her genteel upbringing and take up the weapons of a warrior, Helen realizes that her mentor, Lord Carlston, is fighting his own inner battle. Has the foul Deceiver energy poisoned his soul, or is something else driving him towards violent bouts of madness? Either way, Helen is desperate to help the man with whom she shares a deep but forbidden connection.

When Mr Pike, the hard bureaucratic heart of the Dark Days Club, arrives in Brighton, no one is prepared for the ordinary evil he brings in his wake. He has a secret task for Helen and Mr Hammond, and the authority of the Prince Regent. They have no choice but to do as he orders, knowing that the mission will betray everyone around them and possibly bring about Lord Carlston’s annihilation.

Society takes a back seat in this second offering as Helen’s Reclaimer training begins in earnest.  Almost immediately though, spanners are thrown in the works as the Duke of Selburn appears in Brighton on a not-very-subtle reconnaissance mission on behalf of Helen’s older brother, while the man in charge of the Reclaimers, Mr Pike, turns up unexpectedly and changes the course of Helen’s loyalties irrevocably.  We also see a return of Delia, Helen’s much-maligned friend, and Pug, who provides equal parts wingwoman and comic relief.

The tone of this book is one of underlying disquiet as events seem to conspire against Helen and her band of Reclaimer friends at every turn.  Helen is forced to make decisions on the fly, the consequences of which could end up endangering people she loves, no matter which course she chooses.  Essentially, this book is Helen’s coming-of-age in the Reclaimer world. No longer is she a young lady to be protected and promenaded; Helen must now take her place as an active Reclaimer or risk her own life and the lives of those she loves.  The events of the story do a great deal to advance the world-building and “rules” surrounding the bond between Deceivers and Reclaimers and as such, there is a lot of new information for readers to absorb and join the dots around.

Action is portioned out throughout the story, with subterfuge, underhanded deals and espionage more the order of the day, although the final few chapters certainly make up for any lack of chase, escape and derring-do that might be lacking in the earlier parts of the story.  There are some important reveals in this story that will absolutely change Helen’s role in the Dark Days Club as well as her role in life generally.  Other parts of the story will make your skin crawl and the “ick” factor is certainly in play where particular characters of ill-repute are concerned.  For the romance fans, you can cut the sexual tension between Carlston and Lady Helen with a knife (and between another pairing that you might not expect!)  but for readers shipping that particular couple, it should be noted that the course of true love never runs smooth, particularly where demon-slaying is involved.

Once again, this is a hugely entertaining story with meticulous attention to detail for the time period and innovative fantasy elements from a strong voice in Australian YA fiction.  If you are a fan of either historical fiction or fantasy, you really are missing out if you haven’t added Lady Helen’s adventures to your nightstand reading pile.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

A Rebellious Read-It-If Review: Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club (and my first Top Book of 2016!)

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read it if NEW BUTTONI’m starting off the year in truly rebellious fashion by bringing you a TOP BOOK OF 2016 on the first day of the new year!  Yes, it is probably a bit early to be calling a Top Book of 2016, but this one really, truly is and I recommend that Bruce's Pickyou go out and acquire it immediately.  Today’s book, by an AUSTRALIAN author, features meticulously researched historical fiction combined with paranormal beast-slaying in a mash-up that works on every single level.  I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of today’s book from HarperCollins Australia during my attendance at the BTCYA event in November 2015.

Without further faffing about, may I present to you…Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman! Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

London, April 1812. Lady Helen Wrexhall is set to make her debut at the court of Queen Charlotte and officially step into polite Regency society and the marriage mart. Little does Helen know that step will take her from the opulent drawing rooms of Mayfair and the bright lights of Vauxhall Gardens into a shadowy world of missing housemaids and demonic conspiracies.

Standing between those two worlds is Lord Carlston, a man of ruined reputation and brusque manners. He believes Helen has a destiny beyond the ballroom; a sacred and secret duty. Helen is not so sure, especially when she discovers that nothing around her is quite as it seems, including the enigmatic Lord Carlston.

Against a backdrop of whispered secrets in St James’s Palace, soirees with Lord Byron and morning calls from Beau Brummell, Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club is a delightfully dangerous adventure of self-discovery and dark choices that must be made … whatever the consequences.

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Read it if:

*the thought of demonic creatures invading polite society is so grievous it has you reaching for the smelling salts in case you have a fit of the vapours

*you think the best hiding place for anything that must be kept away from the prying eyes of one’s relatives is down the front of one’s ballgown. 

*you like your Darcy-types brooding, dismissive and generally obnoxious – until they get their kit off in an unexpected situation that breaches all bounds of propriety

* you love period dramas and you also love paranormal ass-kicking adventures, and have been waiting, hoping and yearning for someone to put the two together in one thrilling, agitative adventure

I loved this book.

Plain and simple.

When I first read the blurb, I definitely thought that the content sounded like something I would enjoy, but I never expected to be thrust into such an exceptionally well-written work.  I truly can’t remember having such enjoyment in discovering a new fantasy series since I first stumbled upon Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy back in the early 2000s.  Happily, Alison Goodman is also an Australian author and so I can rest easy knowing that the future of Australian fantasy fiction for young adults will be just as worthy as its past.

The research that has gone into re-creating the Regency period here is just astounding.  From the details of clothing to the social interactions to the real-life celebrities of the time that have been slipped in here and there, my mind was thoroughly boggled at how the author managed to translate all that accurate information into a historical novel that also featured major fantasy elements.  Impressive, to say the least.  The accuracy of the period detail meant that I was immediately immersed in the historical setting and from there the fantasy bits, when they came, seemed a perfectly natural addition to the tale.

Lady Helen is a fully three-dimensional character of (reasonably) steady nerves and an abiding need to remain true to herself in a context in which social roles are ignored at one’s peril.  I adored Darby, Lady Helen’s stalwart lady’s maid and appreciated the depth of characterisation of the two main male protagonists, Lord Carlston and the Duke of Selborn.  Although it seems that these characters are foils for each other, they both possess personality traits that are largely hidden from public knowledge. While there is some romance in the book (which normally annoys me) it is not the simple love-triangle that we are so often subjected to and it is tempered by the historical setting.

I would have expected that given this is a mash-up of two usually separate genres, that one would be stronger than the other in the finished story, but the fantasy world that has been injected into the existing historical one is well-developed and it seems that there will be plenty more to discover about it in future instalments of the series.

It seems that I will have to now add Goodman’s back catalogue to my TBR list and I encourage you – whether you are a fan of historical fiction or fantasy (or just a bloody good read) – to get your hands on this one ASAP.  For your convenience, here are the alternative covers so you can keep a good eye out:

dark days club 1 dark days club 3

Until next time,

Bruce