Happy Saturday, guys!
Today, we're also reviewing The Dark Days Club, a fun supernatural romp that's coming out in late January from Penguin Teen!
This was my first Alison Goodman book, and I'm SO GLAD I read this book. Helen is now officially on my list of kick-ass women, and I can't wait for the rest of you to meet her!
Expected publication: January 26th 2016 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Format read: ARC via publisher
Alison Goodman is back and in fantastic form, and readers will absolutely be begging for more.
London, April 1812. On the eve of eighteen-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall’s presentation to the queen, one of her family’s housemaids disappears-and Helen is drawn into the shadows of Regency London. There, she meets Lord Carlston, one of the few who can stop the perpetrators: a cabal of demons infiltrating every level of society. Dare she ask for his help, when his reputation is almost as black as his lingering eyes? And will her intelligence and headstrong curiosity wind up leading them into a death trap?
(I know, I know - you're all side-eyeing me now.)
However, this actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because that meant I could go into the book and be genuinely surprised/delighted by her seriously fantastic writing.
Things that worked:
For all intents and purposes, Helen embodies a trope that we've seen in YA before: the fish-out-of-water protagonist. She doesn't quite fit in with polite society, and also carries around a legacy via her long-deceased (and honestly, frequently reviled) mother, which she doesn't quite understand.
So it's really Goodman's writing that makes Helen stick out in a reader's mind. Goodman is careful to emphasize Helen's standout characteristics; she's clever; quick-witted and knows what she wants, but also recognizes that there are certain rules needed to survive in polite society.
The fact that Helen manages to play by those rules, and uses them to her advantage when able, shows a craftiness and practicality to her personality that not only makes her a likable character, but an admirable and well-rounded one.
The secondary characters are also fantastic, and absolutely help round out Helen's world.
It's pretty evident from page one that Goodman has done an extraordinary amount of research while writing, and it shines through in every facet of the novel. She doesn't just include details about Regency London; she incorporates facts, dialogue and even locations that not only emphasize the scope of Helen's world, but also helps show what Helen is up against.
Goodman's decision to write in third-person also helps the reader to view Helen with a certain amount of distance, which really allows us to appreciate her thoughts and her progression as a character.
I did have some slight issues with pacing - more on that later - but all in all, thought the writing/world-building was fantastic.
The supernatural aspects
Goodman's built an elaborate supernatural hierarchy, explaining how the Reclaimers and Deceivers work against each other in a world of constant supernatural threats.
Though there were many things to love about how Goodman chose to construct her world, I was especially appreciative of her ability to show just how these supernatural creatures can plausibly exist in such a rigid society. It really emphasized the idea of a secret underground world, which I think readers will appreciate.
At many junctures in the novel, Helen's struggles with being proper and following societal norms, helps to emphasize the differences between her two worlds. Goodman uses those difference effectively, asking some great questions about choice, freedom and gender inequality, which I think readers of all ages will absolutely appreciate.
The relationship factor
While Helen's relationships with Lord Carlston and those in her immediate circle follows a familiar format - she's attracted to both the good man who can save her, and the bad boy who intrigues her - Goodman's detailed characterizations really help emphasize both Helen's struggles, and what these two men represent.
It's not really a love triangle; there's a pretty obvious choice as the book continues. However, Goodman is very good at emphasizing how society may push someone a certain way - even if they don't feel that way - simply because it's the right thing to do.
I need some more, stat. Seriously. I can't believe we have to wait until 2017 for the next book!
*Cries a little on the inside*
Things that didn't work/things to consider:
While I loved the intricacies of Goodman's world-building, I did feel like her focus on details contributed to some minor pacing issues during the second act of the novel. There was a little too much focus on Helen's emotional state and attempts to delve into her legacy, verses actual progression with the main storyline.
Though I understand Goodman's decision for pacing the story the way that she did, I did lose interest at a few points. However, I would love to hear what the rest of you think!
Helen's journey from feeling like an outcast within her own famiy, to someone who finds a home for her innate curiosity and also begins to appreciate her parents in a different light is a fantastic addition to YA, and also the league of kick-ass young fictional women, destined to inspire all readers.
Highly recommend for fans of The Rook, Something Strange and Deadly, the Finish School Series and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
About the author:
Alison Goodman (www.alisongoodman.com.au) is the author of the internationally bestselling and award-winning Eon/Eona duology, as well as a YASF thriller, Singing the Dogstar Blues, and the adult novel A New Kind of Death (originally titled Killing the Rabbit). She was a D.J. O’Hearn Memorial Fellow at Melbourne University, holds a Master of Arts, and teaches creative writing at the postgraduate level.