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Someday My Printz Will Come
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The Dark Days Club

dark-days-club-titleI’m going to tip my hand right at the outset: this is a fantastic slow burn of a novel that is also the first in a series, so let’s face it: award recognition here probably goes beyond long shot and right into impossible. But sometimes you sit down to write up the book you meant to write up and you find yourself thinking “Wait! I WANT to say something about this other book, because it’s GOOD.” So I’m saying something.

Allison Goodman writes really interesting, careful fantasy and science fiction. There’s a precision to her plotting and thinking through that I admire deeply, but I don’t always like the result. (I loved Eon, never finished Eona, for reference.) I spent the first quarter of so of Dark Days trying to decide which side of the fence I was coming down on, but I stuck it out — and realized that the issue here was as much marketing as anything else (“regency romance!” the blurb practically screams, but that’s a bird of a different feather).

So, okay, if glacial pacing isn’t your thing, this might not work for you. Luckily for literary analysis, pacing doesn’t have to be any particular speed, just appropriate to the text, and I would argue that the slow pacing is largely just right for Lady Helen’s journey. It’s marvelous, actually; how many paranormals and chosen one stories have the protagonist adjust to their powers immediately? And yet, very few people I know can even adjust to a new backpack that quickly. People need time to acclimate and learn new habits, especially habits of mind. Lady Helen has spent a lifetime trying to be proper. She’s deeply steeped in the social mores of her time; she believes that following the rules is the path to happy adulthood, and — influenced by the whiff of scandal surrounding her mother — she refuses, at a level beneath conscious thought, to acknowledge any indications that her understanding of her world might be wrong. So it’s exactly true to the character that instead of acting like she’s been freed from society’s shackles when her powers start to wake, she instead tries to double down on being proper and it therefore takes some time for the action to pick up.

Similarly, the research — and the way it’s delivered, in a close third person omnicient — leads to an impressive act of world building and immersion. Goodman seems to have researched everything, in insane detail. And Lady Helen often seems to think through the meat of that research; one Goodreads review I read mentioned thinking this was absurd. But here we have a protagonist chafing against restrictions while refusing to acknowledge that friction, so instead she considers the societal norms all the time, because they are always running through her awareness, being used to constrain herself.

The fantasy stuff also worked pretty well, although the relationship with Darby, who becomes a kind of pain collection point for Lady Helen, and is also her maid, raised a minor red flag for me (double servitude! upper class privilege!). However, Lady Helen herself seems aware of some of this tension, so I’m hoping this will be explored further going forward — and it’s also necessary that her “Terrene” be someone with regular access, which probably means, for an unmarried high born woman, it had to be her maid — because Goodman is very careful about her history, in ways small and large. The underlying paranormal elements — demons of varying levels who walk among humans, Reclaimers who have an innate ability to fight them, and some gifts of strength and agility but still need training (I really appreciate the lack of hand wavy magic gifting) — aren’t anything truly crazy original, but they work and the details are all very well done.

(It’s worth noting that I read this over a year ago, and I still remember quite a lot; I’m writing this without rereading or even checking the text, except for the word terrene. This alone might be the reason I wanted to write this up.)

Finally, let’s talk about the romance, since the blurb seems determined to make it seem central. I’ll be brief: I really liked it. There was repartee and sexual tension but it didn’t feel artificial, and Lord Cranston is my kind of regency hero (older, reputation, actually excellent, and of course attractive). This is the tropiest aspect of the whole novel, but Goodman plays with the trope with genuine affection and doesn’t subvert it; instead, she acknowledges the appeal and rolls with it, making something new by having her protagonist be both like and utterly unlike the standard regency belle.

So have I convinced you that, open ended series issues aside, this is awesome? But we all know that even though the criteria allow for series titles, they are, by nature, incomplete and that makes it hard to assess them against all those finished works. Chapters versus books, my friends. And while this is a great chapter, it’s just a chapter of a largeer work when all is said and done.

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About Karyn Silverman

Karyn Silverman is the High School Librarian and Educational Technology Department Chair at LREI, Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School (say that ten times fast!). Karyn has served on YALSA’s Quick Picks and Best Books committees and was a member of the 2009 Printz committee. She has reviewed for Kirkus and School Library Journal. She has a lot of opinions about almost everything, as long as all the things are books. Said opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, YALSA or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @InfoWitch or e-mail her at karynsilverman at gmail dot com.

Comments

  1. Kristin C says:

    I enjoyed this work, though pacing at times was a little too glacial for me. It was richly drawn, though, and I liked the historical accuracy. Nothing is worse than which historical fiction doesn’t feel historically accurate. I don’t know that I viewed this book as overly distinguished, but that might be because it felt so obviously unfinished to me. Also, the publisher description set an utterly wrong tone for me. Also, and this is purely silly, I was always unsure how to pronounce “terrene,” which to me looks like “tureen,” so I kept thinking about food when it was mentioned. I could have done with less detail, honestly, but I think this book lends itself to being enjoyed more optimally during the Halloween season.

  2. I loved it myself – but if we’re talking series….last year’s Six of Crows (five stars) and this year’s Crooked Kingdom (four stars) were fabulous: full-bodied characters, phenomenal world-setting, and a complex, pacy plot that took full advantage of the endearing mavericks who made up the crew of crows. Page-turners with literary chops!

    • Karyn Silverman says:

      You know, I didn’t like Shadow and Bone very much so I have been very feet-dragging about Six of Crows, but I think I need to just go ahead and read it! Thanks for the nudge.

      • I loved Six of Crows so I went back to read Shadow and Bone and never finished it. They are very different, even if they’re set in the same universe, so even if you didn’t like the first trilogy, you may end up loving the Six of Crows story.

        • I started Shadow and Bone, too, but didn’t get very far. So I had to be talked into reading Six of Crows by a colleague – and I’m very glad I listened to her!

          • Whereas I’m the other way ’round! I really liked Shadow and Bone and by rights should like Six of Crows more–heist-y fantasy!–but bounced off it. The voice was less appealing to me and the characters fell flat.

  3. I never – never, in a million years – would’ve considered this as a Printz title. I still think, though I respect you immensely, that it’s the longest of long shots. Still, just the fact that you’re discussing it makes me so happy! And I say this as someone who thinks this book needs 200 pages chopped out.

    • Karyn Silverman says:

      Oh, I know. It’s probably not even at the table. But we cover like 70 books here each season, and the real committee probably only looks at half that number seriously, so why not indulge? I just wanted to sound off about the things I liked about it! (And I’d say, 100 pages, if even; I think the minutiae is part of the charm.)

  4. I am different I guess in that I didn’t mind the minutiae of Helen’s life boring. But I did find the paranormal aspect of this novel (and I say it as a huge Alison Goodman fan) very underwhelming. I spent most of the novel not wanting read about tentacled monster and wishing it were a full-blown romance (with possibly some mystery), because the historical detail in this story was outstanding – not something you would see in a regular historical romance.

    Not a contender for me.

  5. I was underwhelmed by this book, despite a deep and enduring love for the Regency+Magic combination and for doorstopper books and an appreciation for Goodman’s research. Much of my issue was with that slow, slow burn–I don’t mind minutiae but I minded that the Regency plot was moving as slowly as the magical–and I probably would’ve abandoned this doorstopper after a hundred pages if I hadn’t been reading with a six-week-old sleeping baby sharing space with the book on my lap. (One does not wake a six-week-old sleeping baby if one can help it.) I also felt that while the magic itself was interesting and well-handled, the introduction of the magic was clunky; the explanation and the push-pull with Lord Cranston felt forced. Often it felt like two separate books–a Regency drama of manners and a monster-fantasy–interspersed, rather than woven together.

    My primary, entirely-irrelevant-to-its-literary-merits reaction was a desire to go back and re-read Mairelon the Magician, a beloved comfort-read of mine.

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