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The Dark Days Club
I’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.
Filed under: Books to look for
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.
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