I keep trying to review this and it's so difficult, because I am still suffering from an attack of #ALLTHEFEELS. When I finished this book, my hands were trembling and my heart felt simultaneously like it was flying high on the stupendousness of this book and like it was crushed because I have to wait who-knows-how-long for the next one.
The Dark Days Club has the signatures of Alison Goodman's work: a fully-realized world, an intricate and well-thought out magic system, and a strong-willed heroine. I know those are things that most books should have, but Goodman writes them better than most (see the Eon books!). However, in this case, she's got a bit of help, since this is Regency-era England, so on top of the rules of magic, there are the intricate rules of society. And the disdain of society may be more hurtful than the deadly magic Helen discovers exists.
Lady Helen Wrexhall is about to be presented to Queen Charlotte. Her aunt and uncle are extremely concerned that the topic of Helen's mother, Lady Catherine, will come up. No one wants to own a possibly traitorous and scandalously dead mother in front of royalty. Well, no one except Helen. Tall and stronger of bone structure than society would prefer, Helen thinks her aunt and uncle's worries dishonor her memory of her mother. With the aid of her loyal maid Jen Darby, Helen manages to secret her mother's miniature, wound about with a braid of hair, into her glove for presentation day.
But before that day arrives, Helen receives the shocking news that one of her dear friends has run off with a man and not married him. What is more, the man is now dead! Who killed him? And what would possess a young lady of breeding to run off with a man of no sufficient income? Think about that word "possess," if you please.
Darby also informs her mistress than one of the younger maids has gone missing--walked off without a trace and without the contents of her lockbox. Helen's uncle, a nasty, vindictive, petty man, must, by law, search for his missing employee. When she is not found, Helen has an inkling that something bad has happened to this maid.
As if all that intrigue weren't enough, Helen meets the dangerous and possibly wife-murdering Earl of Carlston, a distant relation, right before her presentation. He needles Helen and steals her miniature. Even more shocking, though, are the words spoken to her by the Queen Herself. What can Her Royal Highness mean?
After her presentation, Helen is officially "out" in society--that is to say, available to be married. Helen has no desire to marry some overstuffed windbag in order to maintain her standing in society, but Aunt and Uncle are of a different mind. They cannot get their heiress niece bound up to another man soon enough. Surprisingly, Helen's most ardent suitor turns out to be, well, not so bad after all: the handsome and witty Duke of Selburn, a great friend of Helen's brother. And the mortal enemy of Carlston. There was a horse-whipping involved some years ago. No, not like that. You dirty mind, you.
But stranger things are afoot than cutting someone in society, arranging one's dance cards, or picking out the perfect spencer to wear with a gown. Carlston tests Helen's reflexes, and reveals that she is a Reclaimer, a human with special powers sent to return evil creatures back from whence they came. Reclaimers have inhuman speed, dexterity, and even a sort of precognition that allows them to anticipate the moves of their opponents. And Helen is a very special, and possibly very dangerous Reclaimer: she is a direct inheritor from her mother, the supposedly traitorous Lady Catherine. This gives her great power but also signals the rise of a Great Deceiver--a great enemy.
Deceivers feed on the life force of humans; the stronger the emotion, the more attractive that soul is to a Deceiver. They inhabit the bodies of humans and can procreate to an extent, thus remaining hidden but to the special tools used by Reclaimers. Helen's miniature is one such mirror that allows her to see Deceivers. But is it more than that?
Reclaimers and their non-gifted allies form the Dark Days Club, granted a boon by the Crown to pursue and destroy the tens of thousands of Deceivers in the Realm.
But hold on a second--Helen is uneasy about just joining this mysterious and admittedly morally foggy group of people. In an age when propriety is everything, how is she supposed to go around fighting and wrestling Deceivers when she is supposed to be at home doing needlework? If she marries, her husband must either be another Reclaimer or learn of this Dark Days Club, thus putting his own life in danger. Or, you know, committing Helen to a madhouse.
There is simply too much wonder here for me to fully describe. I adored all the characters, but I must say that Darby, not Helen, was my absolute favorite. Loyal to a fault, brave, and open to new ideas, Darby is fun and inherently likable. While she isn't rich like her mistress, she has much to give. And she's sneaky as all get out. I like that. The romantic tension between Helen, Selburn, and Carlston is magnificently managed (I cannot believe I am praising a love triangle!), and Goodman pulls out all the stops when it comes to getting the Regency setting just right.
If you're a fan of Jane Austen, you'll love this. The people in this book are much, much richer than Austen's heroines, so we see a completely different side of society, but their struggles are much the same.
Order a copy of this posthaste, and pray fervently that the next book is released soon!
I received an ARC of this title from Edelweiss.