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Whip It Good

Debutantes, dances, and demons, oh my! In The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, Lady Helen will never forget her first Season.

Whip It Good

BOOK REPORT for The Dark Days Club (Lady Helen #1) by Alison Goodman

Cover Story: Deliciously Dark
BFF Charm: Yay
Swoonworthy Scale: 5
Talky Talk: Ribands and Deceivers
Bonus Factor: Authenticity
Bonus/Anti-Bonus Factor: The Chosen One
Anti-Bonus Factors: Casual Sexism, Series Starter
Relationship Status: Your Loyal Maid

Cover Story: Deliciously Dark

I’m so glad this isn’t a Big Face or Fancy Dress cover! When you’re dealing with a Regency-era setting Fancy Dress could legitimately make sense, but luckily instead we are treated to a callback of an important scene from the book. The typography over the lace is also appropriately swirly. The entire vibe has an "elegant meets sinister" flair.

The Deal:

Most girls starting their first Season are worried about finding a husband and remembering all the steps to the Fairy Dance, but Lady Helen is more concerned with what to say to the Queen if she mentions her deceased yet traitorous mother, Lady Catherine. She also wonders if her newfound abilities—an excess of energy, ability to read micro-expressions, sharpened eyesight, and keen hearing—are a sign that she’s going to follow in said mother’s impetuous footsteps.

Then Helen meets Lord Carlston, a disgraced and dangerous man returned to London Society years after being accused of murdering his wife. His eyes follow her everywhere, and he seems to know more about her than she does...but is what he knows what she wants to hear? Does she really want to learn about the seedy underbelly of London? And if she starts down this dark path beyond the restrictions of what is proper for a genteel woman, will she ever be able to turn back?

BFF Charm: Yay

Helen believes that living a quiet, respectable life within the bounds of her social stratosphere will wash away any stains left behind from her mother’s actions (though what those actions were, no one will actually tell her). But even when Helen is practicing her curtseys and stitching, she still stays true to herself and what she remembers from her parents: love and acceptance.

She treats her lady’s maid, Darby, like a person rather than a servant; fights to be allowed to remain friends with her school chum after she ruins herself by scandalously running away with a man, and secretly despises her uncle’s sexist and vitriolic rants (some ladies from our book club described Lord Pennworth as a cross between Donald Trump and Harry Potter’s uncle Vernon, which is perfect). I wouldn’t mind risking my reputation to be Helen’s friend, because I know she would return the favor.

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

We are petticoat-deep within the ton, so overt flirting, even standing alone with the opposite sex for too long, is considered the height of scandal. But as many a romance reader knows, sometimes, when you are constrained by what you can’t do, even the littlest gesture or casual look can be loaded with meaning. Helen and Lord Carlston manage to exchange a ton (yes, I went there) of lingering stares whenever they meet, and because they are both well-versed in reading the true feelings underneath a person’s polite-society mask, we get some hints at their deeper emotions left unsaid.

But Lord Carlston’s place in the beau monde is shaky, at best; his presence tolerated only because of the sterling reputation of his friend, Mr. Brummel. If Helen wants to make a good match for herself, she should look to the Duke of Selburn, the friend of her brother, Andrew, who has always been kind to her and seems to enjoy her lively spirit.

Talky Talk: Ribands and Deceivers

We stay with Helen’s perspective throughout the novel, so we get to experience the turning upside down of her natural order with her, and it’s definitely quite a shock. One morning we were talking matching our ribands with our dresses and stopping by the milliner’s; by that evening we’re learning about murderers and life-force-sucking gluttons. Stop the carriage, I want to get off.

The rules of the Dark Days Club were a bit dense to start off with, as we learn them—along with Helen—in one big info-dump. I almost got pulled out of the book when words like energy whips and feeder tentacles (uh, GROSS) got thrown into the mix—what exactly does this have to do with the Regency era, one has to ask?! But Alison Goodman does a good job explaining as she goes, and I have to give her props on being unique: these aren’t your typical hellfire and brimstone demons. By the end of the book I completely bought into what she was selling.

Bonus Factor: Authenticity

If you didn’t know that Alison Goodman was a Regency-nut after finishing the novel, her author’s note would clue you in. My favorite part is when she apologizes for messing with the opening date of Vauxhall Gardens—she changed it from June to early May to suit her needs. Never change, Ms. Goodman! It is wonderful to see how passionate she is about the time period, and you could feel that as you read her words: they were replete with real London locations, actual figures in history (we’re treated to a poem from Lord Byron at one point!), and attention to detail (it’s a bit sad how long it took me to realize the word riband was just antiquated version of ribbon. That’s what you get for reading while at work.).

I also enjoyed that Lady Helen wasn’t very anachronistic in her attitudes. I’ve read other books set in historical timeframes where the main character was just a modern-day feminist in stays and elbow-length gloves. As much as I love a take-charge woman, I appreciate when an author takes the time to craft a character that would have realistically shown up in their constrained setting. Helen was raised to be a lay-about lady, and she’s naively innocent in many regards, but she’s also smart and adaptable and can form her own strong opinions—just as long as she doesn’t speak them too loudly.

Bonus/Anti-Bonus Factor: Chosen One

Helen learns some interesting things about her past that cause her to reevaluate her life. We know she’s part of this special group, that much is said on the back cover, but in true Chosen One fashion, she also finds out she’s the most special-est of all the specials. I had to have a bit of an eye-roll at that revelation, but I'm sure for most this won't be an issue.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Casual Sexism

My blood is always on a low simmer when I read historical books featuring women, because the sexism runs rampant. While Lady Helen’s uncle is by far the worst offender, there are casual comments being dropped all over the place, from Lord Carlston’s assumption that Helen’s female brain wouldn’t grasp the complicated concepts in an occult book to the Duke of Selburn’s condescending compliment sandwich about Helen’s wit and spirit, which will certainly settle down once she directs it towards more worthy pursuits, i.e., woman-stuff. Ugh, gentlemen.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Series Starter

The book ends just when it was getting good! I assume this will be a trilogy, but who even knows at this point? Luckily, there seems to be plenty of story left to tell, so I will wait impatiently with my morning hot chocolate for more.

Casting Call:

Nina Dobrev as Lady Helen Wrexhall

Nina can most definitely play all sides of Lady Helen and still look effortlessly elegant while doing so.

Ben Barnes as the Earl of Carlston

That’s a face you’d pursue even if he possibly murdered his last wife, right? Right.

Kat Dennings as Jen Darby

I may have been word-associating Darby with Darcy, Kat’s quippy character in the Thor movies, but I think she could pull off the plucky maid’s no-nonsense personality quite well.

Relationship Status: Your Loyal Maid

Book, you may seem prim and proper on the outside, but inside you are hiding quite a bit that would shock the upper crust. I would never give up your secrets, and if you need me to, I will gladly light the fires and pick out tomorrow’s outfit while keeping you sane. Just don’t ask me to go near a demon’s feeder tentacle and I’ll follow you anywhere.

FTC Full Disclosure: I purchased my own copy of this book. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. The Dark Days Club is available now.

Stephanie Johnston's photo About the Author: Stephanie is an avid reader who moonlights as a college Educational Advisor. Though she now calls Orlando home, she grew up all over the U.S. Aside from her obsession with YA books and book-related activities, Stephanie loves watching way too much television, reading organizational/DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.