Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

A review by Lynne Larby

Lady Helen Wrexhall anticipates her debut in London society via her presentation to Queen Charlotte in 1812. However hard Lady Helen tries, she cannot reduce herself to be a vapid ornament. Helen’s uncle hates her for her intelligence, curiosity and her mother’s reputation as a traitor. Somehow, Helen’s older brother, the earl Andrew, manages to avoid most of their uncle’s spite.

Helen promotes a maid, Darby, to be her personal maid because she likes Darby’s personality. Darby’s stature — not diminutive — and her general (relative) coarseness incite jealous retribution from other staff members.

Bertha, another maid, disappears; although no one else is particularly concerned — other than for the need to replace her — Darby worries. Helen champions Darby by seeking Bertha, even sneaking down to break open Bertha’s lock box in the middle of the night to search for clues.

Meanwhile, the handsome Duke of Selburn pays Helen particular attention as does the scandalous Lord Carlston, whom society suspects murdered his disappeared wife. When Carlston hurls a miniature at Helen with blatant disregard for protocol, Helen surprises herself by catching it. Gradually Helen realises she has superpowers but she doesn’t understand how or why nor the connection with her mother…

Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club is obviously influenced by Georgette Heyer although situated firmly in the fantasy genre. The other digression from Heyer’s form is that the romantic triangle is not resolved by the end of the novel. I suspect the story will extend to a trilogy although Goodman is known for her New York Times bestselling duology, Eon and Eona.

As with Heyer’s romances, and the romance genre in general, Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club can be interpreted as feminist literature: the primary focus is a woman, her adventure, her investigation and her relationships, both with her love interests and with other women. Lady Helen is, in many aspects, Lord Carlston’s equal; this is a key to the story. That she is less experienced is due to her younger age (18) and due to the budding of her powers being associated with coming of age. However, a key incident in the climax of this story shows that even the previously-married and well-schooled Lord Carlston lacks vital knowledge and experience.

Although I prefer my romances contained within one novel, I approve of the pivotal change at the end of The Dark Days Club that, like with Eon and Eona, justifies a second and different novel as a continuation of the first story.

If you’re a fan of fantasy or romance, particularly Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances, I highly commend Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club to you.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
ISBN: 9780732296094
ISBN 10: 0732296099
Format: paperback, 448 pages
Imprint: HarperCollins – AU
BISAC1: Children’s, Teenage & educational / Historical fiction (Children’s / Teenage)

Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club — dusty pink cover depicting a young woman in Regency garb; title in black with ornamentation