Brighton, July 1812
Lady Helen Wrexhall has taken refuge in Brighton following the scandalous events at her presentation ball. Now she must complete her Reclaimer training, ready to battle the Grand Deceiver believed to have arrived in England.
Her mentor, Lord Carlston, is facing his own inner battle, and as he fights the violent darkness within his soul, Lady Helen’s loyalty is tested. Entrusted with a secret mission by the Home Office, she must make the agonising choice between betraying those around her or breaking her oath to the dark days club.
The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman, book 2 in a series, was kind of like a bad season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I didn’t hate it, but it didn’t half drag in places.
Things I liked:
- 19th century feminism.
- Spratt, the precocious child I really hope Helen is planning to save from a life of prostitution.
- The last 250 pages – they were brutal!
- Any occasion in which Helen beats someone up, Buffy-style.
- Darby and Quinn – more of them in future please.
Things I did not like:
- Lord Carlston (sorry!) Veering between a raging demon and the role of Giles (if he were fuckable) just didn’t work for me.
- The first 200 pages.
- Delia, the Dawn of the story. Irrelevant after her first season but kind of hard to dispose of.
- Lady Margaret – like Xander, you have to believe at some point she’s going to show us why she exists, but with each chapter, the hope fades…
Things I hated but kind of loved hating:
- The Duke of Selburn AKA Riley Finn.
The biggest issue I have with The Dark Days Pact is that it is 500 pages long for no reason. The action, excitement and plot development all take place in the second half of the book, and getting to it (though it was certainly worth it) was a challenge for me. I really think some authors need to take a lesson from Bardugo and write a duology once in a while.
The first 200 pages aside (sorry, Alison Goodman. I know you did a lot of research.), The Dark Days Pact is a really fun read. In this second instalment we really get a sense of the Dark Days Club as a government controlled organisation that is as susceptible to corruption as any other. The ghost of Samuel Benchley continues to cast a shadow over Helen’s life, mostly in the form of his erstwhile terrene, Lowry, a rapey, murderous creep determined to cling to his rapidly declining terrene strength – through any means necessary. The other villain of the piece is the much less scary, but more powerful Mr Pike, second secretary to the prime minster and the official ‘boss’ of the Dark Days Club. He’s the guy who knows all your secrets, and isn’t afraid to use them to blackmail you. And also he considers murder to be a good solution for dealing for problematic people. He’s kind of like every responsible adult in Buffy’s life – initially irritating but secretly sinister.
And then there’s Selburn. The Duke. The asshole. He’s the kind of guy who will totally call himself a feminist supporter while casually objectifying women and making intensely problematic pronouncements about consent.
We do not like him.
With the exception of Quinn, and most of the time Hammond, I do not like the men in these books.
I don’t think we’re supposed to. Except for Carlston I guess. Ugh. Who else is so over the I LOVE HIM but he might murder me but I LOVE HIM trope? I am raising two hands. It’s like when Spike tries to rape Buffy and then we’re just supposed to forgive him for it.
I did not forgive him for it.
Anyway – back to Selburn. What I find interesting is that it is Selburn and the other (white, straight) men who populate this book who are Helen’s true enemy, rather than the demons that she is supposed to be fighting. It is the men who actively participate in the creation of a society in which women have no freedom, even as they profess to be in love with them. It is these men who are a true threat to Helen’s life. Demons she can dispatch with a few punches, men however, have the ability to destroy her life without laying a finger on her. In one scene – MINOR SPOILER – Selburn tells Helen he is in love with her even as he threatens her with the consequences of rejecting him.
It’s crazy that a woman with the ability to crush a man with her little finger can still be controlled by him. But that’s the point Goodman is making. Back then, women’s lives weren’t their own, and for even the richest of women trying to take control had often devastating consequences. It is the feminism that runs throughout this story that kept me reading even during its most draggy chapters.
I’m interested to see what Goodman does with book 3.
I’m hoping it comes with some comeuppance for Selburn better than Helen inevitably ditching him for Carlston. I want an event that undermines the principles of misogyny that his entire life is built on. DESTORY HIM please, Alison.