The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman
Book Two of the Lady Helen series
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 31, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher
Summary (from Goodreads):
June 1812. Just weeks after her catastrophic coming-out ball, Lady Helen Wrexhall—now disowned by her uncle—is a full member of the demon-hunting Dark Days Club. Her mentor, Lord Carlston, has arranged for Helen and her maid, Darby, to spend the summer season in Bristol, where Helen can sharpen her Reclaimer powers. Then the long-term effects of Carlston’s Reclaimer work take hold, and his sanity begins to slip. At the same time, Carlston’s Dark Days Club colleague and nemesis will stop at nothing to bring Helen over to his side—and the Duke of Selburn is determined to marry her. The stakes are ever higher for Helen, and her decision will truly change the world…
What I Liked:
The Dark Days Pact is an excellent follow-up to The Dark Days Club - it follows none of the sequel slump pattern that we've seen so often in Young Adult trilogies. I liked The Dark Days Club very much, though at times I found that book to drag a little. This sequel was thoroughly intriguing and entertaining, with a lot of action and revelations, and a little bit of angst. I enjoyed this book immensely and I am looking forward to reading the final book in the series.
Lady Helen is well on her way to becoming a fully trained Reclaimer, and an official member of the Dark Days Club. Mr. Pike comes to Bristol to swear her in, and he also gives her a task: obtain an important journal of a secretive nature. But it's clear that Mr. Pike has another intent - spy on Lord Carlston, and get rid of him. But Lord Carlston has been showing signs of deterioration, in his health. Time is running out to find a cure, which also hinges upon the journal. Helen must get the journal before Carlston does, or risk breaking her oath as Club member. But she doesn't trust anyone except Carlston, Mr. Hammond, Mr. Quinn, and Darby, and she doesn't think Mr. Pike is honorable. The journal itself isn't what it seems, and Helen's decision about what to do with it will have consequences she can't comprehend.
This sequel moves at a faster pace than The Dark Days Club, which I appreciated. I loved The Dark Days Club, but there were definitely times when I really felt the length of the book (500+ pages). This book is also around that page length, but it has more action and intrigue, in my opinion. Helen was always getting up to something sneaky, which I thought was hilarious (good for her!).
You can clearly see Helen's growth, in this novel! Much of this book is focused on her training as a Reclaimer, and so we see her grow in that way, but also in general. She stands up for herself and doesn't let herself get shuffled around. When her oath to the Days Days Club comes up against her loyalty to her friends, and Carlston, she doesn't meekly follow one side or the other. She seeks more information and bides her time, but ultimately, she makes decisions. I wouldn't say she is totally decisive at first, but she really grows into a stronger character. There are so many feminist moments in this book in which I was cheering for Helen. Especially every time she told Selburn she didn't need a protector - you go, girl!
That being said, it's interesting how Goodman worked that strong, feminist attitude into Helen's character. It was always there, but I like how Helen really stands up for herself, especially towards the end. She definitely is confined by societal rules and customs, but at the same time, she makes choices for her reasons, and not society's. Recall that this series is set in the 1800s - so it's painfully obvious that, historically speaking, this is a "man's world", and females are subservient (given the time period). But Helen doesn't appreciate having to hide behind a man - and she doesn't let it happen. Again, she is still confined by society's "rules" for women, but she does things her way. She has to come to terms with some difficult decisions, like dressing as a man for disguise, and cutting her hair, but Helen is a tough girl.
Along those lines - Goodman has done a fantastic job in building the world of this series. The novel is set in 1800s England, so there was a lot of research that needed to be done to write this book. Goodman has quite the eye for detail! I read a lot of adult historical romance novels, so I'm very used to this setting, but I must say, Goodman really outdoes herself with the world-building. Drop in all the monsters and supernatural powers and important magical objects and we've got a very interesting world in a realistic historic setting. Well done by the author!
This book is told in third-person, limited to Helen, and I liked this mode of storytelling. First-person is so common in Young Adult literature, but I think I much prefer third-person. Goodman writes it very well.
The other characters besides Helen are incredibly important and so well-fleshed out as well. Carlston is arguably a protagonist, equally as important as Helen. He is ailing and clearly not getting better, and no one can figure out what is causing his deterioration. Fits of temper and bursts of madness are evidence to his deterioration, and try as they might, Helen and the gang can't hide this from Mr. Pike (who clearly wants Carlston gone). But Carlston shines in this book; he trains Helen efficiently, and he never tries to control her (like, dare I say, Selburn attempts to do). I wouldn't say that Carlston is sweet or tender - he is a quietly brooding warrior with a bit of a temper. Yet he cares so much about Helen, and he doesn't take care to make it less obvious. The poor man! He suffers quite a lot, in this particular book.
Darby is her usual feisty self, and she and Mr. Quinn get close. We learn a lot about Mr. Hammond, and I adore him so much. His sister, Margaret, is annoying as ever (but in an endearing way). A character that becomes very important in this book is Delia; her addition to the main plot was surprising, but in the end, very welcoming. Selburn is unfortunately in this book, more in second half, and honestly he is the peskiest of flies.
In the first half the book, the focus is on training Helen and Darby, and for Helen, making the deal with the man to get the journal. But the man, Lowry, wants something that Helen refuses to give, and then she finds out that Carlston is looking for the journal (not knowing that she is too), so Helen must sneak around and try to find out more, in order to steal the journal herself. But plans never go planned, and so there is a lot of close calls and nighttime excursions.
The romance is so obvious and wonderful (assuming you like Carlston). I didn't really see Selburn being part of the romance in The Dark Days Club, and as annoying as he is, I still don't see him being a real threat. Romantically speaking, it's all Helen and Carlston. While Carlston isn't a big softie, he gets romantic (for a moment!) in this book. The bond they have goes beyond being Reclaimers, or sharing energy, or whatever: it's clear that they both love each other. I'm hoping Goodman works that out, in the end, because there really is no other ship to be boarded.
The ending is good in some ways, and painful in others. I love how exciting the ending is! It was a mad race to make this or that happen, and so every single character in this book was converging to one spot. All of our main characters are still alive and well and survive the scuffle. I did mention that the ending is slightly painful, and it is. It's a cliffhanger that has little to do with Reclaimers and Deceivers. Still, I have hope, and I'm very excited to read the next book.
What I Did Not Like:
I will complain about a thing that I can't say specifically because that would be spoiler-y. But. Remember how I said that there isn't really a love triangle? That is very true, because Helen is in love with Carlston, and vice versa. Never mind that Carlston is still technically married (his wife has been missing for six or so years). Never mind that the Duke of Selburn is obnoxiously obsessed with Helen and won't stop asking her to marry him. Which is weird! Why does he persist? She has rejected him so many times. Again, I'm complaining about a thing that happened in this book that I can't say specifically. But, it's a thing that I want to see disappear very quickly, in book three, if possible.
Personally (and this is just a theory, and not a spoiler), I'm hoping that Selburn is the Grand Deceiver. We still don't know who is, by the end of this book (though we get some more information about the Grand Deceiver). I'm hoping it's Selburn, because he is so slimy in a nice way. He's too protective and invasive, in terms of Helen and her business. Sure, it would be convenient if he were the Grand Deceiver, but still. A girl can hope.
Would I Recommend It:
Despite the not-love-triangle, I really enjoyed this book, and I'm loving this series. Dare I say this book is even stronger than The Dark Days Club? Perhaps it is. So many aspects of the story are strengthened - Helen, the plot revolving the Grand Deceiver, the journal (not spoiling), the romance (that ONE scene, mercy). There are even seeds about Carlston's wife, and Helen's parents, and a darker matter about Reclaimers and Deceivers. This book sets up for an intense showdown in book three! I highly recommend this series if you like historical fiction, paranormal fiction, steampunk fiction. I'm not a huge fan of Cassandra Clare's books, but this series reminds me a little of The Infernal Devices, in terms of the world-building.
(I like this series SO much better than The Infernal Devices, mind you.)
4 stars. My heart will be shriveled and withered by the time book three is published! I'm not sure I can handle the ending of this book for so long. But I'm trusting Goodman to deliver a fair and good ending, for Helen, and Carlston, and Darby, and Quinn, and the others. I'm looking forward to getting book three in my hands as soon as possible!
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