The Dark Days Pact

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for The Dark Days Club. You can read my review of this novel [here].

The Dark Days Pact was written by Alison Goodman and first published in 2017. It is a dark fantasy story set in 19th Century England, which focuses on a young woman’s continuing association with a demon-hunting secret society. The novel forms the second part of the Lady Helen series and is preceded by The Dark Days Club (2015).

Following her public disgrace at her Presentation Ball, Lady Helen travels to Brighton to spend the summer with Lady Margaret and her brother, Mr Hammond. While it appears to her friends that she has merely retired to the coast for health reasons, it is really the perfect opportunity to hone her Reclaimer skills. Under the watchful eye of Lord Carlston, her combat training intensifies and she learns how to disguise herself as a man.

However, Lady Helen can’t help but notice that Lord Carlston’s sickness is growing worse. Following their illicit contact at the Presentation Ball, there seems to be a strange sort of energy between them. While Lord Carlston claims he is fine, Lady Helen suspects that his Reclaimer madness is fast approaching the point of no return. If he does not retire soon, he will be lost in the same mania that claimed Mr Benchley.

Lady Helen is not the only one to have noticed this. It is not long before she and Mr Hammond are approached by Mr Pike with word from the Home Office. As Lord Carlston can no longer be trusted, the two of them are ordered to undertake a top-secret mission to retrieve Mr Benchley’s journal. Although the two are suspicious as to what Mr Pike’s true intentions are, they have no choice but to do as he asks. Mr Pike’s position is authorised by the Prince Regent and so to disobey him would mean committing the crime of high treason…

If you were following this blog back in January, you may remember that I was pleasantly surprised by The Dark Days Club. While the book was a bit slow burning, I soon found that I could not put it down. I’m pleased to say that that The Dark Days Pact is a very strong sequel to this novel. However, it does carry on directly from where its prequel left off and so you might find yourself a bit lost if you don’t read them in sequence. You have been warned.

This time around, the story is far quicker to find its feet. Now that Lady Helen is in a position to better immerse herself in her Reclaimer training the story is lighter on the galas and more focused on the action. However, the story does still retain its unique flair. It blends its two themes – urban fantasy and Regency romance – very nicely, creating a concept that still feels fresh.

Goodman’s extensive author’s notes reveal her keen eye for detail. Although the story is very much fantasy, it is peppered with historical facts. Her research clearly shows within the novel as everything has a very real feel to it, from the lavish balls to the grimy back-alley brothels. However, the realism of the story did sometimes touch a bit close to home. While the sexist attitudes towards Lady Helen are certainly in keeping with the period in which the story is set, I still found them very hard to read.

Naturally, this is part of the point. It’s clear to anyone with eyes that Lady Helen is as intelligent and capable of her male counterparts. However, she lives in a world where women are a form of currency and one can find herself cast out of polite society for the crime of refusing a man. This just really fired up my blood. Everywhere Lady Helen went, she was judged. It ranged from the Duke of Selburn’s hyper-protectiveness to Mrs Albridge’s spiteful gossip. I’ve never read a novel before that I’ve found so compelling and infuriating in equal measure!

While The Dark Days Pact is the second novel of a planned trilogy, I didn’t ever feel as though it succumbed to middle novel syndrome. In fact, it does a fantastic job of progressing the overarching plot. This time, we learn a lot more about what is required to create the Trinitas and it’s rather more sinister than anything we saw in The Dark Days Club. More is also revealed about the nature of both the Grand Deceiver and their Reclaimer counterpart. I’ll say no more here for fear of spoilers, but the book certainly contained some twists and turns that really took me by surprise.

I also liked how the story allowed the reader to see both sides of Brighton. On its outward face, it was a beautiful town frequented by wealthy Londoners during the summer months. Yet, during Lady Helen’s night-time wanderings under the guise of Mr Amberley, it looks completely different. Brighton has a seedy underbelly beyond the darkest imaginings of a well-mannered young lady and some of the most entertaining moments of the novel were when Lady Helen was forced to squash her instinctive moral outrage to maintain her disguise.

My only real issues came in the form of the characters. Lady Helen is a greatly sympathetic protagonist and I love her to bits. She did slowly start to come into her own in this story as she quietly starts to rebel against her orders in order to prove that she is capable of being a Reclaimer. However, I still found her passivity to be really frustrating at times. Yes, I know, product of the times, but she’s just so quick to agree with the male characters. She stands her ground for about five seconds every time Lord Carlston berates her, before backing down with an “on refection, his lordship had probably been right”. I know, it’s a nitpick, but 90% the male characters are simply underestimating her skills. I really wish she’d stand her ground against them.

The male characters in this story are what really give me problems. Excluding Mr Hammond, who is awesome, every other man in this story is a grade-A douchebag. When I read The Dark Days Club, I actually rather liked both Lord Carlston and the Duke of Selburn. This time, I was left wishing that Lady Helen would ditch both and pair up with Darby. Neither of the men felt like a satisfying paramour for her. Both are obsessed with protecting her, usually making any action scene more complicated than it needs to be as they blunder into harm’s way to save her.

The Duke of Selburn is especially frustrating in this regard. Just why does he think he can protect Lady Helen? He is a human and he’s now witnessed her superhuman speed and strength. She could break him over one knee. She doesn’t need his constant fawning and desperate attempts to convince her to accept his proposal. Seriously Selburn, just get lost. There isn’t even a love triangle to be had here. Lady Helen is blatantly uninterested in him.

Anyhow, I’m starting to rant so I think I should wrap this up. Despite how angry this book makes me, I’d still really recommend The Dark Days Pact. It’s a compelling story that does a great job of blending demon-hunting action with a Regency Period romance. I really can’t wait to see how this series wraps up.

The Dark Days Pact can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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