Review: The Dark Days Club

The Dark Days Club
The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Okay, let’s get something straight: when I’m promised an adventure novel about an “intrepid demon-hunter” in Victorian England, I don’t expect the book to take over 200-pages to get there. That’s virtually half of this book and speaks volumes as to its glacial pacing. And, oh, is the pacing unbearably slow — the problem lies in the writing and the protagonist.

Now, I adore well-researched historical novels. I love being immersed in a book’s setting and feeling like I’m really there with the characters. Attention to detail and accuracy are important, but only when they are done well. The historical details of The Dark Days Club smother this novel, swallowing the plot in incessant regurgitations of factoids and anecdotes that are wholly unnecessary — this could, of course, speak to my pre-existing familiarity with the time period, but even putting that aside, I cannot abide the info-dumping of this novel. It’s unrelenting in its frequency and length. Imagine someone constantly interjecting “fun facts” into a story — it distracts and damn-near derails the plot.

A plot which takes until the 50% mark for even one fight to occur on-screen, and the protagonist is merely a bystander to the affair. No. I was promised action and adventure. Why didn’t we make the Earl of Carlston the protagonist? Or, better yet, why didn’t we get a protagonist who was already familiar with this world and fully-indoctrinated within the eponymous society? Not only would this speed up the novel, but it would solve many problems with our protagonist.

And, oh, is she a special bloodydamn snowflake — equal parts insufferable and cowardly, Helen spends the entire novel as nothing more than a selfish teenager who cannot make up her mind. For virtually the entire front half of the novel, Helen bemoans her existence as a woman in a patriarchal world where the only thing she can do is get married. But guess what? She suddenly gets these amazing reflexes, can see things that aren’t apparent to other people, and fling men into walls like she’s been training for Fight Club. What does she do? Spend the rest of the novel complaining about these powers like a four year old who’s covering their ears, shutting their eyes, and screaming, “LALALA I’M NOT LISTENING. I’M NOT LISTENING.”

After all, she’s a girl and girls don’t fight. Suddenly being the strongest fastest, most gifted demon hunter ever — who can inexplicably read people’s expressions the way we do a bloodydamn book — means nothing and she’d rather get married and attend parties in beautiful gowns. Excuse me? What’s with the 180-degree flip? It’s completely contradictory, especially for someone who gets called a “rationalist” by the primary male of the novel. Can you feel my eyeroll? The eyeroll is strong with this one. Miss “special-promised-one-snowflake” Hele was insufferable — I would have rather read the novel from the perspective of her two — yes, two — love interests.

Kill me now, there was a gag-worthy love triangle that makes no sense. But that’s okay, because Helen is about as wishy-washy about her love interests as she in about her fate.

Which is why this novel deserved a protagonist who was already ingratiated within the world of the Dark Days Club. The entire front half of the novel could vanish, and the pace would not only pick up, but then Helen’s flakiness could be, at the very least, minimally tolerable as opposed to insufferably frustrating. Our interest would be in seeing a character who has done something long enough that she’s fed up with it and wants to try and have a “normal” society life, but finds herself unable to reconcile what is required of her in Victorian society — i.e. get married to someone with status and bear hairs — and the world of relative/potential “freedom” that comes with the caveat of potential harm or death. Doesn’t that sound like an interesting set-up?

From glacial pacing, a too stupid and insufferable to live coward of a “heroine,” I did not get a novel I could enjoy. I rolled my eyes the whole way through with twitching fingers that practically ached to give Helen a good clock in the jaw.

Would I read the sequels? I’d rather swallow ipecac.

Nota bene: This novel gets two stars by virtue of the Carlston who deserved so much better.

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