Author: Alison Goodman
Genre: Historical Fiction, Supernatural
Series: 1st book in the Lady Helen series
Publisher: RazorBill (Penguin Random House)
First Published: January 26, 2016
First Line: "In the sun-warmed quiet of her uncle's library, Lady Helen Wrexhall spread the skirt of her muslin morning gown and sank into the deep curtsy required for Royal presentation: back held straight, head slightly bowed, left knee bent so low, it nearly touched the floor."
Book Description from GoodReads: London, April 1812. On the eve of eighteen-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall’s presentation to the queen, one of her family’s housemaids disappears-and Helen is drawn into the shadows of Regency London. There, she meets Lord Carlston, one of the few who can stop the perpetrators: a cabal of demons infiltrating every level of society. Dare she ask for his help, when his reputation is almost as black as his lingering eyes? And will her intelligence and headstrong curiosity wind up leading them into a death trap?
My Review: Historical fiction, mystery and some paranormal? This book is right down my alley, right? But it was also a hard book to review. There are some aspects of this book that were amazing and others that left me wanting a little bit more. At the heart of this book is the historical setting - Regency London - and all its societal rules and restrictions for young women of the time. There is also a strong supernatural aspect (which is rather dark) that is introduced to the reader as well as Lady Helen who becomes embroiled within these elements.
Lady Helen was a good protagonist whom I'd describe as a plucky Victorian gal with a side of sass and a penchant for trouble-making. She's strong-willed and feels restricted by society's (and her overly-demanding and jerk of an Uncle's) rules of how a good young lady should behave. She stands up for others and is rebellious enough to get herself into a good amount of trouble. Helen goes through some personal conflicts that I found interesting as they pertained to the supernatural theme. Overall, she was a solid main character who was easy to get behind.
Lord Carlston was probably the most intriguing character for me. He gives off a strong Mr Darcy vibe - he's dark, brooding, handsome, strong and has some rather big rumours surrounding his past that I wanted to know more about. But he, as well as the other characters (except for Helen), aren't given enough page time for the reader to get to know them better. Instead the point of view is strictly Helen's which is why I think some of the pacing suffered. The reader was stuck with Helen going to various parties and fetes with the Queen and young women on the hunt for the perfect spouse instead of unearthing demons and learning more about past secrets.
This book is almost 500 pages. Yup, it's a biggie and I like big books, I cannot lie. Goodman uses these pages to set her story and characters within jolly old 1812 London. A lot of historical detail is given about the era - fashion, societal mores and social restrictions. I enjoyed how the author wove various historical facts into her story line. Unfortunately, sometimes good historical fiction can get too bogged down in descriptions of the era and that's what happened here.
At the heart of the plot is a paranormal element but I can't say that I loved how it was handled and that surprised me. It was an interesting idea but a little hard to wrap your head around at first. I can't put my finger on it exactly except that it was hard to imagine a small group of 'good guy's battling thousands of 'evil dudes' and thinking they stood a chance. The whole issue had a constant, and excessive, dark feel and if I was Helen there wouldn't have been a hard choice for me to make regarding the supernatural issue. That's all I'll say on that.
There is some romance in the story line but romantics better be ready to wait for it. It's a slow process even though the author dangles a love triangle in front of her readers. The romance wasn't front and centre (which I liked) nor was it fully explained why the two men had so much bad blood between them (kind of frustrating).
There are some great action scenes towards the end but getting to that point will take some patience on the part of the reader. I liked that some of the familial secrets start to unravel but wish some of these had happened a little earlier on to keep up the pace of the book. There are quite a few questions left unanswered and I have my suspicions on future plot twists. As to whether or not I'll pick up future books is still undecided.
This was a slower read than I was expecting for such a big book. I enjoyed the era, the characters were, for the most part, memorable and it had a very different take on the supernatural element. This book is described as a Young Adult read but I'd recommend it for the older end of that spectrum (17-20 years).
My Rating: 3.5/5
Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to RazorBill (Penguin Random House Canada) for providing me with a complimentary hardcover copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.