Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Women in Horror: The Dark Days Club

In London 1812, Lady Helen Wrexhall lives with her aunt and uncle after the death of her parents. This would be fairly normal had her mother not been a traitor to England and caused a huge scandal. Very soon she will be presented to the court of King George III and into society, which needs to happen without mishap or scandal. Her uncle finds her deficient and prone to disobedience. He won't hesitate to disinherit and throw her out onto the streets should she bring any more shame to the family name. Then one of their maids goes missing. She suspects mysterious Lord Carlston, infamous for most likely murdering his wife. Following him and investigating him leads her to world of great evil, where creatures feed off of people's energy masquerading as aristocracy. Lady Helen discovers she has the power to fight them, but should she? There's danger on all sides and there's her reputation to think about as well.

Regency era England isn't the typical setting for a horror novel, but it's one not seen very often. Supernatural creatures become much scarier when technology like cars, cell phones, and other things we view as necessities today aren't available. There's also the difference in culture. In the aristocracy, manners and social conventions must be followed to letter as to not offend or insult anyone or appear in any way untoward. The way women are treated is also completely different. They are expected to be decorative, learn appropriate subjects like sewing and dancing, and find a suitable husband to have children and run a household for. Ambitions beyond that are not possible. Women don't own anything and depend on their male relations to dole out their money, tell them what to do, and control their fates. Even marriage just transfers the ownership of a woman to someone else. Lady Helen's uncle epitomizes the worst of this part that society. He considers women frivolous and inferior in every way to men. The fortune left by her parents is controlled by him and he makes no secret that it will all be taken away if she doesn't comply with his demands. Although I find this horrific, this is simply regular aristocratic English society.

The evil comes in when creatures like Deceivers (who consume others energy) infiltrate the upper echelons of this society to gain power and influence, hopping from body to body over generations. The good side comes in the form of Reclaimers, those able to kill Deceivers and the like with superhuman strength and speed, abilities of prediction, and the ability to purify the afflicted and drain energy from the evildoers. I like this world building. I thought that the view of the evil side was pretty limited, but maybe that's being saved for other books. The Reclaimers are not all as good as they claim. One of the older ones sees female Reclaimers as slaves and deposited into Lady Helen's mother all of the evil he had accumulated on his soul from saving people and killing the demons. The majority of Reclaimers simply stop before they go mad, but this one decided to do this without her consent or knowledge. When Lady Helen comes into this war, neither side looks honestly very good and I don't blame her for being conflicted.

This brings us to Lady Helen. She is rebellious in her own small ways although she mostly follows the conventions of her oppressive society. Her refusal to condemn her mother as a traitor is the main point of rebellion. Remotely showing her true opinion would bring shame and scandal to her family, as would a huge laundry list of the other things that sound ridiculous. Her heart is good and she wants to help those less fortunate than her, leading her on the journey to discover the seedy underbelly of the aristocracy. As her abilities start to appear, Helen knows that her desire for other things and her abilities set her apart from what is expected of her. I found her relatable and easy enough to like, but one thing really bothered me. She views fairly normal sexuality like masturbation or looking at porn to be as much or even more evil then demonic energy eating creatures. Sexuality isn't a modern invention and it's disappointing to see such a negative view being set by a modern writer. It may be stereotypically accurate for the time, but it's honestly toxic for modern teen audiences to reaffirm that female sexuality is undesirable at best and unnatural at worst. Lady Helen's mind is changed a little bit, but she doesn't connect her own desires with the supposedly degenerate ones of others.

The Dark Days Club is an interesting foray into horror and fantasy in a Regency era setting. The writing is engaging, but the book feels about a hundred pages too long. It starts out rather slow and doesn't pick up steam for a while. I appreciate that there aren't any lost story lines. I would read the next in the series especially considering the ending, but I hope my problems with this book are fixed in the next.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

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