The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

  • The Dark Days Club, Alison Goodman IMG_0862

Rating: * * * * *

Series: Lady Helen #1

Publisher: Walker Books

Publication Date: January 2016

Goodreads synopsis: ‘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?’

I had been hugely excited about reading The Dark Days Club ever since I saw an advertisement for it at YALC in the summer of last year, and my enthusiasm was well placed. This is a wonderful novel, a perfect mix of history, mystery, fantasy, adventure, and romance.

Lady Helen is an original and highly likeable protagonist, right from the opening scene. I think that she is one of my all-time favourites. She is good-humoured, spirited, clever, and stronger than she knows. The reader instantly engages with her. She is one of those main characters who, although the PoV is in the third person, you can connect with just as much as if it were in the first person. Helen is capable of much more than she at first realises, and it is a joy to witness her find herself over the course of the novel.

Helen is joined by a great cast of other characters. Alison Goodman’s descriptions of them are first class and bring them to life, from the ‘caustic remarks’ of the mysterious possible-murderer Lord Carlston, to the overbearing nature of Lady Helen’s class-conscious uncle, who waves a letter in a ‘crackle of condemnation.’ The descriptions of the characters’ actions build up vivid impressions and visual images of them, and are a delight for the imagination.

Although there are quite a few young adult books with the theme of demon hunting, Alison Goodman brings some fantastic new ideas to the table, like the role of Terrenes and the uses of hair in alchemy against demons. The novel is truly refreshing.

There is also an intriguing contrast running all the way through the novel between two settings and ways of life which Lady Helen must choose between. On the one hand there are the mysterious rituals of the Dark Days Club, and the hideous acts of Deceivers; on the other there are splendid balls, poetry readings (where Lord Byron himself makes an appearance) and the deeply ingrained social protocol of high society. Alison Goodman, in her depiction of Regency London, uses exactly the right amount of historical detail for it to be wholly atmospheric and engaging, yet there is never a time when the information is excessive or overwhelming.

I thoroughly enjoyed this first installment in the Lady Helen series, and eagerly anticipate more of her and the rest of the Dark Days Club members’ adventures. I would definitely recommend it to fans of The Infernal Devices and the His Fair Assassin series.

‘I am no warrior, Sir, nor do I aspire to be. I have been taught to sew and sing and dance, and my duty is to marry, not fight demons.’

 

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

  • Passenger, Alexandra BrackenIMG_2331

Rating: * * / ***

Series: #1 Passenger series

Publisher: Disney Hyperion

Publication Date: January 2016

Goodreads synopsis:

‘passage, n.
i. A brief section of music composed of a series of notes and flourishes.
ii. A journey by water; a voyage.
iii. The transition from one place to another, across space and time.

In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.

Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods—a powerful family in the colonies—and the servitude he’s known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, Nicholas’ passenger, can find. In order to protect her, he must ensure she brings it back to them— whether she wants to or not.

Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods’ grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are play­ing, treacherous forces threaten to sep­arate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home . . . forever’

Passenger, along with Truthwitch was one of my most anticipated reads of 2016. Unfortunately, where Truthwitch exceeded my expectations, Passenger did not meet them. From the synopsis, I was expecting an exciting and fast-paced treasure hunt across centuries, but this hunt did not start until well into the novel, and altogether it wasn’t as epic as I’d thought it would be.

There were some bits about the novel which I did really like. For one, I loved the inspiration behind Passenger – the idea of using all the different meanings of the word ‘passage’ was a unique concept and great idea. I really want to try this as a creative writing starter. It was clear that the writer had done lots of research into the details of the historical period, like dress.  There were also some fascinating ideas in the book about time travel, such as the idea that you can’t cross paths with yourself, and the astrolabe’s power.

I also appreciated the fact that there was a diverse set of characters and the novel tackled issues such as racism and feminism. The characters I found particularly interesting were Cyril Ironwood, because his cutting dialogue gave him a clear character voice, and Sophia, the ambitious and hateful distant member of the Ironwood family.

Unfortunately, I did not consistently connect to the main characters, Etta and Nicholas. There was one bit of Nicholas’ narration that I really liked, about his choice of name:

Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors, repentant thieves, children – all the things he was and could be. The name made him feel more than protected. It made him feel like he could be a protector.’ 

However, on the whole I found Nicholas and Etta’s narration slow and frustrating, and there was too much internal reflection and not enough dialogue.

The Prologue about Nicholas and Julian in Bhutan was exciting and tense, but the first few chapters from Etta’s point of view felt flat. There was in theory lots of action, but it was not brought to life in a dramatic enough manner. Later on in the novel, the shift between places was confusing  – I didn’t feel like enough time was spent in each to be effective in absorbing the reader into the setting.

I definitely felt that things could have been snappier – both the dialogue and the pacing. I felt the book dragging in certain places, and this reduced my enthusiasm and interest in the novel. Reading it took a lot of effort, and I was rarely gripped. It was only in the last couple of chapters that I felt that there was sufficient drama and intrigue, and by then it felt a bit too late.

Overall, while there were some good points about Passenger, the writing style did not suit me, and I found it a difficult book to reach the end of. However, I have seen mixed reviews, with some people saying the same, that it did not fulfil expectations, and others commenting on how amazing it was, so I think that enjoyment of this book must be very personal, and though I was disappointed with the slow pace and lack of tension, others might not be, particularly if they know from The Darkest Minds that they enjoy Alex Bracken’s style.

Inferno by Catherine Doyle

  • Inferno, Catherine DoyleIMG_2288

Rating: * * * * *

Series: #2 Blood for Blood series

Publisher: Chicken House

Publication Date: January 2016

Goodreads synopsis: 

Romeo and Juliet meets The Godfather in the second installment of Catherine Doyle’s Blood for Blood series.

Sophie’s life has been turned upside-down, and she’s determined to set things right. But Nic, the Falcone brother who represents everything she’s trying to forget, won’t give up on their love – and it’s Luca’s knife she clutches for comfort. Soon another mafia clan spoils the fragile peace – and with her heart drawn in one direction and her blood in another, Sophie’s in deeper than ever.

I have just finished Inferno, and I am buzzing. I loved Vendetta, the first book in the series, but this sequel is even better. It’s thrilling and addictive, and I read it in one sitting because I absolutely could not put it down. There’s more betrayal, more vengeance, more passion, and more heartache.

One of the characters I really loved in the first novel was Millie, and she has some great moments in Inferno. Some of my favourite bits include her dolphin-themed pep talk, her stealth driving when she and Sophie sense that they are being followed, and her insults to the Falcone brothers. Of the latter, I especially like the following one, of which Dom is the subject:

“‘Tell him not to come near us. I would hate to risk drowning in his surplus hair gel.'”

 She’s a faithful and hilarious best friend to Sophie, and provides humour between some of the darker sections of the novel.

My absolute favourite character from the first book was Luca, and I was desperate for more of him in Inferno. Catherine Doyle fulfilled this wish – there are a multitude of wonderful exchanges between him and Sophie in this novel, and I now love Luca even more (Which I did not think possible!).  The scene with the doughnut is adorable and perfect, and had me beaming at the book so widely that my face began to hurt! Also, THAT MOMENT on page 261 is the one I had been waiting for! Luca and Sophie are my OTP.

The plot of Inferno is unceasingly exciting, gripping and unpredictable, with countless twists and turns. The Falcones and Marinos mean business in their blood feud – each will stop at nothing to destroy the other Mafia clan. Sophie and her mother are caught in the crossfire. The stakes are higher and the situation is darker and more dangerous than before. The feud builds up to a highly dramatic and emotional crescendo at the end of the book.

As always, Catherine Doyle’s dialogue is punchy, the pace is exactly right, and the whole novel is like an action movie. I cannot wait for book three!

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

IMG_2264
  • Truthwitch, Susan Dennard

Rating: * * * * *

Series: #1 The Witchlands

Publisher: Tor

Publication Date: January 2016

Goodreads synopsis: On a continent ruled by three empires, some are born with a “witchery”, a magical skill that sets them apart from others.

In the Witchlands, there are almost as many types of magic as there are ways to get in trouble—as two desperate young women know all too well.

Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born. So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires.

Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her—but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safi’s hotheaded impulsiveness.

Safi and Iseult just want to be free to live their own lives, but war is coming to the Witchlands. With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and ship’s captain) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must fight emperors, princes, and mercenaries alike, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

There is, and has been for a while now, lots of hype about Truthwitch, which meant that I had high expectations of the novel.  I am elated to say that Truthwitch fulfilled them all and more.

Truthwitch has humour, friendship, romance, bucket loads of action, fantastic I-want-to-be-you heroines, an awesome fantasy world… I could go on and on!

One of my favourite aspects of this book is the friendship between the two main characters, Safi and Iseult.

‘ “‘Just me’ isn’t who we are,” Iseult hollered back. “I’ll always follow you, Safi, and you’ll always follow me. Threadsisters to the end.” ‘

As Threadsisters, they know each other back to front and are fiercely loyal to each other. They always have each other’s backs.

‘Initiate. Complete.’

Their relationship reminds me of a line from Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows about Kaz and Inej being ‘twin soldiers’. This is exactly what Safi and Iseult are when they need to defend themselves. One is the right hand and the other the left. I love that in ‘Truthwitch’ friendship is more important than romance.
Although romance doesn’t centre stage in the novel, I do really like the relationship between Safi and Merik. Their chemistry is electric, and their exchanging of insults is great fun.

Sometimes when I read novels where the chapters alternate focus between different characters, I massively prefer one character’s point of view, and have the urge to skip through the other characters’. That is not the case here. All of the main characters are engaging, from Safi, the rash, loud and determined Domna of Cartorra, and Aeduan, the Bloodwitch relentlessly chasing her, to Iseult, the Threadwitch concerned with maintaining a state of stasis, and Merik, a prince ready to do whatever it takes to save his kingdom.

The world of the Witchlands is imaginative and original. There is so much to enjoy, including the stories of the Cahr Awen, the idea of Threadsiblings, the dances at court, and, of course, all the different types of Witchery – iron, wind, word, and thread to name but a few. I think that the latter, which is the magic Iseult has, might just be my favourite, as all the colours and types of Thread are fascinating.

‘Right before Iseult’s eyes, Safi’s threads were changing from those that build into those that bind.’

I did find all the types of Witchery slightly overwhelming in the first few chapters of the novel; it took me a few chapters to get fully integrated into the world-building. However, after the first few chapters, I was utterly immersed in the setting and the story, and was right on the edge of my seat, cheering Safi and Iseult on, and smiling all the way.

Truthwitch is a fantastic first instalment in the Witchlands series, and I have absolutely no idea how I am going to be able to wait until 2017 for the second! One of the best YA fantasy novels I have read, and a firm favourite!