Published by Viking on January 26, 2016
Genres: historical, paranormal
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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?
A dark fantasy/paranormal YA novel set in Regency-era London is a setting I simply cannot pass by. Add in a delightfully relatable and unlikely, yet nonetheless badass, heroine and a little romantic tension so thick you could cut it and…well, I am more than sold.
This was such a refreshing entry into the YA paranormal realm. In a genre where I am used to reading about vampires, werewolves, and witches, it was absolutely delightful to have these succubi-like demons. Roaming around Regency London no less! Paranormal usually falls under the domain of urban fantasy, as well, so it was doubly delightful to add this historical British flair. The demons and the magic involved were also delightfully creepy which is always a plus in my book. The Deceivers feed off of human sexual energy, depleting the human’s life force, with their creepy energy tentacles. I approve.
Lady Helen Wrexhall has been living under the shadow of her dead parent’s treachery for more than 10 years. In the strict society of Regency London, where one’s good reputation of standing is of the utmost importance for a woman, Helen must tread very carefully. Her behavior must at all times be perfectly in line with that which is expected of a young woman of gentle breeding who is looking to make a good marriage. What is such a girl to do when she discovers she was born to be a hunter of demons who slip about infiltrating human society completely undetected? Certainly demon hunting, and its related activities and consequences (like, you know, traipsing about in the dark of night unchaperoned), are simply not done the thing!
If you are Lady Helen, you spend a great deal of time wrestling with this question of fate. To be a Reclaimer is not an easy thing. There is much personal sacrifice required. How do you reconcile this great weight and responsibility (there are very, very few Reclaimers and many Deceivers) when you imperil your life, the lives of others, and ruin your reputation? I found Helen’s reluctance to take up this mantle so relatable and refreshing. It’s nice to see the fallibility and humanity of our badass heroines.
Helen’s doubt also serves to highlight the impossibilities of her situation. She is a young woman of marriageable age expected to make a good match and have children as soon as she can. How can she live a secret life of demon-hunting while also maintaining her reputation? What does it mean if she has to reject all of this in order to be a Reclaimer? I love that this a paranormal story that uses the context of its historical setting to engage in reflection on gender limitations in a restrictive society.
And not only is Helen’s development great, but there is a large cast here of characters to delight in. The relationship between Helen and her aunt is flawed, but in such a heart rending, realistic way. There are always times our loved ones disappoint or fail us. Does the failure lead to reconciliation that strengthens your relationship or does it lead to estrangement? Even more for Helen to juggle here. Helen’s relationship with her maid, Darby, is also a strength of the novel. What is initially a relationship between a lady and maid strengthens and deepens into something more as the novel progresses. The loyalty the two have to each other is wonderful.
There were just a few things that kept me from being as fully drawn into this story as I wanted to be. There is action in this book, and it is exciting and full of adrenaline in just the right kind of rush you’d wish for in a good and proper demon hunting book. But I did find some of the detail perhaps a bit too much. There were times when the violence described or mentioned seemed gratuitous. I admit I can be a bit of a delicate flower sometimes when it comes to gore or violence, but something about this just felt off to me. As though the level of violent description did not match the tone or context of the book.
Also, I loved this book’s scope and breadth of the attention paid to historical detail, but I sometimes found myself getting impatient with it. There is a lot of set up here. I mean, a lot. Helen doesn’t even discover she is a Reclaimer until halfway through the book (and it’s a long book). I think your mileage may vary depending on how much you like very explicit Regency detail. I can see this easily being frustrating for readers who want constant action in their stories. But! I do think it is very much worth the payoff for all that set up.
Oh yes, the romance! The romance here isn’t so much a romance as it is a slow burn tension of the most delicious kind. I was also a little hesitant to throw myself into liking any particularly gentleman in this book since I am unsure of which way it is going to go! There is not quite a love triangle, but maybe? There is a (seemingly) kind duke who is interested in Helen’s hand. The tension, however, exists between Helen and Lord Carlston, a fellow of dubious and mysterious reputation who keeps himself at arm’s length. This dubiousness and mysteriousness also had me on guard throughout the book, however I think we are setting up for some rather excellent shippage in Book 2. I’m here for it!
Overall, this is a rather glorious first installment in a new series. The mystery kept me guessing the entire time, and there are just enough unresolved questions by the end of the book to keep me tantalized but not frustrated. I can see potential for some trope subversion if Goodman chooses to follow that path (I hope she does!). This is a dark, paranormal murder mystery that is unafraid of lifting up the curtains of London’s darkest corners.