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 delicious collision of Regency romance and dark fantasy”
– Publisher’s Weekly, starred review
You know those books that are so good they fill you with a strange desire to visit your local bookstore and discreetly find every copy of it that they have in stock and line them up on the most prominent display?
This isn’t one of those.
I nearly DNFed it several times. The first came around 125 pages in, when I was sure that I must have misread the blurb. I could have sworn that it had mentioned demons, but there I was, 1/4 of the way through the damn thing, and so far the book had been nothing but an endless regurgitation of historical facts.
For those of you who have been following my reviews for any length of time, you likely know how much of a history geek I am. Give me a highly-detailed, historically accurate HF or HR and I’m in heaven.
If it’s well-done.
It is not well done in this book.
Perhaps this is just a “me” thing. Perhaps I just know too much about the time period already. But honestly, I don’t think so. I think a lot of other readers will share my opinion on this one, and with so many glowing reviews already out there for this book, I feel obligated to go into detail about the issues that really bothered me so I can save like-minded individuals the annoyance.
The greats like Heyer and Koen are able to work in the everyday minutiae of life in the time periods they write so subtly and seamlessly that the reader hardly ever realizes the research that must have gone into the book they’re reading. These authors bring to life the trials and tribulations their characters faced because of sex, class, or race in an organic way that feels genuine and unforced.
Goodman totally fails in this regard for me. She beats the reader over the head with how much research she did.
LOOK HERE! ANOTHER USELESS FACT ABOUT PELISES!
OH MY GOSH, DID YOU KNOW THAT THE HIGHEST RANKING MEMBER TAKING PART IN A DANCE MUST LEAD IT?! YOU DO NOW!
OR HOW ABOUT WHO PROCEEDS WHO INTO BALLROOMS?
In many ways, this story is structured like a high fantasy. The first nearly 200 pages are devoted to world building. Except for cool things like magic, myth, lore, and legend, this book drones on about some of the more droll, useless aspects of Regency life. I lost count of the number of extraneous scenes that did nothing to advance the plot. It felt like the sole purpose of them was to display just how much research went into this.
A lot of these details were crammed into scenes with such obvious intent to display the sheer knowledge of the author that they completely jarred me out of the story, which means that I spent far longer reading this than I wanted to (or should have).
“…although the conventions of polite dining dictated that Helen confine herself to those sitting to her left and right, she picked up a peach and, on the pretext of peeling it, focused her attention on the conversation opposite.”
Imagine sentences like that jammed into every single paragraph. Why the hell do I need to know that fact? Wouldn’t it have been more convenient to simply have her seated between the people having the discussion she winds up listening in on? Yes. It would have, but then the reader would never know who to speak to if sent back in time to a stuffy dinner party in some aristocratic household in Regency England.
Aside from the ceaseless fact bombing in this book, I had serious issues with the female lead.
First there is her rather prolific internal monologue. Not only was I drowned by historical detail, but then I was subjected to her musings on everything from what a maid’s raised brow might mean, to the number of steps she had to take from the top of the stairs in her house to the first landing. Why the fuck do I need to know that? It’s not like an obsession with numbers is a character trait of hers. No, it is merely another extraneous “WTF is the purpose of this?” moment in this book.
And then there’s the fact that she’s a coward.
Imagine being a highly oppressed woman living in a staunchly patriarchal, sexist society. Okay, now imagine how much worse it was for us 200 years ago.
Then imagine finding out that you have super powers. That there are demons in your midst and you were born to fight them. That the men in your life can no longer push you around because you can literally throw them through a wall. If you’d been railing against society all along you think you’d be thrilled, right? In the case of this MC, sadly, no. Instead, she spends two thirds of this book (pg 243 onward) whining about her powers.
She doesn’t want them. Why her? Can’t someone else fight the monsters? She’s a girl, she can’t fight, despite the fact that she’s displayed a natural aptitude for fighting that’s as inborn as her weird ability to read your every secret just from glancing at you.
Oh, and did I mention that she’s a speshul snowflake? And that she is the strongest, fastest, most gifted demon fighter ever? That she was born because some sort of super demon is among them and therefore nature must find a balance and she is its antithesis? And that if she doesn’t choose to fight the world is pretty much fucked?
Yeah, Helen don’t give a shit. She is a coward. And selfish. She’d rather get married after all, and have parties and pretty dresses. The world can burn so long as she lands herself a Duke. Or, wait, no, she wants to fight after all. OR DOES SHE?
She’s as wishy-washy about her fate as she is about the TWO LOVE INTERESTS.
Yeah, you read that right.
She’s also TSTL, a hypocrite, and poorly characterized based on the many, MANY times she contradicted herself.
And these male leads. Blech. The curtains hanging in my bedroom have more personality. Keeping with the usual trope, one is a secretive douchebag, while the other is the nice guy she should pick but obviously won’t because of something stupid like OMG, ABS..
In short: the hype is a lie.