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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Monday, August 15, 2016

Sunday supervillainy - Currently reading Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club, by Alison Goodman

I've almost finished Alison Goodman's latest novel, Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club (also known as simply The Dark Days Club).

I don't usually offer disclaimers, since it's a small world and you can assume that I know many of the people whose books I discuss. But just this once, partly because I love this book - and I strongly recommend it if it sounds like your sort of thing - I'll get out of the way that Alison and I are personal friends.

With that said, this is a Gothic novel of a kind. It blends Regency romance (and Jane Austen's sharp eye for social observation) with a dark, soul-corrupting war against a demonic horde secretly entrenched in the cities, towns, and villages of the world. So what's not to like? It's beautifully written and adroitly paced, with rounded, vividly realized characters whom I find myself caring about. Lady Helen's dilemmas, large and small, are almost painful to contemplate. And yet we must know what she'll decide at each point - which keeps us devouring paragraphs and turning pages.

The bad guys of the narrative are demonic beings of various grades that infest the earth, preying on humankind by analogy, somewhat, to vampires. (Although this is not a vampire novel, Lady Helen does rather resemble Buffy - if Buffy were a young aristocratic woman living in England during the extravagant Regency period of the early nineteenth century.) These beings are opposed by a small group of especially gifted humans who might as well be considered mutants - the expression lusus naturae, whim, or we'd say "freak", of nature, is used more than once - and possess the terrible responsibility of employing their powers for mankind's greater good.

Much science fiction and fantasy can be seen as expressing anxiety about the uses of power. As we are told by countless book, movies, comics, etc. - whether it's Spider-Man, or the X-Men, or something more respectably middlebrow - certain people might use extraordinary powers altruistically and responsibly, while others would bend theirs to destructive or selfish purposes. In fiction, as with real-life uses of power (political, economic, technological, or otherwise), it is not always so straightforward. Even when used with all responsibility and diligence, great power may tend to corrupt the user, and this is certainly an overarching dilemma that confronts poor Lady Helen. Dare she embrace her abilities, and what kind of nightmare path in life will she be starting if she does? What would the power and the struggle do to her generous heart and purity of spirit?

There are two more books to come, so I'm looking forward to the whole trilogy.

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