From the desk of Katie Patchell:
Readers, beware: The Dread Penny Society is back in town. Their mission this time? Justice.
In September 2019, acclaimed Regency author, Sarah M. Eden, published her first book in the “Dread Penny Society” series. Titled The Lady and the Highwayman, this novel is a tongue-in-cheek – albeit romantic – take on the classic highwayman legends. Her latest addition to the series, The Gentleman and the Thief, no longer features a dashing highwayman, yet these new heroes equally hide their true selves amongst the shadows.
“For the poor and infirm, the hopeless and voiceless, we do not relent. We do not forget. We are the Dread Penny Society.” (Loc 1582)
Hollis Darby: Gentleman, man about town, and member of a secret society. Now in his thirties, he is more than satisfied with his work as a writer of children’s fiction. He even finds fulfillment in his other passion — helping to give hope to those living on the streets in his city. What Hollis lacks is a partner in crime, or at least, his brand of it. When he meets the enchanting Miss Newport, he is dazzled by her confidence, music skills, and kindness. Above all, he feels as if they are kindred spirits. Little does he know just how similar they are.
As he slipped from view, Ana opened her violin case. It was the perfect excuse and the perfect pretense. She opened the small compartment where she stored her rosin and her polishing cloth. She tucked underneath them what she’d come to this musicale for and had, by a near miracle, managed to secure: a single silver bracelet. (Loc 251)
Ana Newport: Musician, survivor, and thief. After her family’s wealth and honor were destroyed years ago, Ana has taken it upon herself to learn the thief’s trade in order to reclaim her family’s possessions that were stolen from her. Under the guise of the Phantom Fox, Ana successfully separates her life in the daytime from that of the night. That is, until the charmingly perceptive Hollis Darby arrives, with his own secrets in tow.
“Courage, Miss Newport,” he whispered. “You are equal to this.” (Loc 553)
As secrets are brought to light and their own demons raise their ugly heads, Hollis and Ana struggle to make the world a better place. The question is: if they work together, will they succeed? Or will they lose everything good that they’ve fought for?
Something Sarah M. Eden does remarkably well with The Gentleman and the Thief — and The Lady and the Highwayman before it — is the interplay of story within a story. Hollis’ serial about young thieves and their struggles provided an intriguing backdrop to his own experiences with Ana. Despite the topics of justice, revenge, and thievery, this was a surprisingly light book, filled with plenty of humor and romance to suit any reader looking for a fresh look at the Victorian period.
What I didn’t like about this book was the level to which I had to suspend my disbelief. The premise of a hidden society of mismatched, penny-dreadful novelists in the 1860s coming together to banter in Dickensian accents as they try to figure out how to bring about justice — legally but secretly — was too improbably naive for my taste. Ana especially was a challenge to root for, as her thievery took a weird form, masked under a pure cause. She refused to steal other people’s items, as a truly impoverished person would do. Instead, she stole to get revenge for her family’s loss of money and status, taking items that were originally hers. An ethical quibble wasn’t the main reason for my dislike, although most people (myself included) agree stealing is wrong; it was that I couldn’t get behind Ana’s motive. What was even the end goal? A small feeling of revenge, the size of a bracelet? This seemed like the kind of twisted logic villains are known for, not heroes.
That being said, Ana and Hollis were (largely) sympathetic leads, and I couldn’t help but admire their genuine compassion for those less fortunate, especially children. Both characters wanted to do something to help save the day, and while this doesn’t always work out as perfectly in real life as it did in the book, that fact doesn’t make The Gentleman and the Thief’s ending any less sweet.
Overall, The Gentleman and the Thief is a strong addition to “The Dread Penny Society” series. With its expanded world, driven characters, and message of hope despite circumstances, this is a novel that brings something new to the Victorian genre.
4 out of 5 Stars
- The Gentleman and the Thief: Proper Romance Victorian, by Sarah M. Eden
- Shadow Mountain Publishing (November 3, 2020)
- Trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook (368) pages
- ISBN: 978-1629727905
- Genre: Historical Romance, Victorian Romance, Inspirational Fiction
We received a review copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Cover image courtesy of Shadow Mountain Publishing © 2020; text Katie Patchell © 2020, austenprose.com.
Hello Dear Readers,
Have you read any of the novels in The Dread Penny Society, or other novels by Sarah M. Eden?
If you enjoy clean historical romance with witty dialogue, engaging plots, and endearing characters, Austenprose highly recommends them.
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Laurel Ann Nattress, editor