The Gentleman and the Thief: Proper Romance Victorian, by Sarah M. Eden—A Review

The Gentleman and the Thief by Sarah M Eden 2020From 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.” (Location 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. (Location 251)

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A Rogue of One’s Own: A League of Extraordinary Women (Book 2), by Evie Dunmore—A Review

A Rogue of One's Own by Evie Dunmore 2020From the desk of Pamela Mingle:

From the age of twelve, Lucie Tedbury’s mission has been to improve the lives of women. Twenty years on, a rogue from her past, Tristan Ballentine, interferes with her plan. Opposites attract, after all. Evie Dunmore’s A Rogue of One’s Own, second in The League of Extraordinary Women series, is an exploration of love and the question still being asked today: “Can women have it all?”

In 1880, Lucie has become a leader of the British suffragist movement. Within her circle of Oxford women friends, the fight is against the Married Women’s Property Act, which at that time made women subordinate to their husbands in all matters. Lucie and a cadre of wealthy women investors have purchased a large share of a publishing company in order to advance the suffragist cause and encourage the repeal of the hated MWPA. One day, when Lucie is working in her drab rooms in Oxford (she’s been banished from her family home), she overhears a seduction beneath her window. It’s her neighbor, a widow, flirting with the nemesis of her adolescent years, Tristan Ballentine. The neighbor tells Tristan not to mind Lucie; she’s “just a spinster.” In a fury, Lucie leaves, only to run headlong into Tristan, who’s been waiting to sabotage her.

Tristan had spent many summers at Lucie’s family home as a youth. She’d always spurned him, and it made him prone to do “anything to provoke a reaction.” He admits to himself that Lucie still holds sway over him. Her hair shines like “a polished silver coin.” A line of Byron’s poetry comes to him, which hasn’t happened in years. “‘And all that’s best of dark and bright/Meet in her aspect and her eyes…’” For her part, Lucie sees little to admire in Tristan. Continue reading

The Lady and the Highwayman (Proper Romance Victorian), by Sarah M. Eden—A Review

The Lady and the Highwayman by Sarah M Eden 2019From the desk of Katie Patchell:  

Pop Quiz: Which of the following is a penny dreadful — a) the title of a recent TV series, b) a term for a gory but thrilling story or c) a serialized novel from the 1800s?

If you answered any of the three, you would be correct! Besides being the name of a 2014 TV show, penny dreadfuls were serialized stories during the 19th century. They’re most famously known for their affordable price and plots filled with all kinds of thrills, such as hauntings and kidnappings. Sarah M. Eden, an author previously reviewed by Austenprose, visits this colorful world of penny dreadfuls in this, one of her latest novels, The Lady and the Highwayman. 

“Rumor had it, Fletcher Walker wasn’t born but had simply appeared one day, swaggering down the streets of London.” (Chapter 1) 

It is London, 1865, and Fletcher Walker is a man on top of the world. From pickpocket to the author of wildly popular penny dreadfuls – and leader of a philanthropic secret society –  he has created something unshakable. Or so he thinks. His confidence in himself and his mission to change the world is threatened when a new “king” of penny dreadfuls arrives on the scene. And this king, Mr. King, is none other than:

Elizabeth Black — headmistress of Thurloe Collegiate School, a respected member of society, and secret author. As the male writer King, Elizabeth enjoys growing fame, especially for her serial, The Lady and the Highwayman. Yet she soon discovers that she has at least one enemy intent on destroying King’s career. When Fletcher enlists her aid to help him track down King, little does he know that he’s gone to the very last person in the world to wish him success.

As Elizabeth becomes more involved with Fletcher, she struggles to prevent him from finding out her secret identity, while at the same time, trying to further her goal in discovering the truth about the shadowy Dread Penny Society and Fletcher’s involvement. Will she reveal her secret identity so he can reign as the penny dreadful king again, as he wants? Or can she find a different way to help the people of London as Mr. King, while staying true to her desires? Continue reading

Bronte’s Mistress: A Novel, by Finola Austin—A Review

Brontes Mistress by Finola Austin 2020From the desk of Molly Greeley:

The mystique of the Brontë sisters hasn’t lessened in the years since they wrote their extraordinary novels. Their brother Branwell is remembered by history less for his literary talents than for his notorious addictions, and for the alleged affair he had with his pupil’s mother, Lydia Robinson. In Brontë’s Mistress, Finola Austin explores this affair from Lydia’s perspective with both compassion and a good writer’s capacity to empathically—and mercilessly—depict her characters as fully-realized people, at both their best and their worst.ë

Lydia is the original Mrs. Robinson, and not only in name: a mother of five, trapped in a marriage with a cold and unaffectionate man, unfulfilled by the narrow role deemed socially acceptable for women, and desperate for love and attention, she finds herself drawn to her son’s tutor, the handsome, poetic, and much-younger-than-she-is Branwell Brontë.

Their affair is passionate, sweeping Lydia away from the dullness of her everyday life. She revels, at first, in Branwell’s capacity for love, and in his willingness to speak of things most people in her circles of acquaintance never would, and his unconventionality frees Lydia to express her own.

He “railed against convention, society, religion, talking about us but not about us, redirecting his fire towards the legal and spiritual strictures that kept us apart… I joined him, dancing closer and closer to the precipice and uncovering aspects of my nature I’d never thought8 to expose to the light, delighting in our shared, secret, impotent rage.” (121).

But soon enough, Lydia comes to see Branwell’s many flaws, and as his behavior becomes increasingly erratic, his vices more obvious, she becomes fearful of the whispered rumors about them that have already begun circulating. She worries, of course, about the servants’ talk, but also about Branwell’s literary sisters—with whom she has something of an obsession and who, she fears, might put the story of their brother’s affair in their work. Continue reading