The Merchant and the Rogue (Proper Romance Victorian)

Written by Sarah M. Eden
Review by Susan Lowell

In this latest addition to Sarah M. Eden’s Dread Penny Society series, she interweaves her proper Victorian romance with the texts of two mock penny dreadfuls (those lurid pulp serials that attracted an enormous readership in the 19th century). It’s an ambitious plan that results, unsurprisingly, in an uneven but very readable novel.

The Dread Penny Society is a secret group of “dreadful” writers, a sort of vigilante pulp writers’ Kiwanis Club who do good and fight evil. Meanwhile, a young Russian immigrant and printshop owner named Vera Sorokina falls in love with Brogan Donnelly, an Irish undercover DPS investigator: rogue on the outside, adorable hero underneath. The romance of these two appealing characters unfolds against a well-rendered background of working-class London in 1865; the historic misery of its “rookeries,” or slums, cannot be overstated.

But the other two stories—a horror tale set in Dublin’s “Dead Zoo” (a.k.a. the Natural History Museum) and a supernatural bakery story—are somewhat less successful.  Perhaps next time, to amp up the fun and the authenticity, Eden might consider quoting some actual “dreadful” text?