The Queen and the Knave (Proper Romance Victorian)

Written by Sarah M. Eden
Review by Misty Urban

In London, 1866, a criminal mastermind named the Tempest is targeting the Dread Penny Society, an association of authors who write penny dreadfuls—the pulp fiction of mid-Victorian Britain. As the Dread Master of this scrappy network dedicated to helping London’s poor and oppressed, Móirín Donnelly accepts the help of Fitzgerald Parkington, a constable newly elevated to detective at Scotland Yard. Móirín and Fitz trade witty banter and kisses as they race to protect the Dreadfuls from escalating threats, but as he searches for his missing grandfather, Fitz is also assigned to find an Irish woman who fled Dublin five years ago on accusations of murder. There’s little time to consider the future, however, when the wrathful Tempest, who seems bent on Móirín’s destruction, is always one step ahead.

Colorful dialect and rich detail of seedy, smoggy, sewer-lined London bring the setting fully to life, though Eden’s normally crisp, glossy prose edges toward the repetitive and sometimes familiar here. Two other interwoven stories—one a tale of two older detectives pursuing a ghost, the other a magical tale of a transformed queen—don’t in the least resemble a penny dreadful, but provide entertainment and, in time, thematic parallels. Readers who have been with the Society from the beginning will likely be better equipped than this reviewer, entering late in the series, to keep track of the many characters and better comprehend the Tempest’s grudge, her ability to wield ruthless control over London’s entire populace, and what exactly the Dreadfuls do. But the reader will feel their penny amply rewarded with the dramatic turns of a truly cinematic Act 3, full of tunneling twists, desperate stakes, and “gotcha” reveals. Themes of loyalty, justice, and compassion provide a warm underpinning to the cat-and-mouse game of survival. An enjoyable read.