Hello, all! I am a bad person, because I received this ARC in person at BookCon last year (RIP 2020), I only reviewed it on Goodreads and didn’t write a formal write up. Shame on me! The Lady and the Highwayman was an amazing read, and I can only imagine it got better with editing. Looking forward to her second book in the same universe.
From the Publisher:
Elizabeth Black is the headmistress of a girls’ school and a well-respected author of “silver-fork” novels, stories written both for and about the upper-class ladies of Victorian society. But by night, she writes very different kinds of stories—the Penny Dreadfuls that are all the rage among the working-class men. Under the pseudonym Mr. King, Elizabeth has written about dashing heroes fighting supernatural threats and dangerous outlaws romancing helpless women. They contain all the adventure and mystery that her real life lacks.
Fletcher Walker began life as a street urchin, but is now the most successful author in the Penny Dreadful market, that is until Mr. King started taking all of his readers–and his profits. No one knows who King is, including Fletcher’s fellow members of the Dread Penny Society, a fraternity of authors dedicated to secretly fighting for the rights of the less-fortunate.
Determined to find the elusive Mr. King, Fletcher approaches Miss Black. As a fellow-author, she is well-known among the high-class writers; perhaps she could be persuaded to make some inquiries as to Mr. King’s whereabouts? Elizabeth agrees to help Fletcher, if only to insure her secret identity is never discovered.
For the first time, Elizabeth experiences the thrill of a cat-and-mouse adventure reminiscent of one of her own novels as she tries to throw Fletcher off her scent. But the more time they spend together, the more she loses her heart. Its upper-class against working-class, author against author where readers, reputations, and romance are all on the line.
What I loved:
- The setting and world build. Sara Eden set this book in 19th century England, where the rags to riches gap was enormous and social conscience/the understanding of the importance of education was only just starting to kick in. This was the perfect setting, given the Penny Dreadful backdrop.
- The main characters. Elizabeth, Fletcher, and the gang of Dreadful Pennies are fun characters who are all fundamentally good people. They navigate their way through a troubling world a best they can, and try to maintain a sense of humor at the same time. Bonus, the chemistry between Elizabeth and Fletcher is really well written.
- The “Lady and the Highwayman” interlude. Elizabeth’s Penny Dreadful that she is writing is the inspiration for the title of the whole book, and provides a foil fo the story. “Who is this man?” wonders the leading lady of the story; it parallels the mystery that Fletcher tried to solve as to the identity of Mr. King. I really enjoyed the story, and thought it was a fun plot device for the whole novel.
What I didn’t like as much:
- The pacing. The beginning of the book was very slow, and did not do a good job to introduce our main players. It was a little confusing because you are brought right into the setting, but who was important was harder to discern. I highly recommend sticking it out, since it gets SO good later.
- The Vampire’s Tower. This was Fletcher’s Penny Dreadful that he is writing in installations, and while I objectively liked it on its own, I wasn’t thrilled with the story as a grander part of the novel. The story has a vampire and two young boys saving their friends from its evil clutches: definitely something I would read independently, but the younger tone set weirdly against the rest. It doesn’t feel like it advances the plot of the novel at all.
I really, REALLY enjoyed reading Lady and the Highwayman, and highly recommend it for most readers who enjoy romance, a little drama, and a Victorian setting. While it is billed as a “clean romance,” I didn’t feel like it was stifling or that there was anything missing without steamy bits (though I’m never opposed to a little more steam!)
Four out of five waves – stay the course, and this book will sail you home. This is the perfect time to read this too, since the sequel, The Gentleman and the Thief, comes out in November! Preorder now when you buy your copy of Lady and the Highwayman. Happy reading!