Happy Hurricane Henri, y’all! For those of you who don’t know me, I am am east coast gal, and we are sitting with bated breathe waiting for Henri to arrive on our doorsteps and kick some branches down. I happen to love storms (a bit of a blasphemous opinion around here), but we are prepping for a big one. So what better way to distract myself then a long-delayed review of one of my favorite recent ARCs?!
The Merchant and the Rogue is the newest Dread Penny Society installation by Sarah Eden, an awesome series that follows Penny Dreadful writers as they try to solve all of Victorian London’s woes like poverty and child abuse. And of course, a dash of romance to spice up their lives. I have been following this series ever since receiving a copy of book one, The Lady and the Highwayman, at BookCon in 2019, and the series has only improved since (book two, The Gentleman and the Thief, came out in November 2020). When I was given the opportunity to review an ARC for Merchant, I was overjoyed. Now, a week late with reviewing it, I am happy to present…
From the Publisher:
Vera Sorokina loves reading the Penny Dreadfuls and immersing herself in tales of adventure, mystery, and romance. Her own days are filled with the often mundane work of running the book and print shop she owns with her father. The shop offers her freedom and an income, and while she is grateful for the stability it brings to her life, she often feels lonely.
Brogan Donnelly was born and raised in Ireland, but has lived in London for several years, where he’s built a career as a penny dreadful writer. He has dedicated himself to the plight of the poor with the help of his sister. But with no one to share his life with, he fears London will never truly feel like home.
Brogan and Vera’s paths cross, and the attraction is both immediate and ill-advised. Vera knows from past experience that writers are never to be trusted, and Brogan has reason to suspect not everything at Vera’s print shop is aboveboard. When a growing criminal enterprise begins targeting their area of London, Brogan and Vera must work together to protect the community they’ve both grown to love. But that means they’ll need to learn to trust each other with dangerous secrets that have followed both of them from their home countries.
What I Loved:
- Brogan and Moirin. I am a sucker for a good Irish character, especially a famine-era one. Brogan and Moirin faced incomparable odds, survived, and now are struggling to build a life for themselves in England. They always have each other’s back, even when Moirin knows Brogan is hiding something (*cough* the Dread Penny Society) and when Brogan wants for both of them to fulfill their own happiness. This is the kind of sibling bond we all aspire to. I also love that Moirin is as much of a badass, if not more, than her brother.
- The Immigrant History. One of the best parts of reading historical fiction is the actual history. While some historical fiction books don’t really delve too deep, what I love about Sarah Eden is her ability to bring in the best and worst of Victorian London, especially the seedier underbelly. What was new about Merchant from the other books in the series is that it delves into the immigrant history of London. Vera, our kind and brave protagonist, is a Russian immigrant with a unique background: her family fled from Russia, and now her and her father run a print shop and struggle to make ends meet. Brogan fled Ireland under similarly unsavory circumstances after surviving the Famine as a child, and is now a writer of middling success. Both Brogan and Vera are immigrants and outsiders to a certain extent, and it is fascinating seeing London through their eyes.
What Didn’t Work as Well:
- The Penny Dreadfuls. This is a common complaint of mine, but the Penny Dreadfuls, while delightful, are awkwardly placed and distract from the main plotline. I actually really enjoyed both of the Dreadfuls in Merchant (Brogan’s “Dead Zoo,” and King’s “Merchant and the Rogue”) and thought they added value. However, the books and the series overall would have benefitted having the stories at the end as bonus content, instead of jumping in at tense moments in the main plot.
- The (Lack of) Plot Development. On the one hand, Merchant did have a great move inside the Dread Penny Society. On the other hand, the main villain in the series is still not caught despite a near-grab, and the overarching villainy is no closer to being discovered. The evil mastermind seems to have his hand in all criminal pies: child slavery/exploitation, racketeering, gambling, mob protection, etc. But Merchant felt like a continuation of the same thread, without making the reader feel like we are any closer to a satisfying end. I don’t want the series to end, but a little more advancement in the general plotline would help.
Despite perhaps not advancing the overall Dread Penny Society series all that much, The Merchant and the Rogue was a delightful read, either as a standalone or as part of the series. Four waves out of five for this great beach read, and published as of last week! Pick up your copy of Merchant here (also featured on my Favorite Books of 2021 list!), or if you want to read book one, The Lady and the Highwayman, pick up your copy here.