Sometimes all you want is a little bit of historical romance. I gotta say I was really into the cover with its silhouettes, it reminded me of the Invisible Library, so I had to see for myself what it was about. It turned out to be part of a series (I feel a bit clueless), but that didn’t really prevent me from enjoying it
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.
I was given an advanced copy through Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.
This is basically a cosy romance with a side of adventure, with a side of nested dolls. You get three stories in one, as the main narrative is interspersed with chapters from two penny dreadfuls.
One of those is a mystery of sorts set in Dublin’s Dead Zoo (the natural history museum) and as someone who currently lives in Dublin, and quite enjoys that museum (you can actually do a virtual visit of it here!) I loved to read about it. And it is a rightfully creepy place to set a mystery. This one’s supposedly written by our hero, Brogan, so it’s nice to have a flavour of his writing (and it plays a small part in his interactions at the beginning).
The second story, by a Mr King, is actually called The Merchant and the Rogue, and is a fae mystery that acts as a counterpoint/parallel to the main merchant and rogue of the novel (Vera and Brogan). I found it quite clever to have these parallels, and I enjoyed the story onto itself.
Now, to the main bit. I’m usually wary of straight romance, especially historical, because the (gender) dynamics can be… ick. But this was not the case at all here, and I especially enjoyed how Brogan deferred to Vera on a lot of matters. The romance itself was sweet, not really sweep-you-off-your-feet but definitely cosy and heart-warming.
The mystery/intrigue part of the story was… I dunno, I was really into the bit where they resist the attempts at threatening the street with blackmail and extortion, but I don’t think I really got the wider story (the whole reason why Brogan was there in the first place). Brogan is part of a secret society of writers who try to help people and solve… stuff. I realised a few chapters in that this is a second/third book in a series, focusing on other writers in that secret society. So I’m definitely missing some context here, but I don’t think this was fully necessary to enjoy the book, except that I wasn’t really clued in on all the intricacies of the London underworld. It did also make me want to read the other books, not really for that context (it’s minimal, the main thing for me was the romance) but because those side characters piqued my interest – especially “Mr King” who wrote the second penny dreadful story.
I was also pretty happy with the ending, except that I feel like maybe a bit more of an epilogue/wrap up on the romance part would’ve been nice. But it does feel like there’ll be another book in the series, since the overall criminal activity plot is only put to rest for the moment, so as a standalone it felt a bit unfinished on the mystery part. But I’m quite satisfied with the romance, which was my main reason for going into it in the first place.