Personally, I’m usually not a fan of the cliches contained in today’s Jane Austenian takes on “proper romance” historical novels. Don’t get me wrong, I would prefer to read/write a clean romance instead of a dirty one, especially in my favorite genre of historical fiction, but (like any book) it usually takes a very well-written clean romance with likable main characters and an engaging plot to get me hooked. These are elements where I think many books labelled “proper romances” fall a short, unfortunately. For those of you, like me, who have trouble getting into these novels, The Lady and The Highwayman has a very different mood from other proper romance novels I have come across. For example, instead of taking place in Regency times, it takes place in Victorian London and instead of containing a predictable romance plot, the love story comes second to a much larger—and frankly, more important—plot.
Sarah M. Eden has written over 50 proper romance novels and novellas and this story has inspired me to give other proper romances another chance. Apparently, Eden has written another “Proper Romance Victorian” titled Ashes on the Moor and has another one coming out in November 2020 titled The Gentleman and the Thief. I look forward to reading those and see what other Victorian Romances she and other authors comes up with!
Penny dreadful author Mr. King’s popularity threatens to eclipse the novels of Fletcher Walker and his author comrades of the secret Dread Penny Society, a group of men who have sworn to use the profits made from their penny dreadful novels to eliminate the injustices forced upon the children of London slums. However, Mr. King’s true identity, a schoolteacher named Elizabeth Black, has an agenda of her own. Using her profits to help educate young girls and protect them from the nefarious agendas of some unsavory characters on London streets, she comes into contact with Fletcher and together they realize that they can accomplish more good as a team than just through the motives of their secretive identities.
Narration/Organization. This story is told through limited omniscience (for example, one chapter focuses on Fletcher’s character while the next focuses on Elizabeth’s), as well as incorporating both Fletcher and Elizabeth’s penny dreadful stories they are writing (“The Vampire Tower” and “The Lady and The Highwayman”) into subsequent chapters. This could get confusing for readers if they want to read this book straight through. However, I think reading these mini stories help show the reader how the protagonists’ time together influences their writing and helps them solve the mysteries surrounding each other.
The Relationship. The wit and tension between Fletcher and Elizabeth are remarkable! I’m a sucker for sarcasm in any romance, and this story executes it very well, without causing a gag-reflex from the reader.
Description. The author also incorporated original descriptions to describe feelings, actions, and dialogue between characters. Engaging in a story through strong/original imagery is always appealing for me as a reader!
Dialogue. Lines pertaining to the characters’ thought-processes about their developing feelings was also executed well. One of my favorites occurring after Fletcher has to snub Elizabeth in order to save a young boy and protect her in the process:
While Elizabeth responds with one of my favorite quotes in the novel:
At the end of the book, the author includes a brief list of questions for the reader to contemplate pertaining to the era and issues surrounding it, which I think is a helpful tool to engage the reader further in the literature and the societal problems it addresses.
Victorian Slang. It could be my English Major talking, but sometimes the Victorian improper English of Fletcher and the other “lower-class” men was distracting.
Everybody! While the lengthy amount of text (and occasional jumps from story to story) in this proper historical romance is aimed at older audiences, the heroic actions of the characters and the uplifting messages contained in the plot make this a tale that all ages should read or listen to.