by Sarah M. Eden
Series: The Dread Penny Society #2
Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Publication Date: November 3, 2020
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
A gentleman scribes penny dreadful novels by night and falls in love with a woman who is a music teacher by day—and a thief at night.
From the moment Hollis Darby meets Ana Newport, he’s smitten. Even though he’s from a wealthy, established family and she isn’t, he wishes he could have a life with her by his side. But Hollis has a secret: the deep coffers that have kept his family afloat for generations are bare, so he supports himself by writing penny dreadfuls under a pseudonym. If not for the income from his novels, he would be broke.
Ana Newport also has a secret. Though she once had a place in society thanks to her father’s successful business, bankruptcy and scandal reduced his fortune to nothing more than a crumbling town house. So Ana teaches music during the day, and at night she assumes the identity of the “Phantom Fox.” She breaks into the homes of the wealthy to reclaim trinkets and treasures she feels were unjustly stolen from her family when they were struggling.
When Hollis’s brother needs to hire a music tutor for his daughter, Hollis recommends Ana, giving him a chance to spend time with her. Ana needs the income and is eager for the opportunity to get to know the enigmatic gentleman. What neither of them expects is how difficult it will be to keep their respective secrets from each other.
When a spree of robberies rocks the city, Ana and Hollis join forces to solve the crimes, discovering that working together deepens the affection between them. After all, who better to save the day than a gentleman and a thief?
Content warnings: View Spoiler »gambling (recreational as well as to excess), child briefly in danger (but is safe), discussion of children and women before forced into servitude and prostitution, alcohol « Hide Spoiler
This is actually the second in a series, which I quickly realized once I started reading. I think things were well enough explained that it didn’t affect the relationship between Ana and Hollis, though I struggled a bit with the Dread Penny Society and its members.
“Getting invited to parties—that was Fletcher’s highly important role for Hollis. The others thwarted criminals, saved lives, uncovered vast and dangerous plots. He went to parties.
Ana’s family once moved the circles of the elite, but after her father’s business partner ruined their business and absconded, her family was ruined. Now she teaches music at a women’s college and does her best to support her ailing father – and spends her nights stealing back her families’ keepsakes. While Hollis is still one of the elite, second son of a noble family, they are similarly impoverished, though it’s well-hidden. To keep up appearances for his older brother and his children, Hollis gambled his way through Eton and now writes penny dreadfuls under a pen name to support himself. He’s also a member of the Dread Penny Society, a group whose purpose is to help the downtrodden and poverty-stricken underclasses, from saving child thieves from the police to supporting schools to teach the trades. Hollis is the only gently born member, though, and he feels like his work – convincing those of his class to donate to the schools – isn’t as important as the work everyone else is doing. But that all changes when reports of a new thief and a high class gambling ring become entertwined. Finally he’s being trusted with more than just going to parties. But will his involvement mean putting his burgeoning relationship with Ana in danger?
“He was a member of a respected and elevated family, a welcome part of the very Society from which she was dis- tanced. Her poverty and lowered status had created a chasm. The necessity of taking up sneak thievery to regain what had been taken only broadened that gap. There was no escaping that reality.”
I liked Ana. Music teacher by day, thief by night – I thought it was very interesting, but I did wonder where she learned her cat burglary skills. I also liked that Hollis was an author, though we didn’t see much of that on the page, besides the chapters of one of his novels. For all the heavy topics, this is a very light and sweet book. In terms of violence, even the big bad guys don’t do more than a few vague threats, and handholding and a few kisses are as far as the sexual content goes. Most of the angst revolves around the secrets they’re keeping from each other – Hollis’ involvement in the Society (and his penny dreadfuls) and Ana’s thieving. It’s a little worse on Ana’s side, as she’s terrified of losing her position at the ladies’ school if anyone, even Hollis, finds out. I’m not usually a big fan of the main characters keeping secrets from each other, so I was pleased it was mostly resolved by the halfway point of the book. That’s when their relationship slowly picks up steam as well, as before that point a lot of the book is taken up with uncovering the gambling plot. It was much more prominent than I expected, given I thought this was mainly a romance novel. I’d almost say this was historical fiction with strong romantic elements.
I really enjoyed the two penny dreadful novels interspersed with the stories. With that being said, I do think it a bit jarring switching back and forth between three different narratives, and I do think it took away from the main story. I would’ve liked to see more time spent with Ana and Hollis spending time together. What was on the page was nice, but I just wanted more!
So, overall, 3 stars, and I’ve added the first book in the series to my TBR.