The cover, description, and title intrigued me, but when I started it, I wasn't sure if I'd like it. After a chapter or two, my doubts were relieved, and I entered into the spirit of the book about two writers of penny dreadfuls in the form of a penny dreadful and had a great time!
Below are a couple of interesting sources on the topic of the Penny Dreadful.
In the 1830s, increasing literacy and improving technology saw a boom in cheap fiction for the working classes. ‘Penny bloods’ was the original name for the booklets that, in the 1860s, were renamed penny dreadfuls and told stories of adventure, initially of pirates and highwaymen, later concentrating on crime and detection. Issued weekly, each ‘number’, or episode, was eight (occasionally 16) pages, with a black-and-white illustration on the top half of the front page. Double columns of text filled the rest, breaking off at the bottom of the final page, even if it was the middle of a sentence.
Of note, many famous authors contributed to the serials, Bram Stoker and Wilkie Collins to name a couple, and it was in “The String of Pearls” that Sweeney Todd made his first appearance, 1846 to 1847, by J.M. Rymer and T.P. Prest. (source)
Elizabeth Black, prim and proper headmistress of a girls' school in 1830 London writes acceptable novels for the more staid Victorian audience, but secretly, she also writes romantic and adventurous penny dreadfuls. Since the writing she most enjoys could undermine her role as genteel and respectable headmistress, Elizabeth writes her penny dreadfuls under a pseudonym.
Fletcher Walker, former street urchin and one of the most popular writers of dreadfuls, finds that his role as the most successful author in the genre is threatened by a Mr. King, whose stories have recently become wildly fashionable. Fletcher is also a member of the Dreadful Penny Society, a group of men who write dreadfuls and are intent on saving street children and fighting for the rights of the poor. (I thought I knew the Dread Master, whose identity is kept secret, but maybe not.) At any rate, the society is concerned for social justice.
Written with many of the stylistic elements of the penny dreadfuls, including illustrations (which my ARC copy from NetGalley doesn't include), a little sweet romance, dangerous rescues of children, good and evil characters, and class distinctions of the period. There are also two short stories, one by each author that have connections to the larger narrative.
What fun! I ended up thoroughly enjoying Sarah M. Eden's The Lady and the Highwayman.
Read in May; blog review scheduled for ??
NetGalley/Shadow Mountain Publishing
Historical fiction/Romance. Sept. 3, 2019. Print length: 352 pages.