The Lady Rogue
by Jenn Bennett
To be published Sept. 3, 2019 by Simon Pulse
Genre: YA historical fantasy
Date finished: Aug. 6, 2019
Traveling with her treasure-hunting father has always been a dream for Theodora. She’s read every book in his library, has an impressive knowledge of the world’s most sought-after relics, and has all the ambition in the world. What she doesn’t have is her father’s permission. That honor goes to her father’s nineteen-year-old protégé—and once-upon-a-time love of Theodora’s life—Huck Gallagher, while Theodora is left to sit alone in her hotel in Istanbul.
Until Huck arrives from an expedition without her father and enlists Theodora’s help in rescuing him. Armed with her father’s travel journal, the reluctant duo learns that her father had been digging up information on a legendary and magical ring that once belonged to Vlad the Impaler—more widely known as Dracula—and that it just might be the key to finding him.
Journeying into Romania, Theodora and Huck embark on a captivating adventure through Gothic villages and dark castles in the misty Carpathian Mountains to recover the notorious ring. But they aren’t the only ones who are searching for it. A secretive and dangerous occult society with a powerful link to Vlad the Impaler himself is hunting for it, too. And they will go to any lengths—including murder—to possess it.
My thoughts (spoiler free)
Sometimes when I read a book that sounds like it should be exactly up my alley and it fails to live up to my astronomical expectations, I feel like Adele clutching the book to my chest and wailing “WE COULD HAVE HAD IT ALLLLLLL.”
The Lady Rogue opens on Theodora, a wise-cracking heroine with a knack for stumbling into sticky situations, left in Istanbul by her father while he goes treasure-hunting. When she fails to receive word from her father like she was supposed to, Theo joins forces with former best friend and one-time love interest, Huck, on a journey across Eastern Europe to find him.
I never thought I’d be in the situation where I say that I enjoyed the plot and mystery way more than the characters and emotional storyline. I’m a character girl. Give me a character-driven book over a plot-driven one any day. Even in something plot-driven, I’ll probably only care about the characters.
Unfortunately, that simply wasn’t the case in this book. While the mystery was intriguing and woven together in a way that kept me invested the whole time, I couldn’t force myself to care much about Theo and Huck, either as individuals or as a couple. There wasn’t anything glaringly wrong about either of them or their romance. It simply didn’t do anything for me. Despite the fun banter between them and trope-filled shenanigans that would normally have me bursting with heart-eyes from page one, they never got much more than a halfhearted chuckle from me.
The historical aspects, on the other hand, were fascinating to read about! I knew very little about the history behind Vlad the Impaler, aka the inspiration for Dracula, going into this, and I feel like I learned so much. I don’t get to read much fiction that takes place in Eastern Europe, either, so it was cool to have countries like Turkey, Hungary, and Romania as the setting.
Still, much of the historical information was relayed to us simply through characters sitting down and talking about them, making a large part of this book feel like a history lesson rather than the adventure I was expecting. Even though the information was interesting to learn about, I would have liked a more creative way of conveying it.
Additionally, despite the unique setting, the time period (1937) felt rather arbitrary. This is actually a really interesting time in history – the Great Depression continuing in the US, the rise of Nazism in Germany, the Japanese invasion of China – but none of this played any role in the story at all. It could have been set in 1837 or 1905 or 2010, and aside from a few technological changes, nothing would really have been different. A historical novel doesn’t necessarily have to center around the time period in which it’s set, but I want to at least feel like there’s a reason that it’s set in that time, otherwise it might as well be set in modern day.
In fact, there were times that I felt like the time period was there just to make Theodora seem a little more edgy, since her character wouldn’t be viewed as that rebellious if she lived in 2019. The historical setting seemed like an excuse to label her constant disregard for rules and tendency to tumble into hilarious misadventures as “roguish” rather than mildly annoying. Despite her self-title as the “Lady Rogue,” she didn’t actually do anything exceptionally unconventional, since most of her trouble was caused by things that other people did rather than her own actions.
In the end, this book didn’t exactly live up to what I’d hoped for, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t aspects I didn’t enjoy. I feel so much more informed about the history surrounding Vlad the Impaler, and I also know the geography of Eastern Europe much better now since I had to keep looking at maps to see where the characters were going! The mystery was intriguing and had the perfect amount of clues and surprises to keep me guessing. And the writing was actually fun and quick most of the time! I might not have been captivated by the characters or enamored with the historical context, but if you’re in the mood for a fun historical jaunt across Eastern Europe, this might be just the book for you!