The Lady Rogue is a clever, exciting bit of historical fun. I worry that it will fly under the radar, but pick it up if you’re in the mood for a treat.

The Lady Rogue
Jenn Bennett
YA Historical Fantasy Adventure

The Last Magician meets A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue in this thrilling tale filled with magic and set in the mysterious Carpathian Mountains where a girl must hunt down Vlad the Impaler’s cursed ring in order to save her father.

Some legends never die…

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.

Meet Theodora

Nerdy teenage Theodora has found herself alone in Istanbul circa 1937. Her adventurer father dumped her at a hotel to finish a dangerous treasure-hunting expedition… and hasn’t returned. Thanks to her ability to effortlessly attract petty chaos, Theodora has lost her tutor, her money, and any idea what to do.

But she’s only alone for a few minutes–before long, Huck (her ex…something) has shown up in her hotel room in a towel with news of her father. Within pages, they’re off, running from bad guys and racing to unravel the mystery of Vlad the Impaler’s legendary ring.

The Lady Rogue is fast-paced and clever, a YA adventure that actually feels YA. As real history slowly morphed into a magical adventure, I started to get wonderful Indiana Jones and Gilded Wolves vibes.

I never get tired of reading about girls in those sorts of roles.

a throwback read

Unfortunately, I don’t see this title getting much traction. This is partly due to the cover and title, which wouldn’t catch my eye on a bookstore shelf. I requested the galley on a whim, and I’m so glad I did, because The Lady Rogue is enormously fun. I gobbled the whole thing in two sittings. If I hadn’t already had it waiting, though, I’m not sure if the cover copy would have hooked me.

More than that, though, I don’t see this title getting a lot of buzz because it’s a pretty old-fashioned book in some ways. That’s now a completely bad thing–there’s a reason that writers tell this kind of story over and over. And when you’re reading historical fiction, don’t usually want to detect modern sensibilities. At times, though, the “exploration adventure by Europeans in Eastern Europe” veered into Orientalist territory. It’d be almost impossible not to, since that’s the basic perspective of the characters.

With so many YA titles dropping this month, many of which are boundary-pushing, innovative stories from underrepresented perspectives, it’s hard to get too excited about a storyline and structure that could plausibly be 50 years old.

They actually ride the Orient Express!

a modern feel

But don’t get me wrong; while the basics of the plot seem plucked out of the sixties, this isn’t a book that could have been written decades ago. Bennett’s writing style here feels wonderfully fresh and modern. She does a remarkable job of injecting contemporary rhythm and humor into Theodora’s voice, even when staying true to a 1937 vocabulary. Theodora completely stacks up against any other 2019 YA protagonist. I adored her geekiness, her temper, and her occasional obliviousness.

And the romance? Sweet, messy, and just a little bit sexy, the central couple can bicker and banter with the best of them. Huck and Theodora’s relationship, the very definition of “it’s complicated,” infuses the whole book with delicious romantic tension.

One final note: I won’t be listing this in the content warnings, but I want to make sure I mention this. The Lady Rogue isn’t a good choice for readers who are very sensitive to or uncomfortable with incest-adjacent romance. Huck and Theodora are not siblings biologically or legally, but they grew up together from about the ages of 11-16 and characters emphasize the family-like relationship. If the blending of a sibling-like relationship into a romantic relationship is icky to you (totally understandable), you probably won’t like this one.

The publisher provided me with an eARC of this title at no charge in expectation of an honest review. No money changed hands for this review and all opinions are my own.

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