London, 1865. Brogan Donnelly has been summoned by the leader of The Dread Penny Society, a group of writers who support their good deeds by writing penny dreadfuls. The Dread Master has a secretive job for Brogan. He must pretend to leave The Dread Penny Society so that he can go undercover to figure out what's going on between a local printer, who is a Russian immigrant, and the Russian Ambassador. To serve this purpose, he gets a job helping out in the print shop of the Russian immigrant, which is mostly run by daughter Vera Sorokina while her father solicits printing orders and fulfills them.
Unexpectedly finding himself drawn to Vera, Brogan (now going by the name "Ganor O'Donnell") is dismayed to find that Vera and her father are not fans of people who write, in spite of stocking penny dreadfuls in their shop. And, he's even more horrified to realize that he is falling for her under false pretenses.
When the problem with the ambassador becomes more complicated and he realizes it may be tied to another issue (spoiler, sorry), Brogan must come up with a plan to save the neighborhood, find the culprits, and redeem himself in the eyes of the woman he loves.
This is the second book I've read from The Dread Penny Society series; I missed the first. As in the previous title, The Gentleman and the Thief, there are chapters from two separate penny dreadfuls interspersed within the pages of the main storyline. One is about a natural history museum from which display animals are being stolen. The other is about a candy shop proprietor who finds herself in an unexpected battle with a very dangerous man who hints of another world with the yucky smell and strange sounds that appear when he's near.
Recommended - When I read The Gentleman and the Thief, I mentioned that it stood alone just fine and I enjoyed the penny dreadful stories interspersed throughout the book. The same is true of The Merchant and the Rogue; I like the concept a lot. I had to work at transitioning from one story to another a little harder than normal because I'm going through a particularly bad bout of insomnia but shifting gears between main storyline and penny dreadful chapters was definitely worth the effort. If the "story within a story" trope bugs you, this series is not for you. But, if you're fine with it and even enjoy the concept, as I do, Sarah Eden's writing is marvelous and captivating, romantic and complex enough to satisfy those who prefer a slightly meatier story.
I did have one minor issue with this particular installment. I never did understand why it was necessary for Brogan to pretend to leave The Dread Penny Society and keep his work secret from them. But, it was not something that ruined the experience for me.
My thanks to Shadow Mountain for the review copy!
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