Theodora Fox is the perfect treasure hunter—she’s read every book she can get her hands on, she loves cracking codes and crosswords, and her knowledge of ancient relics is outstanding. Or she would be, if her father and world-renowned treasure hunter Richard Fox, let her join him on any of his adventures. Instead, he relegates her to hotel rooms while taking his protégé—Theodora’s former best friend and boyfriend—Huck. The Lady Rogue finds the plucky protagonist in Istanbul after running off (another) tutor when Huck finds her and tells her that the cursed ring her father is hunting is more trouble than they knew, and they need to leave the city right away. The adventure is off from there, the two of them travelling via train, plane and automobile while trying to find Theo’s father, and track down the truth of the cursed ring that was rumored to belong to Vlad the Impaler. Not to mention, they must stay two steps ahead a of man with a terrifying wolf who seems to always know where they are.
Author Jenn Bennet has written over ten novels, and her unhurried, easy confidence shows here, particularly in the pacing and dialogue. The story is captivating, and the Eastern European setting is thrilling and refreshing change of pace from the well-trod streets of London that I often find is the setting for historical novels. London is a wonderful city, truly it is! It’s just nice to find oneself out of the United Kingdom for a moment. Not only is the setting refreshing, it does a nice job of underscoring some character development for Theodora and her father. The story rotates from Theo’s point of view to entries in father’s journal, set a little earlier than the events in the novel. We learn early in the book that her mother died when she was quite young, and that her father’s reluctance to let her work alongside him springs from his fear of losing his daughter. The inclusion of the diary entries is a nice touch—it would be easy to find Richard Fox unbelievably careless about it his daughter’s life without them. We learn that Theo’s mother was Romanian, and with every new city she and Huck visit, every person they meet, she gets closer to knowing her mother a little bit better.
The history is thrilling too—Bennet did her research and it shows. The cursed ring and many bloody trails it could have caused are the right amount of creepy and tantalizing. She also rather magnificently creates room for Theodora herself to be dark and susceptible to power in a way I don’t think a lot of women protagonists often to get be. So often the protagonist is an embodiment of goodness, and if there is a darker power, she is able to resist its seduction due to almost entirely to the goodness inside her. Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that Bennet truly commits to the idea that in order to free yourself, you need to give something up. I gasped; I was so surprised.
The romance between Huck and Theo works well too, though I did wish I had a little more of a window into Huck. I still bought it, and in some parts found myself muttering “come on you two just use your WORDS,” which is always a sign that I’m invested in the love story a book is selling. Theo’s memories of their childhood friendship and how turned into more, and how it fell apart are all well done, I just wish Huck got a little more space to explore his own feelings, I think it would have made the romance feel a little more lived in.
As far as protagonists go, Theodora is great one. I don’t know that I’d say she’s a revolutionary one, she is a brunette who likes books and reading and getting into trouble—you know the type, I think. She is a ton of fun though, and no matter how many times you read about a spunky protagonist, it’s always nice to spend an afternoon with a girl who can crack codes and needs a crossword puzzle to stay sane. Her frustration with her father is nicely balanced with her love for him, you can feel how codependent they became, how he felt he needed to keep her safe despite being the person who instilled this love of treasure hunting in her.
All in all, I’d recommend this book without hesitation. The blend of treasure hunting and thrill seeking with the sweetness of the romance woven through made this a delightful way to spend a late summer afternoon. Bennet’s witty confidence makes reading this novel an immersive experience, at times you’ll look up, certain that you should be in making your way through the Romanian forests. Keep an eye out for wolves!
The Lady Rogue is available from Simon & Schuster.
Christina Tucker is one half of the Unfriendly Black Hotties, a podcast about the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality in higher education, pop culture, and politics. Christina is also a rotating fourth chair on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, as well as the Social Media Manager for the Food 4 Thot podcast. Twitter: @C_GraceT.