The Lady Rogue
The Lady Rogue is a charming, magical, and exhilarating adventure across 1930s Romania. If the premise seems reminiscent of Indiana Jones, there’s a good reason for it. With treasure-hunting galore and reckless protagonists getting themselves entangled with ancient magical artifacts, The Lady Rogue is a madcap romp like no other. I wasted away a sunny afternoon recently, swaying on a hammock in my backyard while Theodora Fox and her love ex-best friend Huck Gallagher chased down her missing father and a missing ring purported to belong to Vlad the Impaler.
What makes up a madcap romp? Boisterous, impulsive, and headstrong seventeen-year-old heroine who willfully breaks the rules and tears across Europe to rescue her treasure-hunting father who is caught up in a nefarious job? Check. A ridiculously attractive teenage boy who clearly has Romantic Feelings but is determined to supress them for Mysterious and Stupid Teenage Boy Reasons (I would like to state for the record that Huck is an idiot but I love him anyway)? Check. A terrifying magical ring that may or may not (it’s “may,” absolutely “may”) have belonged to Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula? Check. Improbable survival while escaping trains, trekking through the Romanian countryside without money, and running through the middle of the woods from literal wolves? Check, check, check.
The Lady Rogue is the type of YA adventure where you have to just go with it. Theo and Huck embroil themselves in trouble that escalates in magnitude and terror with each passing chapter. You can’t question their survival/health too closely. Wondering “But are they still in the same clothes on Day 3 in the forest?”, “When was the last time anyone had a bath?”, or “How the fuck are they still alive after [incident in Chapter 16]?” is a pointless endeavor. They survive against insurmountable odds every other hour but still have the mental fortitude to joke about their terrifying escapades. I promise: it’s enjoyable as hell, but you need to just go with it. Bennett’s prose is magnetic and hilarious enough that it’s easy to forget pesky little details like that.
Regarding historical accuracy, I have zero knowledge about Vlad the Impaler, vampiric lore, or Romanian history. I’m ashamed to admit that I thought Vlad the Impaler was fictional, and was shocked to realize that he was a real person in real history (as opposed to fake history? You know what I mean). On one hand, I can’t promise that the facts that Bennett plays with are plausible to a Vlad the Impaler-enthusiast. On the other hand, the story will make complete sense if you’re a newbie to Vlad and his bloodthirsty acts of impalement.
There is a romantic thread that isn’t the main core of the story, but it’s so satisfying nonetheless. I’m a sucker for “we were best friends but then everything changed one drunken night with a kiss, at which point my dad found out and then you left and ghosted my letters for an entire year.” Oddly specific, but I do enjoy the angst this particular setup generated: the desperate longing each person clearly radiated which went unnoticed by everyone except the reader (I would like to state for the record that Theo is also an idiot but I love her anyway).
Added on to the “unrequited” and mutually suppressed feelings is Theo’s jealousy: her father chose Huck to accompany him on his latest treasure hunt and left her in Istanbul. There is a lot of animosity on Theo’s side initially, and the relationship is an interesting meld of enemies-to-lovers and friends-to-lovers. She can’t resist sniping at Huck, but it’s also hard to remain angry at someone when an occult society seems to be out for your blood. Theo’s conflicted thoughts on how to feel about Huck is one of my favorite parts of The Lady Rogue.
Unfortunately, while I thought the romantic arc was excellent for 90% of the novel, it tapers off to an unsatisfying and bewildering finish because a core conflict is never resolved.
Huck’s abrupt departure from Theo’s life was due to her father Richard, who was furious that Huck (the son of a wartime friend and an orphan who moved in with Theo’s family at age thirteen) made romantic overtures toward Theo. Huck left New York and moved back in with his aunt in Ireland. It is clear that Theo’s absent father is the biggest antagonist to their love, and Huck is unwilling to risk a relationship with Theo lest he lose his father figure and family. I was expecting A Talk where this conflict would become resolved and everyone comes to terms with past mistakes.
This never happens. They rescue Theo’s dad and solve the mystery of the ring, and then it’s suddenly The End. Richard Fox clearly has regrets over banishing Huck a year ago, and allows Huck to join their family in their journey to visit a friend in Paris. There is no confirmation that Huck will be allowed to return to their home in NY or resume the family’s treasure-hunting activities even though Theo and Huck seem hopeful by her dad’s jovial attitude.
I mean, I can read between the lines and assume that everything will be okay. I can assume that Richard eventually apologizes for throwing Huck out of their family and approve of the relationship. I can assume that Huck and Theo won’t have to tiptoe around their relationship forever. But I have no assurance that any of those things will happen, and it’s so frustrating because Richard was the main cause of the romantic conflict. I wanted all of them to have an emotional confrontation and resolve their issues, and it just never happened. The terrific romantic arc ended in a whimper.
While the relationship conflict between Theo and Huck isn’t resolved to my satisfaction, I mostly enjoyed every second of the book and didn’t leave my sanctuary even when the bees started buzzing too close. This is a mark of high praise: I am deathly afraid of being stung (thank you, Anthony Bridgerton, for scarring teenage me) and I was too immersed in the book to sensibly retreat indoors. “Willing to risk bee stings” must be somewhere between Elyse’s “it’ll make you forget you’re sitting in cat pee” and “unwilling to leave the dentist’s sitting room to go home” on the Scale of Good Book Feelings (the latter has happened to me, and the long-suffering receptionist was too polite to kick me out). I’d recommend The Lady Rogue to any reader in need of a laugh-out-loud romp with angsty romantic feelings and many near-death experiences (I promise it ends happily!).