The Victorian era had a publishing revolution as masses became more literate. The Pickwick Papers was an extremely successful serial that was published in monthly installments during the early 1800s. It launched the start of many published serials or "penny dreadfuls" with sensational plots and fanciful illustrations printed on cheap pulp paper. Costing only a penny, they were popular with the working classes and contained violent adventure and crime. Lots of blood in the pictures was good for business too. Penny "bloods" was their original name. Out of this history, author Christopher Edge tries to recreate the penny dreadful. He succeeds with the invention of a gothic, creepy setting in London, but he doesn't quite do enough with character development and plot. That said, it is still an entertaining read.
Penelope is very fixated on solving her mystery. To the point that we don't really get to know her. She "fumes" quite a bit over being overlooked as a teenager and writer. Young readers will probably identify with her on that point, but I never saw her in a sympathetic light. I didn't quite understand her backdrop and relationship with Alfie and Wigram, who obviously care for her. She's lost her parents and as she pursues the villain, she makes connections with her own situation but never digs deep enough into her past to satisfy my curiosity. The villain and journalist are one-dimensional remaining flat characters versus complex ones. Penelope is somewhat flat too and a reclusive hero.
The plot at first is interesting and I wondered how the heck the author was going to pull it all together. The idea is out there but then the penny dreadfuls were out there too so I could see the connection. Some was predictable but the second part was when I lost interest. Some of the plot turns happen with something conveniently happening that was fantastical. It seemed like the easy way out. Still the story is fun and students will like the action and being scared.