Series: Diamond Divea and the Thirty-Nine Wolves
Diamond Divea and the Thirty-Nine Wolves is a penny dreadful, an example of serial literature. A new adventure is published every week, on cheap paper and costing a mere penny. The target audience of most penny dreadfuls is young working-class men, but Diamond Divea's adventures have found a cult following among many young working-class and even society women. Reading clubs are common, with those who can't afford a penny a week for each story pooling their resources to buy a single copy for their entire group, which is then carefully passed around. This particular dreadful is loosely based on the real-life exploits of the Thirty-Nine Wolves, an all-female gang operating out of the city of Sistu, who started as shoplifters but have been steadily expanding further into the criminal world. Their leader, Diamond Divea, is rumored to have ghost-written at least one dreadful, though it's a matter of debate which one.
Most of the adventures follow a common structure, making them both easy to write and easy to read for youth struggling with literacy. Outlined below are some of the common plots.
Loosely Based on a True StoryThe scene opens with the Wolves' latest victim, going unknowingly about their day, often doing something to mark themselves as a worthy target - browbeating servants, drinking to excess, and general ill-mannered behaving chief among their ills. One of the girls then enters the scene, often as a romantic interest, sometimes as a humble maid. A number of girls reoccur, most commonly Diamond Divea herself, but often other high-profile members of the Wolves, with a handful being mostly original characters. A whirlwind romance occurs, which ends with the Wolf vanishing, taking the victim's valuables with her - and then often sending a letter of blackmail in her wake, to add insult to injury. The story closes with the Wolf enjoy the spoils of her exploits, often in lavish detail.
A Wolf at WarGang wars and the worst parts of the criminal underground are another topic frequently handled with lurid and sensational detail. Divea's exploits as a highwayman aren't unknown, but more common is a depiction of the Wolves coming to blows with their more violent peers, often winning through trickery and natural cunning rather than brute strength. One particularly gory - and well-read - serial details the Wolves in an underground war against the mostly fictional serial killer the Resurrection Man, after the police fail repeatedly to catch him.
The vast majority of the girls simply want romance, money, and their day in the limelight - or, as one commentator put it, "fortune, fame, and flings." A few dreadfuls introduce more pressing motivations - defending territory and stopping murderers chief among them.
The urchins of Sistu are common allies to the girls, helping them run cons and case houses. The girls' lovers are also frequently mentioned or, in heist and mystery dreadfuls, shown, often as getaway drivers. The more mystery-focused dreadfuls often bring in a wider cast of allies, from hardened journalists to canny smugglers.
Almost all of the adventures are set in Sistu, usually in either its wealthier segments or in the criminal underworld - which some authors imagine literally, constructing fictional networks of caverns beneath the city (nevermind that Sistu is at sea level above porous rock). A few range into broader climes, with adventures taking place in the mysterious and wild southern frontier and far to the east and west. A few dreadfuls have taken place elsewhere in the Council of Worlds, usually with sensationalist details pulled entirely from stereotype and the author's imagination, rather than having any basis in fact.
The usual threat is of being found out and arrested, but the occasional dreadful will live up to its name, threatening the protagonists with dismemberment, torture, and worse - and sometimes delivering.