I love a good historical novel, but I don’t read a lot of historical romances because I really want history first, romance second. I want a good story and well-developed characters, not just a bodice-ripper. And that’s what I got with Thorland’s novel, which is one of a loosely connected series about the Revolutionary War.
While the title and cover are a bit flashy (though eye-catching), this is a thoughtful, well-researched novel. Jenny Leighton is an actress and playwright in a theater in Manhattan 1777. She’s desperate to make a living as an actress and writer, so she writes a letter requesting the patronage of British officer John Burgoyne.
Severin Devere is assigned to protect Burgoyne while his ship is docked in Manhattan; his assignment is to bring Jenny to the ship, knowing that “patronage” means that Jenny has to sleep with Burgoyne. Our heroine knows this too, and she has every intention of deciding her own fate in the matter.
Neither Jenny nor Devere are particularly invested in either side of the war. Devere serves the British military but was born and raised in the colonies, and Jenny just wants to keep her career afloat.
While the plot is the stuff of romance novels, the book is a nice balance of historical detail, character development, and action. Jenny starts out pretty naïve, despite living in the world of the theater, but she’s forced to think about what risks to take and for whom.
Devere is part Native-American and the half-son of a privileged family. He’s been willing to sell his services (and beliefs) in order to build a career with the British militia. But those beliefs are tested in the course of the novel.
With historical fiction, I always appreciate when an author explains to me what is factual and what is fictional. Thorland does this, and I was impressed by the historical research she used in this story. Jenny is based on a real figure, and Thorland brings the world of colonial theater to life, an unusual setting for a book about the Revolutionary War. I also liked the portrayal of the characters’ struggle with their divided loyalties, which I think was characteristic of the Revolutionary War.
Along the way, there’s plenty of action and adventure. I enjoyed this book – it was steamy but I got more history than sex, and the characters don’t spend the whole book mooning over his biceps or her bosoms. They’ve got more important things to deal with. This was a fun read and a good story, but one that gave me a lot of historical detail as well.
Note: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the author and publisher Penguin Group in exchange for an honest review. Mistress Firebrand will be released on March 3, 2015.