A Renegades of the American Revolution Novel
By Donna Thorland
Author’s Website: http://www.donnathorland.com
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Daniele
British Occupied Manhattan, 1777. American actress Jennifer Leighton has been packing the John Street Theater with her witty comedies, but she longs to escape the provincial circuit for the glamour of the London stage. When the playwright General John Burgoyne visits the city, fresh from a recent success in the capitol, she seizes the opportunity to court his patronage. But her plan is foiled by British intelligence officer Severin Devere.
Severin’s mission is to keep the pleasure-loving general focused on the war effort…and away from pretty young actresses. But the tables are turned when Severin himself can’t resist Jennifer Leighton…
Months later, Jenny has abandoned her dreams of stage glory and begun writing seditious plays for the Rebels under the pen name “Cornelia,” ridiculing “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne and his army—and undermining the crown’s campaign to take Albany. By the time Severin meets up with Jenny once again, she is on a British hanging list, and Severin is ordered to find her—and deliver her to certain death. Soon, the two are launched on a desperate journey through the wilderness, toward a future shaped by the revolution—and their passion for each other… (Goodreads)
Jennifer is a somewhat mediocre actor but a talented playwright with ambitions of becoming great, but she is hampered in America since Congress has banned the theater. In fact, the John Street Theater in Manhattan, where she is employed, is the only operating theater around. She longs to make her mark in London, but she needs a patron. General John Burgoyne has powerful ties to the stage, but he misunderstands her request to meet. Severin is a British intelligence officer charged with corralling the excess-loving general and discretely returning him to England. He is sent by Burgoyne to fetch Jennifer and is immediately taken with her. He comes to her rescue when things get out of hand in the general’s chambers. Disheartened, Jenny is faced with further discouragement when Severin is captured by a Rebel foe known as The Widow, and she must put protecting her Aunt Frances above saving him. He is imprisoned and left to die by his British employers, and though eventually able to escape he faces a long road to recovery. During this time, Jenny aligns herself with General Washington and pens, under a pseudonym, subversive plays that push the Rebel cause. This lands her on the British hanging list, and Severin is sent to find her. However, instead of delivering her to the noose he strives to save her.
Mistress Firebrand was an enjoyable read and a fine example of historical fiction. It is meticulously researched with fascinating detail. Overall, I like Ms. Thorland’s writing style, but I did occasionally feel like I was reading a lecture instead of being immersed in the story. The characters were well developed and provided an interesting mix of fictional and real people. I had no idea the theater played such an integral role in conveying political information and motivating the Revolution. I expected this spy story set in the midst of turbulent times to be more exciting than it came across, but the pace was good.
What I found most compelling was the transference of allegiances by both Jenny and Severin. They both started out loyal to the British, though mostly concerned with themselves, and eventually became allies to the Rebels. I found this particularly poignant in Severin’s case. Having fought for respect and status with the English, and then to be cast off by those he felt valued him, was moving, and I felt really shaped his motivation, actions, and character. I found him charming and earnest, and his Mohawk ancestry made him somewhat exotic and added dimension. Jenny grew with the story, too, and I liked her but found her to be less remarkable than Severin. Where the book was weak for me was the romance between the two. It felt emotionally too quick, especially after their first encounter at the theater which was purely physical (and to me a bit off putting). I was surprised after that scene, which I expected to be an overture to graphic sex scenes, to feel the tension and passion between them lacking.
Like I said before, I enjoyed this appealing look into the early tumultuous days of America. I recommend this to fans of a Revolutionary War setting and historical fiction with a touch of romance.