Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Turncoat (Book Review)

Title: The Turncoat; Book One, Renegades of the Revolution
Author: Donna Thorland
Publication Information: NAL Trade Paperback, 2013
Genre: Historical Fiction, first in a series

Plot: 1977. Modest Kate Grey, a New Jersey Quaker who lives with her father and favors the Patriot cause, is confronted with the realities of war when her father joins General Washington and, hours later, Peter Tremayne, a British officer, and Redcoat soldiers invade her home. Kate is so mesmerized by the handsome stranger she is ready to throw virtue to the winds and while she bandies words with Peter, a mysterious widow, who turns out to be an accomplished spy, steals his papers (he is later court-martialed as a result). Peter and his men then flee from Rebel troops; the widow flees from his retribution to Washington, dragging Kate with her. When Kate, knowledgeable about military strategy from long talks with her father, realizes that Washington needs information about the British from General Howe, she offers to infiltrate Philadelphia Tory society and send secret reports back to help win the war. She does not expect to encounter Major Tremayne again, now that they are emphatically on opposing sides, but you won't be surprised to hear that he has survived his disgrace...
(I am afraid the Quakers are shaking their heads over the Grey family: the father is fighting with the Colonists and Kate gains a scandalous, if mostly undeserved reputation.)

What I liked: Thorland’s research is extensive, her depiction of the historical figures we all know – George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Andre, Peggy Shippen, Major Howe and Mrs. Loring – is vivid, and Kate is a witty and brave heroine. Her transformation from plain and rustic country maiden to sophisticated city beauty and spy may be improbable but it is very entertaining. The Revolutionary War is a much overlooked period for historical fiction, although some of my favorites share that setting: Dawn’s Early Light, Celia Garth, and Judas Flowering. This book is much more violent but Thorland also transports the reader into another world.

What I disliked: At times I felt the author was so eager to tell the story that she ignored important questions. For example, I thought Kate was in too much of a hurry to surrender her virtue to a total stranger, and then a bit too willing to abandon her home without wondering if it would still be there when she returned. What even made her think she was capable of becoming a convincing spy? I also wondered how the Widow had money to fund Kate’s finery when Washington’s men were shoeless.

I usually dislike books involving rape, and there are many (some completely unnecessary) in this book. It surprised me that Tremayne, who is meant to contrast with his dissolute relative Caide and who knows how rape can destroy a woman’s life, would even “consider[] a more forceful approach” when he first meets Kate. It is his younger lieutenant who is shocked by his superiors’ attitude toward women, although later Tremayne develops scruples. It also creeped me out that Kate was attracted and responsive to Caide as well as to Tremayne, although I think the author is trying to emphasize her passionate nature and the fact that the two men are opposite sides of the same coin.

Conclusion: Overall, I found this book to be an interesting read and full of memorable characters, even if the author’s interpretation of them was different from my own imagination. I recommend it to fans of historical fiction and intelligent, fearless heroines. Thank you to my friend Ellen for sending it to me!

1 comment:

Carrie at In the Hammock Blog said...

Yikes! Thanks for your honest review, and warning! It sounds good but it wouldn't be for me.