The Turncoat
by Donna Thorland
(NAL, $15, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-451-41539-4
****
Debut author Donna Thorland treats readers to an engrossing historical romance with The Turncoat, first in a planned series set during the American Revolution. Kate Grey is a Quaker farm girl, and when the story opens she and other Quaker women are packing supplies for the rebel Continental Army. One is Angela Ferrers, a beautiful widow whose behavior is a bit odd, just enough to put Kate on alert. Kate's widowed father, Arthur Grey, soon leaves with information and contraband for the Continentals, having placed important documents in a hiding place in the house.

Word arrives that British Regulars are in the area, and Kate knows Grey Farm is an easy target to be commandeered. Angela Ferrers transforms herself into a Tory beauty and awaits the arrival of Sir Bayard Caide, a British colonel whom she intends to destroy. Unfortunately, it's not Caide who arrives, but his cousin, Peter Tremayne, Lord Sancreed. Kate feels a stirring of interest in Tremayne, but when he discovers her father's hidden documents, he demands she meet him in her room at night to get them back.

Angela switches the documents with blank paper, and she and Kate make their escape. They head to Valley Forge, where Kate impulsively offers herself as a spy for General Washington, hopefully to uncover General Howe's plans for the British troops. After all, who would suspect a Quaker? And if the Quakers in Philadelphia have more elegant dress and manners, well, Kate can learn, can't she? Especially with Angela to help her.

Kate is soon off to Philadelphia, where she quickly blends with the society surrounding the British officers. When the story picks up six weeks later, Tremayne has managed to avoid a court-martial over the loss of the documents by promising to uncover the spy who betrayed him, and he is back in Philadelphia looking for a man who might help him: his cousin, Caide. Tremayne is in for a shock when his cousin's beautiful fiancee turns out to be Kate, who he knows is a traitor to the Crown.

The Turncoat is full of rich historical detail. It's the strongest element of the story, and it's instantly apparent that the author did a great deal of research. Many of the major figures of the Revolution play a part in the action, and readers who enjoy a solid historical background won't be disappointed.

The romance is steamy, and there are plenty of twists and turns in the story. Kate is sharp and adventurous, though for all she's been raised a Quaker, it's little more than wallpaper. The presence of God as any kind of force in her life is nonexistent, which might ring somewhat false. Tremayne doesn't fare as well; he's rather bland and there isn't as much depth to his character. That said, their romance was enjoyable and the author made the most of their conflict.

I had a problem with one aspect of the story: that Kate could transform herself from plain farm girl to elegant society miss, get herself to Philadelphia, meet Bayard Caide, intrigue him enough to get him to propose, and then spend several weeks indulging in various sexual encounters with him, all in the space of six weeks. Caide is portrayed as a callous rake in every sense of the word, and there's no explanation given as to why he'd suddenly throw all that aside and get engaged to a woman he's known for two or three weeks, at most. Surely he's been around many beautiful women? If it had been a six-month time span, I'd have accepted it.

That said, The Turncoat is an enjoyable first effort, and I'd gladly pick up the next in the series. If you like a strong dose of history with your romance, this is sure to please.

--Cathy Sova


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