Mistress Firebrand by Donna Thorland is the third novel in her “Renegades of the American Revolution” series. The title of the series sounds campy but trust me, it’s not. Thorland thoroughly researches all of her books and Mistress Firebrand is no different. It is a true (as in, it lives up to what you’d expect from the genre) historical fiction novel and not some saucy Harlequin romance read although there is an element of sauce sprinkled throughout for good measure and a heated romantic story line. All of that aside, Mistress Firebrand is as detailed and visually artistic as Thorland’s other novels in the series. Despite such rich storytelling, I couldn’t get into it as much as the other two. I hate even admitting this because I adore her writing so much. This is a classic case of “it’s not you, it’s me.” Let me explain.
Briefly, the story takes place in British-controlled New York City in 1777. Jennifer (“Jenny”) Leighton is a struggling actress attempting to make a name for herself under the careful wing of her actress aunt Frances Leighton. Jenny finds out that British General John Burgoyne is interested in her (read: not her acting ability) and sends for one of his close confidantes, Severin Devere, to fetch Jenny to bring her aboard his docked ship for a rendezvous. Naively, Jenny seizes the opportunity thinking that it will lead to acting prospects in London. Severin, on the other hand, had no intention of bringing Jenny to meet Burgoyne, feeling that the General should be focused on war efforts in New York instead. Upon greeting Jenny on Burgoyne’s behalf, Severin becomes enraptured.
As time wears on and Jenny and Severin cannot keep their paws off each other, Jenny becomes torn between her loyalties to the British crown and the rebel cause, abandoning her dream to become a renowned London actress and instead pen plays under a pseudonym that denounces Britain’s involvement in the colonies. Soon enough a bounty is placed on her life and Severin will do anything in his power to save her from the British.
So, that’s it in a nutshell without giving anything away.
My two cents:
As a reader, I had difficulty getting attached to Jenny as a female protagonist whereas in Thorland’s two other novels, I was all in with them. For me, Jenny was just lukewarm and I felt her relationship with Severin to be the same. It’s not that it didn’t do anything for me, but rather, I wasn’t moved by the storyline as a whole. It’s a bummer because I really tried. Some books just do it for you and others don’t.
With that said, it’s in no way a reflection on Donna Thorland as a writer. I actually find her to be a magnificent author and to think that I first bought The Rebel Pirate on a whim at BJ’s, well, thats saying something. Her words are vivid, her writing is beautiful, and the characters are (mostly) riveting. I didn’t find Jenny to be any less strong than Thorland’s other female leads, just…different.
Would I still recommend historical fiction fans give this series a chance? Yes.
The books aren’t meant to be read in a particular order although there are common characters that link each story. I read The Rebel Pirate first although it is technically the second in the series and I didn’t feel like the story was displaced. I would say that this one was my favorite thus far because I knew little about colonial shipping, seafaring, and pirates during this era.
If you’re an historical fiction fan, I recommend the “Renegades of the American Revolution” series as a whole. On a scale of 1-10 petticoats, I give Mistress Firebrand a 7.
What are you reading these days? Any summer must reads on your list?