I have a friend who refuses to read any book set during or before the American Revolution. She claims that she’s not interested in sitting through another dull history textbook, but I’ve found that I’m never so interested to learn about a time period as when I’m pulled into a story by an author of the caliber of Ms. Thorland. Although Mistress Firebrand is not my favorite of her books, it was very well done, and I will certainly be seeking out more of her work in the future.
Jennifer Leighton is a talented actress and playwright trying to make her way in a world that has little appreciation for either. The daughter of a staid, farming family, it’s only by virtue of having a well-known actress for an aunt that Jenny has been able to get anywhere on the American stage. Of course, by 1777 there’s only one real theater in the colonies, and even that seems to be on the verge of shutdown. Recognizing this, Jenny decides she must do whatever it takes to get a sponsor for the British theater, a world where she can truly shine. Thus when General Burgoyne, a known patron of the arts, sails in, Jenny decides she must do everything she can to attract him as a patron.
Jenny’s attempts begin with an invitation for Burgoyne to attend one of her shows at the John Street Theater. Much to her dismay, the general’s “assistant” Severin Devere arrives in his place. There is an instant spark of attraction between Severin and Jenny when they meet after the show, but they both remain focused on their respective goals of service in the British army and achievement of fame on the London stage.
Unfortunately for Jenny, General Burgoyne isn’t interested in setting her up as an actress but rather far more interested in having her as his mistress. Jenny knew this going in—her aunt was very clear that accepting an invitation to dinner on Burgoyne’s ship would essentially be accepting an invitation into his bed—but it wasn’t until she was actually faced with the reality of Burgoyne’s kiss that Jenny realizes the potential life of a famous actress is not worth such a sacrifice. She flees with the help of Severin, who had the wisdom to be waiting nearby to assist her in such a situation.
As Severin and Jenny run through the streets of New York City together, a connection forms between them. It becomes evident that there is a sort of shared personality, a natural harmony between the two. This quickly turns into love, which in turn torments the couple when they are torn apart by their respective political alliances. Severin is found by the Widow and sent to a Rebel prison, while Jenny finds herself appointed by General Washington himself to use her writing abilities to sway the colonists in favor of the revolutionaries.
Months later, Jenny finds herself one of the most famous (albeit anonymous) playwrights in New England, beloved by the Rebels and hunted by the British, and Severin has been rescued from prison. His time there taught him a few things—most importantly that his country viewed him as dispensable—and he reenters Jenny’s life as a man ready to be a part of the Rebel cause. Even as they struggle to tie up loose ends associated with Severin’s decision and the price that has been put on Jenny’s head, it is clear that the two are meant to be together.
I truly enjoyed the book and its characters. As I’m learning is customary in her work, Ms. Thorland developed two wonderfully strong characters who fit each other on a deep level. Not every author is able to make their main characters fall in in love at first sight believably, but Ms. Thorland is one of those rare people who can. It is apparent from the beginning that Jenny and Severin are well matched on a deep level, and better yet Ms. Thorland did not have to announce the fact in order for it to be clear to the reader.
My only caveat regarding this story is that it seemed a bit too simple. Jenny and Severin were set up for all sorts of troubles and betrayals when they found each other again, and yet very few of these threats ever came to fruition. However, on the whole I will simply say that I truly enjoyed the book and cannot wait for another.