The Colonial Period and the Revolutionary War are favorite settings of mine, but books set during these times are very hard to come by. I suspect this is because this time period is not really familiar to a lot of people; writing a book set in the 1700s requires some research. I’m pleased to report that Laura Lee Guhrke did her homework, and The Charade is a very enjoyable read.
Katie Armstrong is a pickpocket who has been convicted of theft and transported to the colonies as an indentured servant. As the book opens, she has run from her abusive Virginian master and is passing through Boston. When she steals a British officer’s purse in Market Square, two men notice her – Viscount Lowden, a cold man who has been sent to Boston to ferret out the Sons of Liberty, and Ethan Harding, a supposed Tory who is actually a Son of Liberty himself. Lowden captures Katie and gives her a choice that is no choice at all: she can work as a spy for him, or be tried for theft and sent back to her master. Katie agrees to work as a spy, and Lowden promises her that she will be freed from her indenture and paid handsomely if she can discover the identity of a rebel known as John Smith. She also must discover how he receives information and provide evidence that leads to his conviction.
Katie doesn’t have any particular political convictions, so she doesn’t mind spying at first. She gets a job in tavern known to be a Whig hang out. Ethan is there the night she gets the job, but he is dressed as an out-of-work stevedore and calling himself John Smith. He remembers Katie from Market Square, and he doesn’t trust her. Katie is thrilled to find John Smith so easily, but days go by and she finds out nothing more about him. It is obvious to her that he isn’t really a stevedore; his manners are much too genteel. In desperation, she follows him home one night – only to be discovered. John/Ethan is furious, and demands an explanation, so she tells him part of the truth. She claims that she was hoping to find information about him to sell to the British. Ethan figures that he can either kill her or put her to work for him instead, so he offers to buy her indenture if she will pose as his mistress and spy for the Rebels. Katie agrees, and is now caught in the middle. At first, she holds to her conviction that no one can be trusted and that looking out for herself is the only important goal. But soon she finds herself falling in love with Ethan. She must decide which cause and which people most deserve her loyalty, and she must find a way to tell Ethan the truth about Lowden.
The Charade is a fast-paced read brimming with both history and intrigue. Guhrke really captures the mood of Revolutionary Boston, with well-drawn secondary characters ranging from British soldiers to rebel tavern owners. The reader gets a sense of the danger – and the excitement – of the times. Ethan’s mysterious persona and Katie’s predicament both add to the intrigue.
The plot is very absorbing also. Katie muses more than once about the “fine mess” she is in, and her charade does make for an interesting conflict. There is no easy way out of her difficult situation, and the pages fly by as the reader tries to figure out how it all will be resolved. Katie’s character is developed convincingly throughout the novel, and her transformation into a woman who thinks only of herself to a woman who is concerned about others is believable.
Ethan’s character was somewhat more elusive. The secretive nature of his activities was partly responsible, but it still would have been nice to know a little bit more about his past and his family. And although I enjoyed both main characters, the novel might have been improved if they had shared a few more romantic scenes. With all of the action and excitement, their love sometimes took a back seat.
All in all, this is a book I would recommend. The Revolutionary War setting and the sense of history it provides are just terrific, and the spy hero and heroine are icing on the cake. I definitely look forward to reading more books by Laura Lee Guhrke.