The Forbidden Lady (For Love Or Country)
I’ve decided that if anyone ever wants to set a trap for me, the only thing they need to do is dangle a Revolutionary War novel in front of my nose. I’m bound to snap at it like a starving raccoon. Although I’ve only read a handful that are true stand-outs, I love the setting and can’t resist trying every such novel I come across. For Love or Country is an average offering, promising in some ways and disappointing in others.
When Quincy Stanton returns home from a visit to his father in England, he is completely disillusioned. Quincy was born a bastard, and he thought his father wanted to finally acknowledge him. Instead, he merely wanted to take away the shipping business that Quincy and his uncle have built up in America. But Quincy’s uncle Edward and some Boston friends have decided that Quincy can still turn the visit abroad to his advantage; he can flaunt his new foppish wardrobe that his father purchased and pretend that he has had a political change of heart. He’ll frequent Loyalist parties as a rebel spy.
When Quincy meets Virginia Munro, he is in full fop mode. She is on a ship helping her father purchase an indentured servant, and Quincy pretends to believe that Virginia is for sale. She is completely appalled, and yet somehow attracted to him. Virginia and her sister are visiting their aunt in Boston, but both come from North Carolina. They are very sympathetic to the rebel cause, and when their aunt Mary lets on that she intends to spy, they vow to help her. Aunt Mary’s deceased husband moved in loyalist circles, so Aunt she has no trouble taking her place in that world.
Qunicy and Virginia find themselves at the same parties, and each notices that the other is sneaking about. Quincy thinks spying is far too dangerous for a young lady, but he finds it difficult to tell Virginia to stop without blowing his own cover. Meanwhile, they find themselves together in the moonlight more than once, and their attraction is apparent to both of them. Practical Virginia knows she is in love with Quincy, so when he proposes after a dangerous incident in which they both participate, she accepts. She’s not really sure of her feelings for Quincy, and their marriage begins on a rocky road. Meanwhile, someone is out to get Quincy and incriminate him in whatever way possible. Against a backdrop of increasing tension between the colonists and the British troops quartered in Boston, Quincy and Virginia play out their personal drama.
For a debut effort, this book isn’t bad. There were some things about it that I enjoyed, particularly in Virginia and Quincy’s relationship. The way that they ironed out their problems after marriage seemed quite realistic. Things weren’t magically rosy, but neither of them jumped to stupid conclusions or rushed into lame misunderstandings. The first love scene has a tinge of realism as well, with a heroine that’s a little scared and a little uncomfortable. Is it just me, or are most women in historicals suddenly having five star sex their first time out? Anyway, that didn’t happen here.
Author Sparks was clearly careful in her research about political events and technology, and there are some fun scenes where Quincy functions as an eighteenth century James Bond with his spy gadgets. However, I also felt the period feel of the book was very inconsistent. The clothes and basic events were accurate, but the characters spoke like modern people and often thought modern thoughts. For example, at one point when Virginia is teaching Quincy’s servant, she tells him she plans to give him a series of small rewards to motivate him – hardly a popular educational technique of the time. Both main characters are also very into analyzing psychological events from the past that they believe to be responsible for their modern neuroses. And while the spy stuff is fun, it also seems way too easy. Virginia discovers valuable information on her first attempt, and both of them seem to stumble onto important papers quite easily. No one on the enemy side bothers to guard their information carefully.
The writing is also a bit choppy at times, especially toward the end when it seems as if the author is in a hurry to wrap things up. And then there’s the villain. I didn’t have trouble with his character per se, but the way everyone treats him becomes increasingly ridiculous as the book goes on. This is an evil guy with murderous intent who will stop at nothing to incriminate Quincy and harm Virginia. Yet, for sentimental reasons, all the main characters in the book steadfastly refuse to turn him in to the authorities. Indeed, they actually let him go repeatedly, apparently so he can bounce back and jeopardize everyone all over again. Towards the end I wanted to step in and handle matters for them, since none of the characters seemed likely to do anything.
If you enjoy novels set in this time period as much as I do, you may find this book worth a shot; it did have its moments. On the other hand, if you’re specifically looking for a great 18th century read, I would pass this up in favor of Karyn Monk’s The Rebel and the Redcoat or Laura Lee Guhrke’s Charade.