The Noble Guardian
I had not read Michelle Griep’s work before, but her books have been well-received, so I decided to pick up her latest release, The Noble Guardian, for review. This third book in the Bow Street Runners Trilogy is a Cinderella tale played out during an arduous journey with a different slant on the fairy tale’s happy ending. When I started the book, I didn’t realize it was part of a series, but I was able to enjoy this installment without reading the first two.
The Cinderella of the story is Abigail Gilbert, who has endured a life devoid of familial support. Her wealthy father accepts an offer for her hand from a handsome baronet whose charm and attentiveness convince Abby of his future devotion. Full of hope and anticipation, she gladly leaves behind the emotional coldness of her family to travel north to marry Sir Jonathan, whose estates lie in Penrith. Everything has worked out as she believes a benevolent God would arrange, and her generally optimistic view of life is affirmed.
After five years serving England in the Nineteenth Light Dragoons, Samuel Thatcher now serves as a horse patrol captain under contract to Bow Street. Yet his heart’s desire is to retire from this wretched business filled with enough daily horrors and human distress to leave him tired and soul-sick – and if he can convince the chief magistrate to extend his contract for just one more month, he’ll have enough money to purchase a farm. On this particular day, members of Shankhart Robbins’ gang hold up a coach, killing all passengers except a small boy. In the chase that follows, Samuel confronts and kills Shankhart’s younger brother. The death effectively pins a target on Samuel’s back, and he knows it’s only a matter of time until Shankhart comes after him. Although Samuel believes in the power of the Almighty, his experience convinces him that no one is safe this side of Heaven.
Part of Samuel’s patrol route is the road going north. When traveling, all passengers must cross Hounslow Heath, the hunting grounds of the Robbins gang. At the last inn before the heath, Abby is approached by a sharpshooter who offers to act as her protector across the heath, but given the cost, she refuses. That decision proves disastrous. With only an incompetent outrider, Abby’s carriage is an easy target for the Robbins gang. Samuel comes to the rescue, and Abby offers him money to escort them to Penrith. Samuel is tempted but does not want to escort a vulnerable woman while he has Shankhart at his heels. When Abby is assaulted and robbed in the stables by an unscrupulous guard and Abby’s maid abandons her, Samuel’s honor will not permit him to leave Abby unprotected. Furthermore, he is intrigued by this woman who will not back down from his commands or scowls which have easily cowed men under his command.
Along the way north, Abby and Samuel find surprising common ground – a relationship with God. They both feel God has drawn them to this journey through their decisions and circumstances. As Abby shares more about her betrothed, Samuel questions Sir Jonathan’s intentions. After just one meeting, Samuel points out, the depth of affection Abby professes and what Sir Jonathan supposedly feels for her, are not possible. His observations reveal Abby’s feelings as possible fantasies, but she clings to her belief that everything in her life will be well if only she can reach Penrith and marry.
As the journey continues, Samuel brings out Abby’s stubborn and outspoken side, and she amuses Samuel with her spark and spirit for all that she tries to act the reserved and proper lady. The journey continues toward Penrith, both their futures wreathed in uncertainty.
The adventure elements and spiritual theme are well-balanced in this novel, and the growing awareness between Samuel and Abby is always close at hand. I particularly enjoyed the continuing mystery surrounding Sir Jonathan. Abby’s description of him seems too good to be true, and I wondered how the ultimate meeting in Penrith would work out. I was never sure, and that story question kept me turning pages.
For readers of inspirational romance, the book stretches beyond the expected in two areas. First, I consider this book fairly dark in tone. Although Ms. Griep does not use overtly gruesome language to describe the horrors Samuel encounters, she does craft the scenes of murder and drunkenness with enough detail to give the reader a true picture of what has made this dedicated law enforcement officer heart-sick. Second, although the characters do nothing more than kiss, those embraces have heat beneath them and strongly suggest more intimate touches that warrant the subtle rating.
The inspirational theme of The Noble Guardian is aligned with a classic view of the Almighty and the afterlife. God is a constant presence in the book, and the story illustrates how a person’s experience may color one’s relationship to God in either Abby’s optimistic way – that God will see things right – or with Samuel’s perspective that there is little good to be gleaned on earth before Heaven. Heaven is a real place to the characters, and the author provides examples of the peace and optimism with which life can be lived when one accepts the certainty of God’s heavenly reward after death.
The book did have some problems, though. I was sometimes irritated with Abby’s Pollyanna-ish view of life, and I felt the author did not give her a tough enough edge by the end of the book for the future she ultimately chooses. Also, the scenes with Samuel and his Bow Street companions – which I later realized probably help to tie the trilogy together – slowed the action. During the first quarter of the book, the romance is often overshadowed as the author sets up the background for both characters and arranges for the hero and heroine to begin their journey. Once they are on the road, the romantic subplot rises in prominence.
Overall, I enjoyed the novel. It’s a good romantic adventure with two memorable main characters, a wonderful villain, and an interesting secondary cast. The Noble Guardian is certainly not a Jane Austen-style Regency, but its blend of dark action, romance, and a traditional view of God and the afterlife offer an engrossing experience.