Thursday, February 08, 2007

I've changed my mind about Lucia St. Clair Robson

You may recall my favorable review of Ride the Wind by Lucia St. Clair Robson, and how I cautioned at the end not to expect much from her other books.

Well, I was wrong. At least about one of them.

Last weekend, I read Shadow Patriots, her most recent foray into historical fiction. And I loved it.

Like Ride the Wind, this one is a bit of a tear-jerker. But also like Ride the Wind it competely drops you into another time and place alongside a sympathetic heroine.

In this case, the time and place is New England, 1776. The Colonies might be going crazy with Revolution fever, but none of the hoopla of War impresses 17-year-old Kate Darby much. She's Quaker and believes its best to leave the politics of this world to others. Then she meets the very suave, very handsome Major John Andrè, aide to British General Howe, and her brother Seth runs off to join George Washington's army, becoming a secret agent.

Eventually, Kate comes to realize her heart does lie with the Patriot's cause - and with one of their army's master spies. Before she knows it, she's in on the intelligence game, risking her life to pass on military secrets, hoping to give the American army a chance at winning the war.

Robson based Kate's story on a mystery that has intrigued historians for 200 years. There was "a lady," code-named 355, who worked in George Washington's spy network during the Revolutionary War. No one really knows who she was, or what her eventual fate was - but Robson weaves the legends about her into this tale that bears more than a passing resemblance to an 18th-Century version of Alias. (Although Kate, unlike Sydney Bristow, doesn't know karate.)

The book is a little slow-going at first. We don't actually meet Kate until chapter four. And I think Robson got a little carried away, trying to include all the colorful historical characters of the period. But you will get caught up in Kate's story; Seth's too. And, I hope, in the sweet story of Kate's first romance. (Her suitor can outrun British soldiers, but he's so smitten with her, he trembles when she's nearby.)

I'm never going to be a fan of Mary's Land, Light a Distant Fire, or Walk in my Soul, but I'm happy to know Ride the Wind wasn't just a fluke.

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