25 Feb 2016

New Release - A Spy's Devotion by Melanie Dickerson

Waterfall Press, 322 Pages 
9th February 2016
In England’s Regency era, manners and elegance reign in public life—but behind closed doors treason and tawdriness thrive. Nicholas Langdon is no stranger to reserved civility or bloody barbarity. After suffering a battlefield injury, the wealthy, well-connected British officer returns home to heal—and to fulfill a dying soldier’s last wish by delivering his coded diary.

At the home of the Wilherns, one of England’s most powerful families, Langdon attends a lavish ball where he meets their beautiful and intelligent ward, Julia Grey. Determined to maintain propriety, he keeps his distance—until the diary is stolen and all clues lead to Julia’s guardian.
As Langdon traces an evil plot that could be the nation’s undoing, he grows ever more intrigued by the lovely young woman. And when Julia realizes that England—and the man she is falling in love with—need her help, she finds herself caught in the fray. Will the two succumb to their attraction while fighting to save their country?
I am still, to some extent in two minds about a lot of Christian Regencies. I do like Melanie Dickerson’s books generally, and so I wanted to read her new book and first foray into Regencies. My main issue with books in this genre is that they can be riddled with Americanisms, really cheesy and unrealistic and don’t do any justice to the classics they are meant to hark back to.

In some ways I was pleasantly surprised by A Spy’s Devotion. I mean there was the occasional slip-up, like using the terms England and Britain interchangeably (this is significant, and not just pedantic-as the army in the Peninsula war was not exclusively ‘English’- there were Irish and Scottish soldiers in it as well), I really don’t think the audience needed to be repeatedly reminded of who Wellington was, and yes there were a few Americanisms in the characters speech. Yet, the book was far from the worst offender in this regard.

For the most part, the characters were quite authentically and believably British, and yes, it had many of the elements we have grown to love in Regency Fiction, balls and mansions, gowns and gallant suitors, lords and ladies. I did feel that the sub-plot about spying and the plot against Wellington could have been more prominent. At times, it seemed very much in the background, and was overshadowed by the romance aspects, and relationship between Julia and Nicholas Langdon, as well as her cousin and some of the minor characters. There was not too much mushy stuff, which puts me off stories like this, until the end at least, and the characters did seem to genuinely grow and develop, with Julia becoming more brave and self-reliant.

So yes, there was plenty of intrigue and romance and plenty to keep the reader interested, but I could not help being troubled by the treatment of certain themes and subjects. It’s quite common in books like this for the social expectations of polite society- especially those which applied to women- to be disparaged as ‘stupid’ and ‘repressive’.
Now, Julia and Nicholas care for the poor and despised in society was entirely commendable- but I cannot say I agree with the depiction of this as somehow exceptional to the ‘goodies’ or Christian characters which one sees in many books. I think even nineteenth century British society was imbued with the idea that charity was a duty, and rich ladies were expected to patronise charities, visit the poor etc.

It seemed absurd to me the way that Julia seemed to blame all her problems on trying to meet social expectations rather than obeying God’s laws. It was her Uncle’s treasonable activities that bought the family down, and put her in danger, not social expectations. I felt there was too emphasis on ‘following the heart’- which just conveniently happened to line up with God’s will for the main characters, whilst conforming to social expectations was claimed to be opposed to it. I for one don’t believe that social expectation were always irreconcilable with Christian teachings, or that anything which does not line up with modern notions of personal freedom is inherently bad. I think authors need to be more mindful in their treatment of this subject, as they could be- inadvertently condoning morally questionable and dubious behaviour.

Overall, A Spy’s Devotion was an enjoyable and satisfying read. Not too cheesy so that it insults the intelligence, but also not too heavy-going or demanding. It’s a solid Regency with plenty of merits, and I think Mrs Dickerson has succeeded in making a name for herself in this genre. I would certainly consider reading any follow-up novels in this series. I just didn’t think it was in the same league as the books by other regency authors such as Julie Klassen. It’s possible that future books might raise the bar higher though.

I received a Kindle Edition of this book free from the Publisher for review, and also purchased an Audiobook version of my own volition. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions expressed are my own.

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