For those readers who love historical fiction and especially stories from Regency England, look no further. Madeleine E. Robins has written in Point of Honour a fast-paced, historical thriller with a new and thoroughly likeable heroine. Sarah Tolerance, a young “fallen” woman from a family of nobility has, upon her fall from familial grace, almost no options beyond the world of whoredom.
Madeleine Robins has done her homework; so impeccably researched and detailed is Point of Honour that the sights and sounds of Regency London come to vivid life. Instead of taking up a life of prostitution, Miss Tolerance stubbornly insists on choosing an entirely original career as an “investigative agent.” This is not as far-fetched as a reader might think. Sarah’s noble upbringing makes her well equipped to move in all social circles, especially those circles in which secrets are stock in trade. She’s also able to move easily among other women who have fallen into the very world she has refused to be a part of. And she has one further advantage–her fallen state is the result of having run off at sixteen with her brother’s fencing instructor who taught her as well. Upon the fencing master’s death and her return to London, Sarah chooses to live by her brains and her fencing swordswomanship.
All of Sarah’s skills in fencing and the handling of swords stand her good stead as she takes on a job of recovering a fan given many years ago by a man of nobility to his lover. The fan’s importance and its secrets are worth killing for and lead Sarah Tolerance into the dangerous and dark shadows of the world of wealth (including her own family) and royalty.
Those readers who know Regency England may dispute some of Robins’ historical facts, but they should remember that it is fiction. Robins has deliberately altered just a few key events in the history of the English monarchy and has thought through all the ways those changes might have affected the whole nation’s history. Don’t miss her end notes, A Note on History, which explains all the whys and wherefores and what-ifs.
Before the mystery of the fan is solved, and its secrets revealed, Sarah falls into and out of love, escaping with her very life. Point of Honour is the first in a series of Sarah Tolerance tales. Both this and its sequel, Petty Treason, were, in my opinion, miscategorized as Romances. There’s love and intrigue here, but also a great deal more: excellent writing, a smart eye and ear for historical detail, and a good plot with enough twists and turns to satisfy the most demanding reader of thrillers. Look for Madeleine Robins’ third Sarah Tolerance mystery, The Sleeping Partner, when it comes out next week from Plus One Press in San Francisco.