For Love or Country
by Kerrelyn Sparks
(Forge, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-765-34037-2
****
Readers may be hard-pressed to believe that this sassy romp of a historical romance is Kerrelyn Sparks’ debut novel. Call it The Scarlet Pimpernel meets MacGyver, or maybe The Patriot meets Inspector Gadget. Any way you choose, Quincy Stanton, Loyalist fop and Patriot spy, is an absolute delight.

Quincy, illegitimate son of the Earl of Dearlington, is back in Boston after a dreadful visit with his father, who refused to acknowledge him as his son and threatened to take away Quincy’s shipping business. Quincy’s partner, his uncle Edward, advises Quincy that it is altogether possible the British courts will decide in favor of his father. In the meantime, British soldiers are quartered all over Boston and the Sons of Liberty need Quincy’s help. He’ll have access to all the social events of the Redcoats, if he can act the part of a Loyalist fop. Quincy agrees. At least the periwig and silly clothes purchased in England won’t go to complete waste.

Quincy’s first job is to head down to the docks, in full fop regalia, and purchase a clever boy to help him. When he meets colonial lass Virginia Munro, he insults her by asking her purchase price, assuming she’s an indentured servant just arrived from London. Speechless, Virginia tries to cut him dead but can’t help noticing that this popinjay has a few unusual characteristics - like tanned skin and real muscles, not padding. Quite a contradiction.

In actuality, Ginny and her sister, Caroline, are in Boston to visit their Aunt Mary, a patriot who is also the widow of a renowned Loyalist sympathizer. As such, Mary has access to Loyalist parties, where she hopes to overhear secrets and information. Caroline and Virginia agree to help her. It isn’t long before Virginia and Quincy meet again. But how can they get to know one another? When they discover they are actually on the same side, things heat up. Complicating matters is the arrival of Quincy’s scheming half-brother, Clarence, who plans to take over the shipping company.

Quin is delightful. The fop costume thoroughly disgusts him, but he’s a staunch supporter of liberty and the sacrifice is worth it. He even has a sidekick - Johnson, a pseudo-servant who is actually a liaison between Quin and the Sons of Liberty, who create a variety of gadgets to assist Quin. An underwater boat, precursor to a submarine. Silver buckles for his shoes, containing gunpowder. A booby-trapped carriage. Quin cheerfully accepts each one. When he finally decides to pursue Virginia, he doesn’t waste any time, and the sensuality between these two is natural and hot. His wit and good humor really bring his character to life.

Ginny is a bit less impressive, because her youth and immaturity pop up at awkward moments. Once she agrees to help her aunt gather information, she plunges in with enthusiasm and fancies herself quite the master spy, and it grew a bit thin. However, once Quin and Ginny decide to join forces, the story hurtles along at a breakneck pace.

And that may well be the only sign that this is a debut novel - the end of the story is a kitchen sink of plot elements, all on a collision course. As a result, the ending is wrapped up quickly, neatly - and somewhat implausibly.

However, For Love or Country is a standout debut - witty, charming, and featuring one of the most captivating heroes you’re likely to encounter this year. The romance is plenty hot, too. I’m eager to see what Kerrelyn Sparks comes up with next.

--Cathy Sova


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