About This Book
Place an unpolished lawman named Nicholas Brentwood as guardian over a spoiled, pompous beauty named Emily Payne and what do you get? More trouble than Brentwood bargains for. She is determined to find a husband this season. He just wants the large fee her father will pay him to help his ailing sister. After a series of dire mishaps, both their desires are thwarted, but each discovers that no matter what, God is in charge.
Based on the book’s description above, I wouldn’t have picked this one up. What made me want to read it were several descriptions on social media advertising this book as a blend of Dickens and Sherlock Holmes. Though I can’t say the story lived up to such ambitious promoting, I will say it was an overall entertaining and worthwhile read.
Right off the bat, I was struck by how amateur the writing felt, which was surprising since I know Griep is a multi-published author. But several technical pitfalls frequently pulled me out of the story, including: clichés; repetitive descriptions (a good many things “jolt” in this story); dialogue that sounded far too modern at times (“seriously?”); motivation-reaction violations, in which we see a character’s reaction to an event before we see the event itself; and even some historical inaccuracies (e.g. a man accused of infidelity because there’s evidence he’s not wearing his wedding ring, when rings for men wouldn’t become so commonplace for another 150 years). But despite these deficiencies, the book was a very fast read and well-paced. Some characters and story threads were left handing at the end, but perhaps that is because their stories will continue in subsequent books.
Emily and Nicholas were very lively characters and commanded attention in every scene, though I never felt particularly connected to Emily as the heroine; she was a bit too full of herself to be truly likable for most of the book. A good number of secondary characters were thrown in (in rather Dickensian fashion), however most were cliché and didn’t serve much purpose to drive the story forward. The book’s description indicates the characters were supposed to grow and learn that God is ultimately in control, but that didn’t really play out for me. Emily’s and Nicholas’ personal goals, especially their internal ones, weren’t fully developed, and neither hero nor heroine was noticeably changed by the end of the book. The villains also had a couple random scenes in their points-of-view that I didn’t feel were necessary to the story.
This book definitely has a lot of action! Every chapter has a chase or a fight or a lurking villain or a treacherous friend. I felt it lacked a truly climactic finale, and as mentioned above, there wasn’t much in the way of internal conflict for the characters to overcome, but with so many external problems thrown at the characters, the book was a definite page-turner. And its greatest strength was the romantic tension. Griep did an excellent job of stringing me along as Emily and Nicholas’ attraction to one another grew. There were plenty of swoon-worthy moments to delight even the most ardent romance fan.
But make no mistake, this is not Jane Austen’s England. Remember that scene in Pride and Prejudice when Mr. Darcy goes searching for Lydia and Mr. Wickham who are hiding in a disreputable part of London? Brentwood’s Ward is pretty much entirely set in that dark, dingy side of London, and rarely takes a break to show us a lighter side. Griep’s story about the predecessor to London’s Metropolitan Police Force is certainly unique in Christian fiction, and her author’s note at the end explains the book’s inspiration. But this is a rather violent and graphic novel for Regency fiction. Nicholas is a lawman who thrills at the crunch of bones beneath his fists and relishes inflicting pain on the criminals he captures, and he never shows any contrition for such thoughts. He is threatened, shot, stabbed and otherwise attacked numerous times. Emily is sexually assaulted (though rescued in time) and abducted multiple times, and another secondary character is pregnant as the result of rape. One fellow lawman swears (albeit never explicitly), and several British swear words are peppered throughout the text. A hanging victim’s corpse is rather vividly described, and there are frequent lewd and suggestive moments, from prostitutes in the seedy parts of town to rakish men at fancy dinner parties.
In terms of spiritual content, Emily is a “social believer,” attending church because it’s expected, but has no personal faith in God for most of the book. As a result, her conversion moment near the end of the book was a bit over the top for me, and there was no evident change in her attitude or behavior afterward. Nicholas, on the other hand, is portrayed as a staunch believer who frequently prays, asking God to guide his work as a lawman. He also tries to instill in Emily a belief that God is in control, but the lesson is never fully realized before the book ends.
Overall, Brentwood’s Ward is an energetic novel that relishes (perhaps a bit too much) in being as far removed from Jane Austen’s Regency-era England as possible (though one could argue there is a bit of Emma Woodhouse in Emily). With its dark tone and violent content, I can’t really recommend this book for younger readers, but adult fans of mystery/suspense novels will enjoy this adventure through the dark and dirty streets of early-19th Century London.
Available January 1, 2015 from Shiloh Run