Saturday, September 24, 2022

Book Review: The Debutante's Code by Erica Vetsch

Newly returned from finishing school, Lady Juliette Thorndike is ready to debut in London society. Due to her years away, she hasn't spent much time with her parents, and sees them only as the flighty, dilettante couple the other nobles love. But when they disappear, she discovers she never really knew them at all. They've been living double lives as government spies--and they're only the latest in a long history of espionage that is the family's legacy.

Now Lady Juliette is determined to continue their work. Mentored by her uncle, she plunges into the dangerous world of spy craft. From the glittering ballrooms of London to the fox hunts, regattas, and soirees of country high society, she must chase down hidden clues, solve the mysterious code her parents left behind, and stay out of danger. All the while, she has to keep her endeavors a secret from her best friend and her suitors--not to mention nosy, irritatingly handsome Bow Street runner Daniel Swann, who suspects her of a daring theft.

Can Lady Juliette outwit her enemies and complete her parents' last mission? Or will it lead her to a terrible end?

In the summer of 2020 I was introduced to historical fiction author Erica Vetsch with her Serendipity & Secrets series. The Lost Lieutenant, The Gentleman Spy, and The Indebted Earl were very enjoyable, and recently I was pleased to learn that a new series was in the works. I had found Vetsch’s writing to be well-crafted, her plot lines entertaining, and the content was family-friendly. I had few criticisms. One reservation of praise came in regard to narrative choices within The Gentleman Spy. Given the subject matter implied in the title, I expected there to be more espionage than was presented in the novel. I still heartily endorsed the work, but I had hoped for more “cloak and dagger” material. The suggestion was even put forth that the audience could have experienced a bit of a flashback, to the days when agent Marcus was a spy-in-training. 

My hopes for The Gentleman Spy have thus far been fulfilled in Vetsch’s new series, Thorndike & Swann Regency Mysteries. The saga begins with The Debutante’s Code, wherein the audience is indeed given a spy-in-training with young Lady Juliette Thondike, daughter of government secret agents. Although she did not grow up with knowledge of her parents’ true line of work, she finds herself thrust into their world with the choice to join them or remain a simple debutante. She chooses the former, and like them begins leading a double life as a life-threatening conspiracy breaks out in the aristocratic world of art and antiquities in 1816 London. 

The Debutante’s Code manages multiple plotlines: Juliette’s life as a Lady and as a spy. The novel also follows the career of young Bow Street runner Daniel Swann, who becomes connected as he investigates related crimes and apparent thefts in the community. As Juliette and her family make progress in their efforts to secretly serve the Crown, Daniel begins to suspect connections between Juliette’s family and the illegal activity. As Juliette and Daniel pursue their varied but similar interests, their life trajectories inevitably begin to head in each other’s direction.

Both Juliette and Daniel harbor internal insecurities in regard to their relationships with their respective parents. While this is not dealt with openly between the two of them, their inner thought life is presented to the reader. We see two young people who earnestly want to have healthy, caring relationships with their parents, but they are at sixes and sevens to achieve this. As they wrestle with their parental alienation, they also address God in thoughts and prayers. They also address the Almighty on occasion when dealing with troublesome situations. Vetsch is a Christian writer, and this is the extent of the religious material in the novel. As a believer myself I’m glad to see these kinds of thought patterns, as I also turn to the Lord in moments of joy as well as frustration. That said, sometimes the insertion of the spiritual content felt a little shoehorned to me. I’m grateful that it was included, but it wasn’t always a seamless transition from espionage to spiritual matters.

Although I found this to be the case, the novel as a whole remained very entertaining. Virtually every chapter seemed to have its own mini-mystery as individual problems had to be solved, whether they were issues handled by the spy network, or incidents encountered by the Bow Street runners. Erica Vetsch is well-versed in many historical details of the Regency era, as well as in the art world. She combined knowledge of the past with a diverting narrative. This was also accomplished in a family-friendly way, with no colorful language or overly adult scenes. Although there are hints of romance, that content is negligible. There is one moment where a deceased stabbing victim is discovered, but details are not gory and kept to a minimum. While this series is not necessarily written for the middle-grade audience, as a mother I would feel comfortable recommending it to that age group or older.

The Debutante’s Code is a fine start to a new series by Erica Vetsch. I was pleased to find some connections to her previous Serendipity & Secrets series, but knowledge of those titles is not necessary to enjoy this one. Lady Juliette Thorndike and Bow Street runner Daniel Swann are emotionally vulnerable, yet likable characters, and a solid foundation for their long-term story has been set in this first volume. I will be immediately diving into the next book, Millstone of Doubt, and I look forward to seeing what is ahead for our intrepid debutante and detective.

About the Author

Erica Vetsch is a New York Times best-selling author and ACFW Carol Award winner and has been a Romantic Times top pick for her previous books. She loves Jesus, history, romance, and watching sports. This transplanted Kansan now makes her home in Rochester, Minnesota.







Audio to come!

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