Brentwood’s Ward offers a strong sense of the Regency Era, but not what most would expect in that the majority of the time is spent in the streets rather than at society events. I was interested in the book because of an earlier description combining Austen and Dickens. I’d say Michelle Griep succeeded well there, giving details that made me feel present and involved while addressing the state of street urchins and the gritty underside along with a young woman’s pursuit of a man she knows little about beyond his wealth and position, but she needs to secure her future.
The book is a Regency Christian romance mixed with suffering common man made good, the evils of smuggling, and a thriller/intrigue all wrapped into a package with characters you’ll come to love. If that sounds like a bit much for the length, I’m afraid I’ll have to agree. There were several plot threads given short shrift and some elements that could fall (quite appropriately considering the Christian romance) under the banner of Act of God.
That said, don’t forget the characters. There’s a ton going on in this book but the main focus is always on Nicholas Brentwood and Emily Payne, an unlikely but perfect pair as you discover through the unfolding tale.
Unlike most “ward” historical romances where the rich and distant lord has responsibility foisted on him, Brentwood is one of Bow Street’s finest. Even more, he takes the job as her guardian because he needs the cash. A former soldier, he’s a cross between a rough and tumble police officer and a superior detective struggling to save his sister. Emily begins the book as a driven debutante, determined to do whatever necessary to claim the wealthiest, most eligible bachelor in the marriage mart despite her father’s indifference and her hired guardian’s insufferable tendency to block her at every turn.
We know from the beginning that Brentwood is motivated by attempting to cure his sister by shipping her off to the country when the doctor’s say there’s no hope, but we learn the depths of Emily’s story only in bits and pieces, dragged out of her when circumstances demand she come forward.
The characters are entertaining, complicated, and in conflict more often than not. The dialogue is witty, the clash of cultures is well done, and the distinctions between society and life outside of those pampered halls are tangible. Emily might have good instincts, but she’s a product of her upbringing and has much to learn. Nicholas has struggled for every bit of what he’s earned with wounds scarring both his body and his heart, but his soul he’s given to God and lives under that guidance.
While the tale could have used less plot crowding, there are only two or so spots where I felt a lack while most of the time I was fully engaged. The faith Nicholas has, and which Emily grows into, fulfills the Christian aspects, but the strength of his dying sister, Jenny, is amazing. Other secondary characters come alive as well, giving the story a full cast replete with those who stir our emotions to laughter and tears. The villains of the piece were the only weakness in characters, and that mainly because they didn’t get enough time on the page to develop, but they did serve a purpose.
If you are a stickler for tidy plotting, you might not enjoy Brentwood’s Ward as much as others, but for the most part, even those plot threads that seemed random came back into play to some degree. The strength in the book, however, is clearly both the characters and the relationships between them even beyond the main players as shown by Emily and her former maidservant or Nicholas and his sister. There are many other lovely, and appropriately not so lovely, relationships that play out in these pages in a way sure to amuse, entertain, and even scare you at times. I’d say more but do not want to taint how the book unfolds. Read it for the characters and you’ll walk away happy you did and hoping to see more into this world.
P.S. I won this book as part of a Goodreads giveaway.