A few weeks ago Liz Bourke on Tor.com mentioned the Sarah Tolerance books, so I picked up Point of Honour, the first in the series. Madeleine Robins sets her mysteries in a slightly skewed version of our Regency London, in which the Queen (not the Prince of Wales) is regent for Mad King George. Our heroine, Sarah Tolerance, is a “ruined” woman. She ran away with her brother’s Catholic fencing master. Now, following his death, she has returned to England and makes her living as an Agent of Inquiry — essentially, a private detective.
I enjoyed reading Point of Honour but when I finished it, I felt that it didn’t quite live up to its promising premise. Capable, reserved Sarah Tolerance is an interesting heroine. I admired the way Robins shows Sarah holding the world at arm’s length, but as the book went on I felt like she was holding the reader at arm’s length too. Sarah is calm, logical, and scrupulously honest — but what makes her tick? What does she want out of life? What would make her happy — or has she given up on the idea of happiness? Even though the book was written from Sarah’s point of view, I felt as if I were watching Sarah in a movie rather than living inside her head.
Furthermore, I was a bit frustrated with the mystery. At the beginning of the book, Sarah is asked to retrieve a valuable Italian fan from the mistress of a deceased Earl. We can tell that the stakes are high because there are people who use violence to hinder Sarah’s search, but despite that, the mystery itself is never very interesting. Strange fact upon strange fact keeps piling on and the clues seem so disconnected that it’s hard to invest in the mystery’s solution — at times I wasn’t even sure what the mystery was.
I also didn’t love Sarah’s romantic storyline. Her love interest (whose name I’ll skip to avoid spoilers) is charming and I could see why most women would be interested — but I never saw why Sarah was interested. Frankly, Sarah herself never seems very enthusiastic about the romance.
This review is sounding more negative than I’d intended. I found Sarah Tolerance and her world intriguing and I will definitely read the next book in the series. But I would classify Point of Honour more as a promising start to a series than as a strong mystery in its own right.
Rating: Library Loan