Point of Honour by Madeleine E. Robins

I’ve been looking for a copy of this book since I first read a preview chapter online, several years ago. After such a long delay, the risk of disappointment is high, but this book met my expectations. Point of Honour is a period piece set in a period that never existed: Regency England where Queen Charlotte, not the Prince, was Regent.

Our Heroine is Sarah Tolerance, called Miss Tolerance throughout the book, a woman whose reputation has been ruined, and is therefore fit, according to society, for nothing but exchanging sex for money and a man’s protection. Miss Tolerance, however, sets herself up as an ‘investigative agent’, relying on her wits, her discretion, and her short-sword to earn her living in the world, even though she faces pressure from everyone, men and women, to succumb to the pull of society’s expectations.

The book is an enjoyable read. Miss Tolerance is a compelling character, smart, but shaped by the attitudes of her time period, even those attitudes she struggles against. The mystery intrigued me, and Robins played fair with it, leaving me with the same clues she gave Miss Tolerance (who solved it before me.) There was a romantic sub-plot which I enjoyed because it was presented as a complex, and far from idyllic interlude; I especially liked that becoming involved with a man in a higher social class did not simplify Miss Tolerance’s situation, but rather complicated it. Most readers are probably familiar with the tendency for romantic involvement with a rich man to be both the heroine’s aim, and the solution to her problems. Without spoiling the novel, I will say that that was not this case in this book.

My one problem with this book is not entirely Robins’ fault, but I am compelled to mention it: there is a tendency to portray queer and gay characters on film and television as either evil or dead. While I was pleased to see fully realized queer characters in this book, I would have been happier still if they had deviated from this trend.

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