Do you love action, adventure, spying, romance, and history? If you’re raising your hand in the air, then I have a historical romance series that you must drop everything and read right now!
Okay, I’m sorry for the sales pitch. But it’s true: The Couriers series by Nita Abrams has all that and more — plus, it’s the first Regency romance series I ever read with Jewish characters at the center. For those unfamiliar with the romance world, Regency romance novels are set during 1810-1820, when Prince George IV served as Prince Regent (also known as the era of Jane Austen and Lord Byron). I’ve been reading Regency romance novels for as long as I can remember, but the main characters have always been explicitly or implied to be Christian (not to mention white, able-bodied, and cis-heteronormative).
When I found a copy of A Question of Honor by Nita Abrams in a used bookstore when I was in college, everything changed. It looked kind of like other Regency romance novels from a certain cover aesthetic of a brief period in the ’90s when object covers dominated. Mansions, necklaces, and flowers replaced the couple. I can’t say this is my personal favorite style (I much prefer a classic clinch cover, if I’m being honest). On the cover of A Question of Honor was a large gold doorknocker — falling in line with the object trend. (Seriously, what about a doorknocker indicates an exciting, romantic epic story?) But the back cover told me it was a romance in no uncertain terms.
We’re introduced to the hero, Captain Richard Drayton: “Now that the French have infiltrated England’s intelligence network [Drayton] has sworn to ferret out the traitor.” We’re also introduced to the heroine, Rachel Maitland Ross, whose “true identity as the niece of an immensely wealthy Anglo-Jewish banker remains a mystery.” And finally, the romance is set up: “Rachel cannot betray the bonds of kinship and of faith… although the bonds of love may prove even more powerful…”
I was immediately in.
The Couriers series is set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars and the British intelligence network that was essential to the eventual British victory. The books make ample use of the built-in stakes of such a setting. If high-energy chases, kidnappings, and the attendant violence aren’t your thing, you might want to skip this series. But one of the things I vividly remember from my first read (which held up upon my recent reread) was the details of spy craft Abrams weaves throughout the books.
I love to see a romance novelist work in the familiar world of England’s Regency while reminding us constantly of the world beyond England. These characters travel all over Europe, moving between England, France, and Spain with relative ease (spying related travails notwithstanding). One of my dearest wishes as a romance reader is to see major publishers give eras and countries outside of Regency England the same treatment.
But what is really remarkable about The Couriers is that the series deals with the reality of Judaism during the Regency, especially how it might affect a possible marriage between a Jew and a Christian. Abrams does not sugarcoat anything. Rachel and the rest of the Maitland Ross Family are not ashamed of being Jewish, but they are careful with whom they share that information with, and it informs all their decisions, including and especially who they marry.
A Question of Honor is dedicated to “the real Rachel,” something I noticed the very first time I read it. Who is the real Rachel?, I wondered because I felt an immediate affinity for her. The Rachel in the book is stubborn, fiercely loyal to her family, smart, and funny. I loved and identified with her immediately, even more so when she was named as Jewish on the page. Rachel doesn’t sit on the sidelines; she’s in the middle of everything, a driving force in her own life and the book. I imagine “the real Rachel,” whoever she is, is just as inspiring.
My only wish is that Nita Abrams had written more books about Jewish spies in the Regency that I could recommend to you, but alas, as of right now, it’s just the one series. They’re available on Amazon or Abe, or maybe you’ll find a copy like I did, on a dusty shelf in a used bookstore. Wherever you find them, it’s well worth tracking down this inventive, romantic, and Jewish series.