» Author Interview: Renegade of Romance, Donna Thorland and The Turncoat

Author Interview: Renegade of Romance, Donna Thorland and The Turncoat

This author interview originally appeared on the Dashing Duchesses blogsite.

I discovered Donna Thorland and her incredible new historical fiction novel THE TURNCOAT the old-fashioned way. I saw her book trailer.

What’s that, you say? Book trailers are old news, and don’t work to drum up interest in a book?

Oh, you poor, dear creature. Clearly you’ve been watching the wrong book trailers.

In the making of the trailer for The Turncoat, Donna brought her prior film-industry experience (and friends) to the table. The result is a lush cinematic feast that watches like a movie trailer. But the book doesn’t just deliver on the promise of the trailer… it up-ends it, shakes it out, and crafts it into something far better.

A book you can’t put down.

TheTurncoat_100The Turncoat is a stunning debut novel that will teach you something about history, even as you learn something about love. It is the first in a series called “Renegades of the Revolution”, and is set in the turbulent setting of America during the Revolutionary War. The book features Kate Grey, a Quaker-turned-spy of a heroine who is quite possibly the gutsiest protagonist I have ever read. More accurately described as historical fiction than actual romance, The Turncoat guides you through Kate’s transformation from pacifist to aggressor, and from a not-so-naïve innocent to a cunning seductress. You do not regret her evolution, even though parts of it are hard to watch, because none of it is hard to understand. Her motivations are so well-crafted you become convinced you would make the same hard choices, even while facing death or worse.

The Dashing Duchesses is primarily a site devoted to historical romance, and I am a reader that prefers romance over straight-up historical fiction. But I also love authors like Ken Follett, because they take history and turn it into something beautiful. Similarly, the beauty of The Turncoat is that you never see the history coming until it is past you, because Thorland shows you events as they happen, rather than tells you. In that spirit, I cannot wait to show you Donna Thorland.


1)      The Turncoat is a book that defies categorization. It isn’t straight-up historical fiction, and it isn’t a romance. What is it? And did it end up being what you expected when you started out writing it?

Thank you! The book was a labor of love—I knew selling a story set during the American Revolution would be tough—so it’s gratifying to see it resonate with readers.

Above all else, I think the Turncoat is a swashbuckler. A mix of action, adventure, and romance in which single combat between antagonists plays a decisive role. If “swashbuckler” was an aisle in the bookstore, it would be stocked with Dorothy Dunnett, Bernard Cornwell, Baroness Orczy, Raphael Sabatini, and Alexander Dumas. If it was a category on Netflix it would include Last of the Mohicans, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Mummy, and the Three Musketeers (the Richard Lester version, please).

My goal when I started writing was to make the American Revolution sexy and dangerous again, and give it a heroine who was clever and brave and at the same time flawed and relatable. Revolutions, after all, are sexy — why should the French have all the fun?

The Last of the MohicansJennifer says: Umm…Yes, please. I apparently prefer swashbucklers.

 In buckskin.


2)      The Turncoat features two men in Kate’s life: her fiancé, Bayard Caide, and the man who would distract her, Peter Tremayne. You craft excellent reasons for her to be attracted to both men, and while it is something that might make true romance lovers cringe, you keep that dual attraction going strong throughout most of the book. Tell us why you chose to make her conflicted over two men, and why this worked in the unfolding plot.

The intelligence Kate gathers results in a massive British defeat with a staggering loss of life, including that of a man she knows and likes. This weighs on her, and in Bayard Caide she sees another stained soul. A dark mirror for her own self doubt, but also a man who is not afraid to wring every drop of passion and pleasure from the hand life’s dealt him.

Kate is a woman who is just coming to understand her own potential. Her choice isn’t just between two different men, but also between two different versions of herself: the woman she would become with Caide, and the woman she might become with Tremayne.


3)      Kate Grey is a heroine who understands the risks that might befall a Rebel spy (hanging, rape, torture) and still willingly flings herself into the fray. She isn’t in denial about what might happen to her—she is frighteningly pragmatic, and seems as motivated by a determination to be valued for her intellect as to change the course of the war. In crafting such a memorable heroine, did you base her on someone real?

Kate Grey was inspired by Quaker spy Lydia Barrington Darragh, who risked her life to warn Washington of a British sneak attack at Whitemarsh and kept her cool during a subsequent British interrogation. And in the novel Kate has a strong female role model. Her mentor, Angela Ferrers, was inspired by the real Widow of Mount Holly, who seduced Colonel Carl Von Donop into lingering with her for three days, ensuring Washington’s victory at Trenton. The Widow’s real identity is still unknown.

Lydia DarraghLydia Darragh, Quaker Spy


4)      Peter Tremayne initially considers Kate a drab and quiet country mouse… until she opens her mouth and challenges him on wartime strategies. He is my favorite sort of hero, a man who is intellectually outmatched, and yet finds the woman who is outwitting him attractive. Do you feel such reaction is true to the time period, and that a man in the 1700’s would have that sort of respect for a woman?

I think John and Abigail Adams had genuine intellectual respect for one another, and if you dive into the letters and journals of the period you find plenty of smart, educated women. The Revolution was followed by a wave of social conservatism in the early republic, and American women of letters like Mercy Otis Warren were pushed off the public stage. It’s time we put them front and center again.

Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams: Smarter than her spouse?

5)      Squeamish readers need to be warned: this book address the horrors of war—including rape, torture, and death—head on. It isn’t gratuitous. In fact, you do an excellent job keeping the thought of what terrible thing is happening front and center without diving into the details. In some ways, I found that more frightening, because you leave it to the reader’s imagination to fill in some horrible blanks. Was it hard to write those scenes? And why were they absolutely necessary?

They were difficult to write—but I think they repaid the effort. Without those scenes, the dangers Kate faced would never have been real for readers. And the end . . . well, I don’t think it would have been nearly as satisfying.


6)      You are being reviewed on several Romance sites, even though your book tends to straddle a more delicate line. Do you read romance? And if so, who are some of your favorite authors?

I do indeed read romance. On my Kindle right now I have Pamela Clare, Julia Quinn, Meredith Duran, Lauren Willig, Sherry Thomas, Courtney Milan, Joanna Bourne, Jo Beverley, Mary Jo Putney, Patricia Gaffney, Mary Balogh, Anne Stuart, and Loretta Chase.


Thank you so much for joining us today, Donna! I have quite a few of those authors on my own Nook… and The Turncoat, as well! I cannot wait to read the next book in your Renegades of the Revolution series.