Desert Isle Keeper

The Forbidden Rose (#62 on AAR's Top 100 Romances)

Joanna Bourne

An AAR Top 100 Romance

originally published on June 10, 2010

Plodding through forgettable spy novels (and historicals in general) sometimes makes me forget what a truly great book looks like – and then I read one like The Forbidden Rose. Joanna Bourne’s latest novel has everything I love about romance: A strong relationship, complex characters, and effortless writing.

Margeurite de Fleurignac is both the daughter of a marquis in France at the height of the Reign of Terror and the head of La Flèche, a group of counter-revolutionaries helping future victims of the guillotine escape. When the book opens, though, her network across Normandy is being revealed to the authorities; she barely escapes arrest herself, and her home burned to the ground. It is at the ruins of the de Fleurignac chateau that she is found by William Doyle, a British spy in search of her father.

The two head off the Paris together, both aware the other isn’t who they say they are (a British governess and a Parisian peddler). Amid the secrecy, lies, and threats, the two are drawn together and must learn to trust each other against their common enemies.

The author unraveled this story perfectly, never giving us more information than we needed at any time and keeping us guessing. The story was paced flawlessly and creates a wonderful tension between the characters and the events surrounding them, including history smoothly into the plot. The prose is simplistic in the best way, not resorting to complex syntax or flowery language to convey meaning. Ms. Bourne says much more in a brief declarative sentence than most authors do in paragraphs of text.

Doyle and Margeurite (or Guillaume and Maggie, as they are known to each other) fit together in an unexpected way that is entirely romantic and satisfying. There is not much ruminating on the process of falling in love; you see it in their gestures and actions, not internal monologue. And yet, there are some brilliant and heartbreaking moments and declarations that set the romance between the two characters at the forefront of the story.

There’s a great cast of secondary characters as well, some of which will be the focus of the author’s next endeavor. I think you can probably tell by now that I’m looking forward to it.

The Forbidden Rose is just a straight-up good book. Given Joanna Bourne’s previous success, there’s been some serious buzz about this one – well-deserved buzz. If you haven’t already, pick this one up. It’s fantastic.

Buy The Forbidden Rose (#62 on AAR’s Top 100 Romances):

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Book Details

Reviewer :      Jane Granville

Grade :     A

Sensuality :      Hot

Book Type :     

Review Tags :      |

Recent Comments


  1. Em Wittmann
    Em Wittmann October 27, 2017 at 9:58 am - Reply

    Love this series, this book & these characters! AWESOME. 5 STARS.

  2. Dabney Grinnan
    Dabney Grinnan October 27, 2017 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    This one, in particular, is sublime.

  3. Chrisreader October 27, 2017 at 4:04 pm - Reply

    I absolutely adore Joanna Bourne and I think this book is one of her best (which is quite a compliment given the quality of all her work). If I were to encounter someone who hadn’t read her novels before, I would recommend this one to them first.

    It’s particularly stunning because she wrote this “out of order”- which totally worked for me. This is the first book chronologically but the third book of hers published and by this point I was absolutely busting to get a glimpse of the woman (girl at this point) who would break Adrian’s heart. I was sure I would despise her and ended up loving her before I even finished the book.

    What can I say about the heroine and hero Maggie and Doyle? They are a mature (in the best sense), clever, exciting and honorable pair who could not be more perfect for each other. Maggie is an amazing heroine with accomplishments in her own right who saves her brilliant spymaster through her sheer brilliance and boldness. When I first read The Spymaster’s Lady I never imagined the (then) middle aged avuncular Doyle as a sexy male hero. I could not have been more wrong. Everything about their pairing just clicks from their first encounter.

    This is as close to a perfect romance novel as it is possible to be and I think it may even improve, the more I reread it. The quality of the writing is without equal. I can not recommend it highly enough A+++++

  4. Caz Owens
    Caz Owens October 27, 2017 at 4:18 pm - Reply

    Such a fabulous series. The Black Hawk is probably my favourite, but it’s a tough call. I do love the glimpses of Hawker the street rat we get here, though.

    • Keira Soleore
      Keira Soleore October 28, 2017 at 5:02 pm - Reply

      Have you read her novelette “Gideon and the Den of Thieves”? That’s where we get the very first glimpse of Hawker as Lazarus’s hand. There were already inklings there for his resurrection as Head of Service.

      • Blackjack
        Blackjack October 28, 2017 at 5:28 pm - Reply

        Kiera, I’ve tried to get that story but it seems to have vanished. Where did you read it?

        • Chrisreader October 29, 2017 at 2:34 am - Reply

          It’s in “Gambled Away: A Historical Romance Anthology”

          Joanna Bourne is one of the authors along with Rose Lerner, Jeannie Lin and others.

        • Keira Soleore
          Keira Soleore October 29, 2017 at 1:30 pm - Reply

          As Chrisreader said above, it’s in the anthology “Gambled Awa,.” but the authors took the anthology down. I should ask Joanna Bourne on Twitter when she plans to re-release Gideon’s story as a standalone. I think she has it in the works, but not sure about the date.

  5. Blackjack
    Blackjack October 27, 2017 at 5:58 pm - Reply

    I’ve liked them all, but the first, The Spymaster’s Lady is still my favorite, followed by The Black Hawk.

    • Maria Rose
      Maria Rose October 27, 2017 at 8:23 pm - Reply

      The Spymaster’s Lady brought me back to romance after a 10 year hiatus. I saw it at the library, and I’d been only reading spy thrillers and fantasy for the last few years, and read the back. It intrigued me enough to bring me back to the genre.

  6. Maria Rose
    Maria Rose October 27, 2017 at 8:24 pm - Reply

    You can all be sufficiently jealous that a friend got me a signed (to me!) copy of The Forbidden Rose from a conference she went to that Joanna Bourne was also attending.

    • Keira Soleore
      Keira Soleore October 28, 2017 at 4:57 pm - Reply

      Deeply envious!

    • Chrisreader October 29, 2017 at 2:32 am - Reply

      I have a signed ARC of Black Hawk from Ms. Bourne that I read once and now just keep on the shelf to pull out and gloat over every once in a while.

      I think she is an absolute treasure and I would love to meet her at a signing or conference someday.

  7. Dabney Grinnan
    Dabney Grinnan October 27, 2017 at 10:34 pm - Reply

    OK. My ranking of the grand Ms. Bourne’s novels:

    My Lord and Spymaster
    The Forbidden Rose
    The Black Hawk
    The Spymaster’s Lady
    Rogue Spy
    Beauty Like the Night

    • Chrisreader October 29, 2017 at 2:42 am - Reply

      I love that you have My Lord And Spymaster at the top of your list. I adore that book as well and most readers just don’t care for it so much,

      Although I read Spymaster’s Lady first and thought it was amazing, it didn’t move me as much as My Lord and Spymaster did. I love Jess and Sebastian and I find Lazarus and his whole organization fascinating but just the smaller parts with Adrian alone would be worth the price of this novel.

      I feel this book has some of the best use of humor throughout it and I keep thinking every time I read it what a perfect pair Sebastian and Jess make.

      The scene with Jess and Adrian on the stairs breaks my heart every time I read it. It was such an amazing glimpse at a completely different side of Hawker.

      • Dabney Grinnan
        Dabney Grinnan October 29, 2017 at 9:49 am - Reply

        A world of agree. I love Lazarus. Did you see, in my interview with her, she told us what ultimately happened to Lazarus?

        • Chrisreader October 29, 2017 at 2:34 pm - Reply

          Yes! She actually mentioned something like that on her blog years ago as well. I love that she knows these characters and their timelines inside and out and knew before she wrote many of her novels exactly what was happening each year. One of my joys of the series was picking up Easter Eggs she had dropped throughout the books. The whole back story of Josiah, Lazarus and Jess’s Mom is amazing too and I don’t think ever made it into any novels. It’s just something she knows that informed the stories. What an amazing writer and what a rich imagination. It must have been such a thrill to interview her and ask all your questions directly!

  8. Keira Soleore
    Keira Soleore October 28, 2017 at 5:00 pm - Reply

    The Black Hawk is my favorite, followed by The Spymaster’s Lady. TSL was my first Bourne and I can remember how shell-shocked I was after finishing reading it. The beauty of prose and imagination and characterization raised the bar by which I judged romance novels thence forwards.

  9. Sarah Adiron Jones November 13, 2017 at 7:34 am - Reply

    We all have authors who are universally beloved and whom we just can’t get excited about, and Joanna Bourne is mine. There is no author I want to love more than her—especially because she’s so beloved!—and I never get past the first few chapters. Does anyone else struggle with her?

    • Chrisreader November 13, 2017 at 9:12 pm - Reply

      I can’t agree with you on Bourne because she is one of my absolute favorites, but I can sympathize. There are other beloved romance authors that I cannot get into and others love them. Mary Balogh is one and I have felt bad about it, but then realized not everything is to everyone’s taste!

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