Lord and Lady Spy
Want a fun, adventuresome romp through post-Napoleon English spy tropes? Lord and Lady Spy has a lot of fun tweaking the genre’s conventions while creating two characters who remain true to themselves no matter what while giving us a lot of good character work. It’s not quite perfect, but is still a fun read.
The spy known as the Saint had a lot on her plate, but all that’s over now. Working for the crown to round up Napoleon’s advisors, she’s informed suddenly that now that the war’s over there’s no reason for her to remain employed. Banished back to her unfulfilling life, with a husband who bores and is bored with her and deprived of what gave her world meaning, she has no idea how to cope.
In real life, her name is Sophia Galloway, Lady Smythe, wife of the extremely mild-mannered Adrian, Lord Smythe, and, stuck among the fripperies of society, she’s less than happy with her new station. Worse, she’s still struggling with the aftermath of a miscarriage that devastated her emotionally.
Little does she know that Adrian is undergoing a similar struggle. His business trips have not been business trips at all, and his weakness is a cover; working for the crown in concert with the same spying circle that employs Sophia, he’s been doing spy work of his own. It’s his way of ameliorating the shame he feels when he thinks of his treasonous father’s crimes.
Two frustrated people with an enormous wall built between them, Adrian and Sophia have no idea how to govern their lives outside of their industry. Seeing one another as mousy and lifeless, there has been no attraction lying between them for some time, and they castigate themselves for allowing the marriage to fall apart. When the Prime Minister himself calls on them both to crack a code for an important case – and they’re offered re-admission to their elite spying squad if they solve the problem – then all bets are suddenly off.
Lord and Lady Spy works pretty well as a parody of Mr and Mrs. Smith (the scar comparison scene from that movie is reenacted here), but also provides the reader with a solid romance to hang their hat on.
Sophia and Adrian barely know one another, which gives the plot enough breathing room that it manages to make the right amount of sense. In the spying field they’ve never met and only heard fearsome rumors of one another. Thus do they have to learn each other’s ways in the field, and thus do the things which held them apart fall by the wayside.
Sophia is tough, forthright and mature while also being vulnerable – impacted by the multiple miscarriages for which she blames herself. I admit that I found the author’s choice to have her deeply commit to the spying life as a way to deal with the trauma surrounding them touching and yet pat.
Adrian is a little less interesting – smug and cocksure but funnier when playing a wimp.
Yet together – outside of the simplistic I-can’t-stand-you-but-no-one-else-can-have-you part of the plot – they work like gangbusters as partners, friends and lovers. There’s a wonderful moment where Sophia steals a horse to catch a witness and Adrian must simply hang on; a waltz that confirms their love. These vivid scenes shine through the book’s weaker moments to make it worth reading.
Also strong is the author’s handling of Sophia’s miscarriages and subsequent infertility. Though I wanted the two of them to talk things out more, I was pleased that they reached the same conclusions; that Sophia was not less than because she had miscarried, and that even if they couldn’t have biological children, adoption was an option.
The book’s weakness is its first quarter heavy reliance on Sophia and Aidan’s anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better one-upmanship, which stops being charming just a hair before they switch gears and become supportive of one another. And for heaven’s sake – three sex scenes in coaches? At least there’s garden boffing to break up that monotony. Also the lack of closure on the mystery’s big villain is annoying even as it prepares the reader for a longer series.
But aside from my minor moments of carping, Lord and Lady Spy is a fun, fast-paced and colorful treat.