The Impossible Alliance
Jared Sullivan had a very good reason for retiring from the secret espionage organization known as Aries. But when his mentor, Sam Hatch, begs him to come back for one last mission, Jared reluctantly agrees. It seems that an agent named Alex Morrow was kidnapped while on a mission in the central-European nation of Rebelia. Jared must extract Alex from prison and figure out what Rebelian dictator General DeBryzkya is up to. In a hair-raising rescue, Jared makes the discovery that Alex is a woman disguised as a man. But Alex has other secrets that Jared doesn’t figure out.
This is a rip-roaring, action-packed little book, with loads of sexual tension, too. The author ably conjures her eastern-European setting, and includes some very grim reminders of the violence that has taken place there. In spite of that, I can’t imagine that this is an accurate depiction of actual modern espionage. Alex and Jared have access to whizbang gadgetry and cool disguises, which lend the book a rather enjoyable Bondian air of escapism. (Aries even supplies Alex, somehow, with a silk evening gown that apparently came a couple sizes to small – darn that Q!)
Alex is just a little too fabulous to be real. This woman is six feet tall, a gorgeous natural blonde, a secret agent, and she holds a doctorate in geology as well. She is definitely a kick-butt heroine, one who can come up with a plausible lie at the drop of a hat and never loses her cool in a tight situation. I liked her, since I enjoy tough action females, but I found it a little difficult to sympathize with her one big insecurity. She suffers the demons of angst over a minor physical impairment which is invisible and for which she completely compensates. Rather than making her more human, this insecurity seemed so out of proportion with the actual flaw that I just wanted her to get over it.
Jared, on the other hand, is a truly fascinating character. There are a lot of tortured heroes out there, but this guy really has good reason to be tortured. His secret not only led him to quit the spy business but also makes him try to keep Alex at arm’s length. When the secret was revealed, it came as a huge, horrifying surprise to me, one that suddenly clarified all his past behavior. I have never in my life read a romance with this particular conflict. I found Jared’s situation tragic and his response to it seemed entirely realistic and sympathetic.
However, I must say that if I were Jared’s girlfriend and learned about this secret, I would have towering qualms about continuing the relationship. Alex takes it in stride as though it were no big deal. I’m not sure if this makes light of a very serious issue, or if it just demonstrates once again that Alex is a bigger woman than I am. Either way, my confidence in their HEA was severely tested in the last third of this novel, and I discovered myself in the role of noncommittal observer of their relationship rather than being fully and actively engaged in it. Whether others readers will react this way I don’t know – I can’t say more without revealing spoilers.
My other criticism of this book involves the author’s prose style, which I think she needs to rein in a little. She’s nice and terse when dealing with action, but when she starts describing emotions she gets a little purple. That’s really a quibble – I enjoyed this book enough that I am mostly willing to overlook it.
Candace Irvin has written a somewhat risky book, which is always a plus in my book. Whether or not that risk pays off is debatable; but for action, adventure, some very sexy scenes, and the mother of all plot complications, The Impossible Alliance is intriguing entertainment.