Desert Isle Keeper
The Spymaster's Lady
I almost passed on reviewing The Spymaster’s Lady. The cheesy cover (open ruffle-shirted hunk – yawn) and even cheesier title (oh, no – not another spymaster!) led me to believe that it would be yet another boring, cookie-cutter, Regency super-spy romance. I could not have been more wrong. Joanna Bourne hasn’t had a book published in 25 years – where has she been? – but the wait was worth it. This is a flat-out, spectacular book.
The story takes place in 1802 during the Peace of Amiens and opens in a private French prison where Annique Villiers, a French spy, is about to be tortured over “the Albion plans” – Napoleon’s secret plans for the invasion of England. Annique’s torturer, the sadistic and villainous Leblanc, fully intends to kill her, but not before he gets those papers – which he plans to use to his own advantage. In the cell with her are Grey, a British Head of Section who has managed to keep his full identity from Leblanc, and his wounded compatriot, Adrian. Grey perks up at the mention of the Albion plans, for he knows what they are and has just lost several men while trying to secure them.
Annique and Grey work together to escape their prison, and then play a cat and mouse game throughout the French countryside, as Grey is determined to bring Annique and her knowledge of the plans to England, and Annique is just as determined not to let him. To say more about the plot would be to give away too much, and counterproductive as well, for there are so many twists and turns and revelations that anything more I might say would be moot in the grand scheme of things.
But even with all the plots and counterplots, secrets and lies, The Spymaster’s Lady is primarily a character-driven novel. And what rich characters there are! Annique and Grey, as well as all the secondary characters, are complex and multi-layered. And while there are many character revelations throughout the book, they all fit within the established personality. The revelations do not make Annique and Grey into different people – the dreaded “where the heck did that come from?” – but rather enhances and gives depth to the character. Each character has a unique voice and there is never any doubt as to who is talking. None of the characters utter words that could have come out of anyone else’s mouth; each person’s vocal cadence is unique.
Annique is the daughter of spies, been raised from a child to be a spy, and has learned her job well. Though she is just 19, she has worked for France as a boy, and as a siren, in battlefields and boarding houses for years, earning an impressive reputation and the respect of all members of the spying community – no matter their nationality. Annique does indeed hold the secret of the Albion plans and the knowledge tears her apart. She knows that the invasion cannot succeed and will only cause untold death and devastation, but can she bring herself to give the plans to the enemy English? The fate of all those lives rest solely upon her shoulders, and the weight of her decision is a burden no one should have to bear. Annique is a wholly unique character and a fascinating one. She is incredibly competent and skillful – a believable master spy – and I was blown away by her resourcefulness and resolve.
Grey is a more straightforward English spy, though also frighteningly competent and pragmatic. He has met his match in Annique, however, and it is fun to watch him try and figure her out and stay one step ahead, failing to do so more than once. Grey’s real beauty as a character, though, is his steadfastness. He and Annique engage in many battles of wit, lies and deceptions, but there is never any doubt that he loves her throughout. He never jumps to conclusions about Annique’s own feelings about him – seeming to know them better than she does herself – but accepts that her lies are part of the spy game. They are each doing their jobs and that includes lying to each other at times, but they also accept that the love is not a lie and cannot be concealed from the other, though at times they wish it could. And while the book earns a “Warm” rating, Annique and Grey’s love is a love of the intellect as well as the body. It’s a combination that cannot be beaten and makes this a sexier book than the Warm rating might indicate.
I cannot say enough good about The Spymaster’s Lady. It is smart, masterful writing and I cannot wait to see what Bourne does next; I’m hoping for Adrian’s story – I fell for him a bit. What a great way to start the new year!
|Review Date:||January 11, 2008|
|Book Type:||European Historical Romance | Historical Romance|
|Review Tags:||enemies to lovers | French Revolution | Napoleonic wars | slow burn | spy | Spymaster series | Top 100 Romance|
This is the book that brought me back to romance after a 10 year hiatus. That pretty much says it all.
I agree with all of you regarding this book!! It is absolutely one of my favorites and I was sorry that Annique and Grey did not have much of a presence in her other books in the series. However, all of Joanna Bourne’s books are such a joy even with this omission. Also, for those of you who like audiobooks, each of her novels are lovely to listen to as well as read.
I also regretted not running into them but apart from Doyle and Adrian (and Lazarus) the other characters from her books don’t really show up in subsequent stories unless they were part of the ongoing action. I was disappointed that Justine didn’t play a role in “Beauty Like The Night” because her relationship with Severine as adults was something I really wanted to see. My one complaint about “Beauty Like The Night” was the lack of female relationships shown between Severine and Maggie and Justine. The men were there in abundance but the women were not. I was always hoping more about Annique and her mother (whom Bourne has said was NOT killed in that carriage accident) in a subsequent book as well.
Joanna Bourne is the anti- Kristen Ashley in that she never throws in gratuitous mentions of previous couples or brings them back to show “how happy they are” in subsequent books.
That is such a good point. How come Maggie and Justine weren’t there in Beauty? Both of them sacrificed so much for Sevie and were such a big part of her life.
I confess I expected Severine’s book to be filled with Maggie and Justine based on the setup in Forbidden Rose. Justine is the one making the sacrifice and somewhat sharply tells Doyle she is entrusting Sevie to Maggie- he’s just included because Maggie married him. Justine’s sacrifice was heartbreaking to read and only the fact that I knew how amazing Maggie and Doyle would be was any balm to that wound. I had imagined all kinds of amazing sisterly scenes for Severine and Justine now that they were both living in England and lots of wise, semi-tart yet loving motherly advice from Maggie.
I am never one to complain about more Adrian and Doyle but I would have definitely traded some of their “screen time” in the novel for a few good scenes with the ladies.
Great comments. I had not thought about the lack of the female relationship building, lol. I love these books, too but would have appreciated more exploration of the key female relationships as well.
This is the book that started it all for Joanna Bourne, propelling her to the top of the romance world once word got out, and for me as her reader and fan.
I really admire how this first book is really in the middle of her stories, chronologically speaking, and how she brilliantly planted the seeds for what was to happen after (and even before) so perfectly in this book. She truly has J.K. Rowling plotting abilities.
Part of the pleasure of this series was seeing how things you already knew about would actually play out. For instance: this is the book that begins with Adrian shot and bleeding in a French prison but we don’t learn the full who, what why and wherefore until several more books. All the small movements of the secondary characters in the background are big plot devices in the other books but here you are likely to speed read by them.
Annique is a joy to read about, the plot has tons of twists and turns and the writing is simply put, exquisite. If you told me Annique and Adrian were long lost relatives I would believe it. I like to think Annique is like how Adrian’s life would have been if he had someone guiding him from the very beginning.
I do have to confess that Grey is probably one of my least favorite of Bourne’s heroes. (Which is still about a hundred times better than anyone else’s hero however). I find him the hardest to warm up to especially compared with the humor and charm of some of her “best” men like Adrian, Doyle and IMHO Sebastian. He’s definitely drawn as colder than some of her others and while there is usually some age gap between a lot of her couples, he did seem MUCH older than Annique.
That being said, it’s like criticizing a masterpiece by a master. Even if it’s not the Mona Lisa among her works (although many would argue it is) it’s still a stunning piece of work and heads and shoulders above what 99.9% Of other authors put out. If it was the only thing Bourne ever wrote it will still put her on the short list of the very greats in the romance world.
Now I have to go reread this again.
I just reread this recently and it holds up so well. I agree with you that Grey is less charismatic and fully drawn than many of her heroes, including his two partners in crime in this book. This book is Annique’s book though and she is just about as fabulous a heroine as I’ve encountered in a romance.
One of my favorite romances. In addition to the romance and passion, I just love the respect both Annique and Grey feel for each other, and Annique is still one of my favorite romance heroines.
This was my first Bourne, and I read it in a fever of excitement and enjoyment. I didn’t know then that historical romance could be this good. I have loved every one of her book in this series. I’m looking forward to what she’s going to come out with next, though, frankly, I’m not too thrilled about paranormal.
This is such a good book and series. I’ve read that Joanna Bourne has ended her spy series with her release of Beauty Like the Night. That’s too bad. I still enjoy reading about Hawker, Doyle and all the other characters. She said she might revisit the characters in a novella, but is currently working on something new.
The ebook versions rarely go on sale. I’d like to own the entire series and re-read it. I own a few of the titles, but many I had to check out of the library. Most stores don’t carry midlist authors anymore.
I am thrilled she’s starting something new. I’ve loved this series but I’m excited to see what she might do with a new context!
Joanna Bourne said she might try something with a bit of a paranormal or fantasy element to it — but still historical. She said she’s not sure she knows how to write one, but she likes the genre and wants to at least try.
Bourne recently posted something on her blog where she discusses writing techniques amongst other things and if it is from what she is working on it seemed medieval in setting which would be quite a leap from her previous work. I am onboard for quite literally anything she produces though.
Ooh, that’s interesting. I can really picture Bourne writing in a medieval setting well. Hope this happens!