Monday, February 18, 2008

The Spymaster's Lady by Joanna Bourne

Title: The Spymaster’s Lady
Author: Joanna Bourne

Type: Historical Romance
Series: Hard to tell. Looks like another connected book follows--My Lord and Spymaster, due out July, 2008.

Why: Blogger buzz. And I’ve never been more grateful for it.

Blurb: She's never met a man she couldn't deceive...

She's braved battlefields. She's stolen dispatches from under the noses of heads of state. She's played the worldly courtesan, the naive virgin, the refined Bristh lady, even a Gypsy boy. But Annique Villiers, the elusive spy known as the Fox Cub, has finnaly met the one man she can't outwit.

British spymaster Robert Grey must enter France and bring back the brilliant, beautiful--and dangerous--Fox Cub. His duty is to capture her and her secrets for England. When the two natural enemies are thrown into prison, they forge an uneasy alliance to break free. But their pact is temporary and betrayal seems inevitable. They flee, pursued every step of the way by ruthless authorities, caught in a net of screts and lies. As the fates of nations hang in the balance, Grey and Annique fight the passion that flares between them--forbidden, impossible, and completely irresistible...

Comments: Flawless and Fucking fabulous.

Bourne’s characterization defies description or review. She gives us one of the most powerful heroines I’ve ever read and a hero who wears both his flaws and perfections with absolute confidence. I was utterly enthralled within just the first few pages.

It was bittersweet, that moment of realization. You know, the one that comes with the relief of finding characters you care about instantly, the joy of landing a fabulous book that promises, no guarantees, escape. Almost always followed by that impending sense of sadness, disappointment that it will end after the last page. Sigh.

In Annique, Bourne creates a heroine that is almost mythically cunning and capable. She is as strong as steel and as fragile as blown glass—mentally, emotionally and physically. This impression forms quickly, within minutes really, and the reader is instantly connected. We know Annique and, of course, we want a true hero for her. From there, Bourne gives us more depth, more insight—through seemingly impossible twists and surprises. This is a heroine that stuns readers and hero alike, from beginning to end. You literally cannot take your eyes off her.

Bourne endows her with a practicality that is as heart-wrenching as it is hilarious—creating that fine, fine edge between resignation and the driest of wit. You really never know if she—or any of the other characters for that matter—is going to accept or change the fate of the next moment. It is in her—and their—makeup as much as it is in the spy training and experience. Annique is clever beyond words—we see it in the way her mind reasons. We also see it in her snappy, gut responses that require no thought. And her actions? She sets about them with such resoluteness, that we can’t question, can’t accuse. We can only hold our breath, at once confident in her ability and yet scared to fucking death for her.

Robert Grey is Bourne’s enigmatic, two-sided (both alpha and beta) hero, an English spymaster. The alpha is there from the start, and despite all of the times Annique bests him, the reader never doubts his ultimate power over her. The beta in him is the man in love, deftly revealed beneath layers and layers of motivation and cause, on a long walk to London. This man’s intentions—conveyed in thoughts as startlingly blunt as his spoken words—raised goosebumps. He commands, he seduces—reader and and heroine alike.

Bourne gives her spymaster the task of peeling away Annique’s many layers. Not a new premise, but never have I seen it done like this—with equal parts poignancy and ruthlessness. And with a forthrightness we come to recognize in Grey, a man so without hesitation that he appears to do everything suddenly. Where Annique mesmerizes readers, Grey is a constant threat to their equilibrium. Even when he acts as expected, he does so without warning.

His and Annique’s first coupling is one example. Oh, man.

In more testament to Bourne’s power of characterization, there is a cast of supporting characters that easily draw the reader’s eye—all skillfully presented as players in the spy game. Even the villain occupies a place on this field, giving him more power, credibility even, than what is typical. And Grey’s team—Adrian and Doyle—engage readers as adeptly as Grey does. I was half in love with both of them before I hit the 50-page mark. I mean, within a very short space, Doyle begins a spoken thought with “God’s little parakeets.” Half in love.

I’ve gone on about Bourne’s characterization. Really, it all boils down to that. When I tried to find the words to describe her voice, I realized that I couldn’t recall Bourne’s voice. Only Annique’s, and Grey’s, and the others to lessening extents. I could only hear the characters.

I also recalled that Annique’s voice epitomized being French—its cadence, her natural arrogance. This is critical to the book’s outcome, the secrets and burdens revealed on the way, and very, very clever on Bourne’s part. She is a master at layering.

In fact, every time I tried to separate out one thing or another that I liked about the story, I found that I couldn’t tug just one piece out—woven tightly this story is. So tightly you can’t break it down. Fucking. Fabulous.

Many thanks to Ms. Bourne.

And a note to her publisher/marketers: The book's cover is not worthy. The blurb is not only ineffective, it over-simplifies to the point of lying. Time to step up.


  1. Luckily, this one's in my tbr pile right now. So I don't have to choose between this one and Grimspace, which I have to wait for. Grrr! LOL

    Great review!

  2. I have GOT to get this book!!!!! As always, your review is beautiful. Love your note to the publisher. Right on!

  3. Great review, and you've nailed the essence of the story. I admit to not having a problem with the cover, though the stepback cover would have been sufficient enough. Can't wait for her next story.

  4. Isn't this one great??? It was the first one I read in 2008 and to say I was blown away by it would almost be an understatement. I thought it F'n Fabulous and I'm so excited that there is another author out there who can remind me why I adore romance so much!!

  5. What a great review. Just wonderful. I keep hearing such good things about this book...

  6. I love this book! What a great review! The best part is when you talk about recalling the authors voice--but couldn't because all you can remember were the characters voices. That is insightful and so, so accurate. I, too hated for this book to end!

  7. Great review of a great book! And word on the ghastly cover!
    Bourne says she is going to write both Adrian and Doyle's stories in the future! yay!

  8. Thanks All!!! I knew this book was well-received, but it's great to hear from more who loved it as much as I did. If it weren't for this online community, I would have missed this one. Thanks again!

    Ames and Linda - Let me know what you think!

  9. Oh. My. God. I just finished it and it was WONDERFUL! The French phrasing was masterful. It's been over 40 years since I studied French and was able to read French novels without translating them in my head. As I was reading Ms. Bourne's novel I found myself translating many of the phrases into the French, even after all these years. Vraiment, mais oui, peutetre, la petite dejeuner (the little meal), I can't get over how well she translated the French into English without losing the essential quality of the French phrasing. And the characters, ah the characters were so complex, it was a pity to leave them, at the end.


Have you read it? What do you think?

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