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...
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.