>> Friday, May 15, 2009
TITLE: The Spymaster's Lady
AUTHOR: Joanna Bourne
SETTING: Early 19th century France and England
TYPE: Historical romance
SERIES: Not really, although some characters will appear in future books
REASON FOR READING: Online buzz having reached deafening proportions!
.The Spymaster's Lady is basically a battle of wills between two spies. To give you a very basic idea of the plot (part of the joy of reading this book is discovering what direction the action will take, so I don't want to say much more): Grey is a very high-up member of the British intelligence-gathering community, while Annique has spied for the French since she was a girl. Annique is supposed to have the plans for Napoleon's invasion of England, and Grey wants them. After they escape a horrible Parisian prison, where both were about to come to very bad ends, Grey will do his best to get Annique and her valuable information to England, while Annique will do hers to avoid this.
She's never met a man she couldn't deceive...until now.
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 British lady, even a Gypsy boy. But Annique Villiers, the elusive spy known as the Fox Cub, has finally met the one man she can't outwit..
I'm not particularly attracted to spy plots, but this was a good one. Bourne didn't fall into the temptation of making things convoluted just because. The plot is relatively simple, but loses no punch for it, as the potential consequences for whichever side winning were huge. I loved that there was no automatic assumption that we should be rooting for the British to win, and that Annique would obviously realise the error of her ways and go over to the British side. I especially appreciated this, given some revelations about her past, which written by other authors, could easily have led her to change sides without even thinking about it. Annique is French and retains loyalty for her country. She doesn't necessarily want them to destroy England completely, but she doesn't want to cause them to lose, either.
But what was best of all was that both Annique and Grey were 100% believable as what Bourne told us they were: competent operatives, so competent that they were considered to be among the best of their respective sides. This sounds obvious, but I can't even begin to count the times when an author has told me a particular character was terribly competent and experienced at their job, but their actions were so idiotic that I just couldn't believe it. For some reason, it seems to be worse with spies. Well, not so with Annique and Grey. They clearly knew what they were doing, those two.
And, I must add, they were each just as competent as the other, which is also important for me. It was quite an adversarial relationship for a long part of the book, but I liked that they each won some of the battles. Annique was just as capable a spy as Grey, so he couldn't easily (or even not easily) manipulate her. I didn't get any feeling that she might be in above her head, which is something that's tended to happen in other romance with heroines in similar situations. Annique could definitely handle herself, and she did, and she got the better of Grey as often as he got one over her.
As for the romance, well, this is why I read romance. I love getting that tingly feeling you get when there is real chemistry between the characters and you absolutely and completely care about what happens to them, and I got it in spades with this book. The romance is among the most fantastic I've read in the past few months. I cared, and cared deeply about whether Annique and Grey would be together. Every kiss made butterflies flutter in my stomach, and every scene with Annique and Grey together made me want to turn the pages as fast as I could, but at the same time, want to slow down so that it wouldn't be over so soon.
It was the scenes from Grey's POV that I most relished, I think. He's this cool (I'd say cold, actually) man who, after so many years playing the game, knows he cannot let his emotions become engaged and expect to keep functioning as he was. But when it came to Annique, he wasn't cold at all. He's a very self-aware character, too, and this means that he doesn't jump to judge Annique, because he knows exactly what's involved in their jobs.
I know there are some little things in the book that might have been hard to believe, but I loved the book so much that I was happy to suspend disbelief. Can a blind woman remove a bullet? Whatever doubts I might have had, I was so caught up in the action, the writing, the chemistry and the fascinating characters, that I didn't care!
Finally, the ending. I just loved it. I had absolutely no idea how Bourne could manage to get them Annique of the tangle she was in, but she did, and in a way that made perfect sense to me. Excellent all around.
MY GRADE: An A.