30 April 2010

Reading Romance: The Spymaster's Lady, by Joanna Bourne

Oh my. I just finished The Spymaster's Lady and I am tempted to go back and read it all over again from the beginning. It's that good.

I admit to a weakness for spy heros, especially the big, bad and dangerous kind. But spy heros abound. Spy heroines, on the other hand, are as rare as hen's teeth. Put the two together and you have one amazing book.

The Spymaster's Lady is a Regency-set historical with a nonstop plot, to-die-for hero, superb historical detail and a heroine who has had, to put it mildly, a rough time of it. He's English, she's French and together they're in a lot of trouble.

The novel follows Robert Grey and Annique Villiers, along with a couple of well-rounded and interesting secondary characters, on a desperate flight across France. The suspense is nonstop and very real, primarily because Bourne makes the reader believe that death is a serious possibility. This isn't some frothy spy plot where there's no doubt that the heroine will be rescued in time. The Spymaster's Lady has some very dark moments, but they're lightened by subtle humor and the heroine's absolute refusal to feel sorry for herself.

Bourne has made Annique's life a living hell, but she's also constructed a heroine who has the resources to survive it. Annique reminded me of Jo Goodman's heroines in If His Kiss Is Wicked and The Price of Desire. She has a personal history that really is soul-searing. And her present difficulties might very well be the end of her, unless she meets a hero worthy of her...

...and Robert Grey delivers. He is one hot and sexy spy. Skilled, protective, and deadly. Oh my! I was able to appreciate Grey despite the improbably chest-baring individual on the original book cover. (The reissue has a vastly improved and lovely cover, though it doesn't accurately represent the heroine--who is generally either disguised or in extremis.)

I could go on about the things I liked about this novel: the complex, multilayered story and relationships, the subtle details, the way the issue of language is handled (Annique's English syntax is charming). Like Jo Goodman's work, Bourne's plotting is complex and intricate. If you like Goodman, you will probably like Joanna Bourne.

Just in case it wasn't clear, I absolutely loved this book. Joanna Bourne needs to write more. Faster.

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