Saturday, May 31, 2008

REVIEW: The Spymaster's Lady by Joanna Bourne

SETTING/TYPE: Regency Historical
PAGES: 373


Last year I swore off reading any more books with Regency spies after reading one that really bored and annoyed me (I can't even remember the title right now). So I resisted reading this book for months. But all the high acclaim and reviews filled with glowing praise finally wore me down. I am a notorious spoiler-reader and usually I pore over reviews before finally making my decision. But this time I only skimmed the reviews (because, heck, the title had the word "spy" so I wasn't going to read it anyway). What a ding-dong I am because this book just blew me away. Just goes to show you can't stereotype a book by it's cover OR title.

So I picked up this book not knowing a thing about the plot, and became immediately immersed in the story. Annique Villiers is French and a spy for France since she was a small child. As the story begins she has been captured by another spy named Leblanc, and has landed in a French prison because it is believed she has the Albion plans which detail Napoleon's plans for the invasion of England. Two British spies share her prison cell, Robert Grey and Adrian, who is seriously wounded.

Grey is the Head of Section for the British Service, otherwise known as the Spymaster of England. Annique is brilliant, clever and cunning and no prison can hold her for long. She escapes and decides to help the two British spies to escape as well, hating to leave anyone in the hands of Leblanc. Grey is anxious to capture her himself since he suspects she has a part in the death of some of his men at Bourges. Annique knows how to play the "Game" and Grey has a difficult time with her but he gets lucky. But it takes 3 men and he has to drug her to do it which I thought was thoroughly despicable. But Annique never makes it easy for him even when he thinks he has won. She shows him that intelligence, wit and craftiness eventually wins out over physical strength. The tension between Annique and Grey was palpable and I adored every scene with them. All the characters were multi-layered and well-defined.

This story is a rousing adventure and there are so many twists and turns and mouth-dropping surprises that I had a hard time catching my breath sometimes. Bourne reveals each secret when the reader needs to know it and each one blew me away.

I have read many other reviews that describe this book as a triumph in dialog and language dialects and I have to agree. Annique is French and although every word Bourne writes is in English, the reader knows she is French from every word, every phrase, every sentence she speaks or thinks. Grey is English and he sounds like upper crust British. Every language has its own rhythm and cadence and translating that into English is quite a feat. In fact, sentence tags aren't necessary for us to figure out who is speaking. It takes quite a bit of writing talent to pull this off, and Bourne has got it.

This book is a delight from cover to cover. I'm betting that it will appear repeatedly in my 2008 AAR Reader poll. Go forth and read!



Dev said...

I was going to skip this one altogether, but you're review has intrigued me. I'll more than likely be adding this to my TBR stack at some point.

Great review!

sula said...

Glad that you got a chance to read this one. It was definitely one of the highlight reads of my year so far. I expect to see it feature in many categories in this year's poll. I know it will be on my ballot anyways. :)

I speak French, and one of my pet peeves is reading so-called "French" characters and language tics in romance novels and having them be so humdrum and stereotypical (and frankly, very un-French). Bourne really nailed this and it was refreshing to read. Also, I really loved the various characters that we get to know outside the h/h. I hope that Adrian gets his own story in the future...there is one guy I would like to know more about. *g*

Kristie (J) said...

LOL - I'm glad you passed the ding dong stage. This one was SUCH a wonderful surprise. I too was so over English spies but I couldn't ignore the buzz either. And like you, I'm glad I didn't!!

ames said...

I'm sick of spies too - but I have this one in my tbr pile. It's a sickness I tell you! LOL

ReneeW said...

Dev: You won't be sorry if you decide to read this. Especially if you like regency historicals.

Sula: I'm glad to hear your feedback on the "french-ness" of this book. It felt right but I don't speak french so I wasn't sure how a french speaker would feel about it. I read that the next book is NOT about Adrian, but I hope it's somewhere in the future. I loved Adrian too.

Kristie: I don't think I'll every get over being a ding-dong (at least that's what Bob thinks) :) We are in agreement yet again about this book.

Ames: Read it please :) You won't be sorry.

CindyS said...

Hmmm, what was the level of sexual tension? True regency or more historical romance? Hey, you know me. I don't want to be waiting for something and not have it show up!


ReneeW said...

I know you so well :) And I agree totally. Sexual tension is great. More historical - I would say Warm (in AAR grading terms.) I'll try to remember to include sensuality in my reviews. I've been hit or miss with that.

CindyS said...

Hey, no worries! I know to ask ;)


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