Historical Romance kick continues with a book I've been meaning to read for a while. Last year the final book in the series was published and blogland went crazy with love. It seemed like the hero was a favorite character of many, and he was finally getting his book. But I don’t like reading books out of order so I put it on hold.
What finally convinced me to start the series was the lack of spoilers. Every single review mentioned how great the story was, and how giving away the details would mean ruining the book. For such a popular book, I’m surprised that I couldn't find spoilers anywhere. I had to know what happened, so I did the next best thing: I read the book.
Annique is a French spy charged with a very important secret. It’s so important that everyone wants it, and by everyone I mean the British, the good French and the bad French. When the book opens, she’s been captured by the bad French and about to be tortured. There she meets a set of British spies and helps them escape. But of course the spies know who she is and decide to keep her for themselves. These are good spies, though, so instead of torturing and raping her, they will fall in love with her. Or at least one of them does, our hero, Grey. What follows is a game of cat and mouse in which each character tries to one-up the other.
I can’t deny that I found this book very compelling, and that once I started reading it, I was unable to put it down. But what became clear early on, was that the fantastic storytelling and Ms. Bourne’s beautiful voice make this a good book, but also help disguise some of its flaws.
Annique’s characterization was inconsistent. Either that or every narrator in the story was unreliable since they kept talking about how smart, cunning and one of the best spies she was, while her actions spoke otherwise. I can’t go into much detail, but she makes some weird decisions and puts her trusts in virtual strangers that end up betraying it. She lived in a world of deception and deceit, but she seemed to forget about it every time it was convenient to the plot.
She was also oddly innocent, and I thought that the grittiest aspects of the life as a spy where downplayed to fit some genre expectations. She uses her body and beauty to seduce people into complacency, yet she’s a virgin and doesn't seem to know much about sex. Grey is very honorable, but willing to do anything for his country, but he’s never in the uncomfortable position of having to decide between his values and his country. There’s emphasis on how ugly the war is, but the ugliness never seemed to touch them, and their heroic status was never compromised.
I also had a hard time believing in their romance, and it wasn't until halfway through the book that I managed to see the chemistry between them. I thought her relationship with Adrian, the secondary character whose book made blogland crazy, was more poignant, and their chemistry undeniable. Maybe there was no sexual desire between them, but their potential for romance and friendship was clearer than Annique and Grey’s. They certainly had more things in common. The fact that the hero was so thoroughly upstaged by a minor character, speaks volumes.
However, Annique’s voice was so distinctive and compelling, that she almost felt alive. Regardless of the flaws in the characterization, I found her charming and funny. She carries the book, and I was happy to see her happy.
The story has many twists and turns, some of them completely unexpected (some completely predictable), and I can understand why everyone was afraid to spoil the book, so I won’t say more about that.
It took only one chapter to make me see why so many people love this book, and the flaws weren't enough to keep me from reading it and the rest of the series, but I didn’t find it as perfect as the rest of the world did.
Review by Brie
She's braved battlefields. She's stolen dispatches from under the noses of heads of state. She's played the worldly courtesan, the naïve 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...
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 as the fates of nations hang in the balance.
Berkley. January 2, 2008.