November 15, 2012

Review: The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne

My 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
Grade: 3
Sensuality: McSexy
Purchase: Amazon


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.


  1. The Spymaster's Lady was also the first book I read in the series, though as I discovered afterward, it isn't the first chronologically. It's also my least favorite, despite the fact that I would call it a pretty good book.

    I shared your concerns about Annique, though I think some of her choices are influenced by the weakened position she's in at the beginning (I'm being vague to avoid spoilers), but my real problem was Grey, who I didn't feel like I got to know as a character and who seemed sort of generic.

    However, I'd encourage you to keep reading Joanna Bourne's books because the other three are terrific. The emotional payoff in The Black Hawk is fantastic and I at least am hopeful that it won't end up being the final book.

    1. Hi, Katie!

      Honestly, I thought she becomes particularly reckless after the middle mark. Before that, she was more conscious, and I think the circumstances you allude to are the reason why. In a way, I was sad to see her overcome them, especially in such a serendipitous way. But I was happy while it lasted.

      I agree that Grey was sort of generic and just a bunch of heroic qualities put together in order to fit the mold of a Romance hero, but no real personality. Or maybe Annique and Adrian where so larger than life that it was impossible for him to shine. I don't know. I didn't dislike him, though.

      I've already read the other books, I did it in the time between finishing this one and posting the review. They do get better and the emotional payoff in TBH was fantastic. That book was a bit what this one could have been, because Justine and Annique had many things in common. And their love story was epic. I did have some minor issues with it, but overall it was fantastic.

      Do you think the next book is going to be Pax's? I feel like TBH ends Adrian's story, but not the whole series. Maybe we get another book set a few years before, and we get to see him redeem himself and find the wife he mentions in TBH? He could give Adrian a run for his money, he's like a darker, brooding version of Adrian.

    2. Yeah, so I've been blog-stalking Joanna Bourne and she's apparently writing Pax's book now. His back-story is so rich, I'm stoked. I'd also like a book with Justine's sister/Will and Maggie's daughter, but I think it's possible that I'm selfish.

    3. Justine's sister is too happy to get a book! LOLOL But I'd read ;-)

    4. I guess I read too many historicals with brooding heroes and heroines. Sometimes it's nice to see someone happy (and/or sometimes someone happy is the perfect match for a more Heathcliff-esque character). (SPOILERS) Losing her parents, being estranged from her sister, having a duel English/French identity, then becoming a spy? I think there's enough there to make Severine a compelling heroine. But again, it's possible that I just love Joanna Bourne's writing and want her to write ALL THE BOOKS. ; )

    5. Happy is nice! But all the characters in this series are brooding and tortured ;-) I wouldn't be surprised if she eventually ended up the heroine of her own book, but that's probably going to take a while. Ms. Bourne is a slow writer, right? According to Goodreads, she's working on new series, so that means less time for sequels ;-)

  2. This was the first book I read by her, and I liked it I think more because her voice is so different....but her future books are better. I think I skipped to The Forbidden Rose/The Black Hawk...and zomg. Those two books. Hawker is the hero in The Black Hawk but he is a teenager in The Forbidden Rose. I loved them. Loooooved them. No idea what book 2 is about. LOL. I remember not reading great reviews so I skipped.

    There is another book coming out - a supporting character in Black Hawk. But I don't want to say who in case you do read. Squeak!

    1. OMG! I did read!! Is it Pax? I was telling Katie about it in the comment above ;-) DIES!!!

    2. The Forbidden Rose killed me because of Justine. I was bawling at the end. So, so sad!

  3. I've never been much for Historical Romance - I have to admit that now. But I think this series could change that for me, after your review I've requested the whole series from my local library!!

    -Jac @ For Love and Books

    1. Thank you, Jac! That is awesome. I hope you come back and tell me how you like it ;-)

  4. "Every single review mentioned how great the story was..."

    You must not have read mine, but I see that we agree on several points.

    1. I read Jane's review, but not yours. Now I feel sorry I didn't read this book sooner and missed that great discussion. I obviously agree with what your take (you said it much better than I did), but ultimately I found compelling enough to finish it and read the sequels.

      When I was reading the book, I kept thinking that all the characters do nothing but tell me how awesome Annique is, but I just don't see it. She was so powerless and, I want to say TSTL, but that's probably too harsh.

      I love what you said about Annique being almost childlike. It gives a creepy vibe to her relationship with Grey. I agree that the power imbalance between them made me uncomfortable. And I feel like his love for her has more to do with power and dominance, with snaring the fantastic Fox Cub, than with actual love between equals. That's why I liked the romance in TBH so much better. There was a lot of respect and admiration between Adrian and Justine, something I didn't see here.

  5. Don't feel bad about missing that discussion, I just thought it was neat to see how alike our thinking was about this book. I don't think I was bored with it, BTW, just frustrated. Bourne has a beautiful way with words, but I wanted the Annique the side characters kept describing.

    I really need to read The Forbidden Rose and The Black Hawk. I've heard so many great things about them.

  6. I remember reading this but not many of the details. Like you, I think the writing and voice swept me away, past its flaws.

  7. Looks like another series I need to look up. I haven't read the book yet, but I can see how the contrasts in the characters description and actual behavior is a bog contrast. But at least the author made it so interesting that it's not quite so bothersome that they don't exactly match up. You have me intrigued Brie!

  8. I haven't read this series but your review and the discussion in the comments makes me curious about what's going on. The lack of spoilers is probably drawing me in more than anything.

  9. I think I'm going to review more books by this author because look at this discussion! I think this is the first time a review gets so many comments. Thank you, guys!


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