Monday, January 07, 2008

The Spymaster's Lady, Joanna Bourne

Title: The Spymaster's Lady
Author: Joanna Bourne
Published: 2008, Berkley
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 8.5/10
My first read of 2008 – and it's a great one! Yippee. I hope this sets a trend for the whole year. ;) I had to run my little self out to the bookstore on Jan. 2 (the book's exact on-sale date), because I'd heard such phenomenal squeeing at SBTB and DA. Yes, when Sarah and Jane BOTH squee simultaneously, I run for the bookstore.

Annique Villiers has been spying for France about since she learned crawl. Her most recent assignment has landed her with a copy of the Albion plans, the detailed plans of Napoleon's proposed invasion of Britain. As the book opens, Annique is trapped in a French prison, being bullied into giving them up. Annique and two Englishmen also being held in the prison manage to escape and head for England. Annique is dismayed to discover that one of the men is Grey, the Head of Section of the British Service, i.e. the Spymaster for all England. Out of the griddle and into the fire. Grey also needs those Albion plans, but he has quite a time keeping Annique in his control.

That's the basic plot, but there's a ton more that I won't go into because I don't want to ruin anything for anyone. The story has several really clever twists – the kind of thing where you're reading along and go, "D'oh!!" and think back and see all the clues but you're still completely blindsided. Very exciting. Lots of fabulous historical detail, portraying the very complex political situation of post-Revolutionary, early Napoleonic France (but not BORING politics).

And as everyone else has mentioned, I too will go crazy over Bourne's use of dialog and accents. Annique's attitudes are very French, but she could be talking about doing the laundry and still sound French. Grey, on the other hand, sounds perfectly English. And when you have all this (very wonderful) dialog between these two characters, the effect is phenomenal. This is especially comment-worthy because it's something that is so often ignored (or done badly) in popular fiction, especially romance.

Definitely a book I will re-read a-plenty. I heard that the next book in the series is due out in July. I will be running to the bookstore again then. :)

But, I have to say, that cover? A crime!


ames said...

Excellent! I bought this book on Saturday night. I'll be reading it soon, if I ever finish what I'm currently reading. LOL

Then I'll come squee too. :P

nath said...

Sounds like a good book! This is the 2nd good review this book is getting... perhaps I should get it :)

Jennie said...

Yes, yes. Read it! I highly recommend. :)

jmc said...

I just finished this book and liked it a lot. But I'm confused about the ending. I think I missed something and must read the last chapter or so again.

My reading year has started very well -- three good books. I'm ignoring the two books that I set aside for lack of interest.

Jennie said...

JMC--The bit with Vauban? And what she didn't know? All the uncertain loyalties was a bit confusing, but it did make sense to me when I read it.

jmc said...

No, I understood about Vauban and the loyalties. My confusion was about why/how Fouche would let her live for any reason. Soulier was going to send her back, he couldn't let her stay with Grey because there would be a price on her head. But the news about the loyalty that Grey delivered -- how would that negate the price on her head? I would've thought that it would increase the price, if anything.

Jennie said...

Yes, erm. Now I'm confused. :) But Fouche didn't know about the thing that Grey reveals -- he was getting all his info secondhand from Evil Dude whose name I can't remember right now. Right? He only knows that she has the Albion plans, so he's content to lock her up in his whorehouse. I took it that Soulier was letting Annique go at the end (despite the divided loyalty that Grey reveals) simply because he is fond of her, and that he would lie to Fouche about how it happened. Now I feel like I need to re-read the last bit!

jmc said...

I understand (I think) all of those plot points: Fouche didn't know, he just wanted her either in a whorehouse or dead. And Soulier could keep her from being killed but not the whorehouse before *he* knew about the divided loyalties. He said that he had to take her back, he couldn't let her stay because she would be hunted like an animal.

But I don't understand the conclusion Soulier came to: Why did learning about the divided loyalties change the bounty/hunt for Annique? Other than to permit the HEA, of course. I'm being cynical and maybe too practical, but why would Fouche permit any retired French spy to live happily ever after in England...with a British spy master?

Jennie said...


Okay, I just re-read the end. I get what you're saying. Soulier didn't let her go out of the goodness of his heart. When Grey tells Soulier that Annique is British (p. 363), Annique thinks, "Thus Grey paid for her freedom with that great secret." Because Grey told the French that she was their spy, all the information that Annique (and her parents) had gathered would now be less valuable. Meaning the French could make adjustments because they knew what of their secrets were no longer safe.

I guess Soulier thinks that the damage is done -- years of information leaking out -- but at least it's at an end now. He says, "She is your agent, and untouchable." I don't know what that's about -- honor among spies seems unlikely. But taking Annique would no longer be arresting a French spy who has turned traitor, but instead be kidnapping a British citizen. ?? I think Soulier just assumes that anything Annique knows is already in the hands of the British, she is actually British herself and can claim their protection, and on top of that, he does like her. So he just lets her go. That's my take anyway.

Plus, like you say, it makes the HEA. Which we all like. :)

Anonymous said...

But the honour among spies bit was established really early on. In the initial scene, in prison, Annique thinks 'It was an old custom of both French and British spies that they were not bloodthirsty with one another's agents.'
Seems unlikely to be true, somehow, but if it's true within the book, I can accept that.

I loved the book - got to the end, and started reading from the beginning.

My only quibble, and it's miniscule, is
- I was disappointed that Galba was her grandfather. And I don't think that's to do with this book: I'm prejudiced against that plot device. And anyway, it then raises questions that aren't answered - like why you would let your daughter run a brothel? - is patriotism a sufficient reason?

But minor, minor point. I thought it was lovely, and went straight to Amazon and bought Bourne's 1983 regency.

Marianne McA

Jennie said...

Marianne--I thought that bit was a little troubling too -- it seemed a little too pat. But it's probably possible that a hardened British spy could let his child take such risks. And Annique's mother did the same with her -- let her run around battlefields and whatnot.

But I liked when Annique and Galba played chess and he kept winning. ;)

You have to tell us what you thought of her old Regency, whether it's worth tracking down.