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REVIEW: The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne

Dear Ms. Bourne,

It’s taken me a while to get around to reading your debut, The Spymaster’s Lady. Back in the winter, Robin asked me if I would review it in a conversational review with her before your next book came out, and I promised that I would. When I got to reading it last week, my repsonse to The Spymaster’s Lady was far from Robin’s own experience of the book and she suggested that I convert the notes I had prepared for a conversational review into this letter instead, so that the review could stand on its own.

Readers who have not yet done so can find a plot summary for The Spymaster’s Lady in Jane’s A- review. Another opinion can be found in Jayne’s A- review. And readers should also be aware that this review will contain spoilers.

The writing in The Spymaster’s Lady is crystalline in its beauty and sharpness. The prose is just gorgeous, scintillating, and as others have noted, the French dialogue and Annique’s POV thoughts in French are absolutely spot on in capturing the cadences of the French tongue. You are a brilliant stylist, a wordsmith of the first order, and I am just in awe of your gift for language.

Therefore, I want so badly to love this book and give it my whole heart, and it is frustrating that I can’t.

My frustration centers on Annique’s character, but I don’t really dislike Annique herself. I feel that she is cute and therefore could have been endearing, but the problem I run into is that I don’t feel that her portrayal is consistent, or that she is all that she is being described as. To explain what I’m saying, I will go through my issues one by one.

First, we are told that Annique is an amazing spy, but as a good friend of mine pointed out when we discussed the book, every time Annique and Grey grapple in any way, he always gets the upper hand. When he wants to entrap her in chapter two, he succeeds (and he does it by using her thirst for water against her, as if she were a wild animal). When she tries to escape in the carriage, he stops her. When she tried to escape again (being softhearted and not wanting to kill him in the process), he knocks her away and hurts her. When he decides to drug her with opium so that she won’t attempt another escape, she does not detect the opium in her coffee, even though she’s blind and so her other senses are supposedly acute. And on it goes… He gets the upper hand every time, and puts one over on her more than once in the process.

There were a few times when Annique was able to do something that showed a bit of competence, especially toward the beginning of the book. I would get my hopes up that maybe the strong, successful spy described in everyone’s POV thoughts would materialize, but then Grey would set out to best her again, and she’d fall for his next trick. This made the feel stymied, especially in the book’s first half. By the second half, when Annique began to give away the most important state secrets she possessed to a man whom she thought was a complete stranger, I had given up my hopes that there was a brilliant female spy to be found in the pages of The Spymaster’s Lady.

Second, Annique also seems too vulnerable and innocent to me for someone who has been spying since childhood. I felt that her innocence and sense of wonder were childlike to a point where the age and power gaps between her and Grey were disturbing and made me uncomfortable at times, most especially when they were having sex.

There are places where the dialogue reinforces Annique’s extreme youth and inexperience, for example, Adrian actually says to her “Annique, you will not grow up to be big and strong if you don’t eat your vegetables” (I realize this was a witty remark, but it encapsulates the way I saw Annique). And Grey says, “You’re not a child, Annique. Stop acting like one.” Adrian calls her “Ma pauvre” and Grey, “My little halibut.” To me these sound like the kinds of things parents say to children. It made me feel that the heroine was being infantilized.

Third, I feel that Annique’s virginity is very improbable given how she makes her living. When Grey realizes that she doesn’t have much sexual experience, he has this thought:

How many men, Annique? Not many, I’ll bet. Did your masters keep you unawakened so you could play the boy more convincingly? Their mistake. It left her vulnerable. Achingly, ignorantly vulnerable. He’d use that against her, sooner or later.

It’s that “Achingly, ignorantly vulnerable” that I have a problem with in a character who is said to be a super-competent spy. And I also don’t understand why staying a virgin would make it easier for Annique to act the part of a boy. It’s my opinion that one is either a good actor, or a bad actor. I don’t see how sexual experience or lack thereof makes a difference.

Since I don’t feel that it’s a logical motive to keep a spy a virgin, especially when she already knows how to act the part of a courtesan and could no doubt glean important secrets through sex, I feel that the real reason for Annique’s virginity is to telegraph to readers that despite her being a French spy, Annique is a good girl and pure of heart. And using a heroine’s sexual ignorance to show that she is virtuous is admittedly not my favorite trope in romance.

I felt that the virginity=virtue trope was reinforced by the way Grey at first thought of Annique as both evil and a whore, and even tried to dress her in a whore’s clothing until he came to the realization that she was not an evil killer and not sexually experienced. The two realizations coincided with one another and came at the same point in the story.

This reminded me a bit of some of the romances from the 1970s and 1980s, like Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower, where the hero thinks the heroine is a whore and treats her badly until he finds physical proof of her virginity. I am glad that Grey did not go that far, but he did treat Annique coldly at first and his realization that she was neither sexually experienced not evil came on the heels of a scene in which they come close to loveless sex, so I was very strongly reminded of this “whore or virgin” trope.

A fourth reason why Annique’s character does not work so well for me is that she is a paragon. Vulnerable, brave, supposedly smart and said to excel at her job, brilliant at memorization, virginal, pure and gallant — not a personality flaw in sight. Nothing to give her a shade of gray. And that, especially when combined with her improbable virginity, makes her less than believable for me, and harder to relate to.

A fifth problem I had with the book was not in Annique herself but in the British spies’ reactions to Annique. Not only was she a paragon, but I kept feeling I was being told (in the hero and his friends’ thoughts and dialogue) what a paragon she was. How clever, how brave, how good, how expert a spy.

The hero and the secondary characters’ going on about Annique’s virtues made me feel that I was being told how to interpret Annique’s character. In other words, it felt heavy-handed. And since I did not agree with their assessment of Annique as a great spy, the feeling that I was constantly being told that she was something that she wasn’t was extremely frustrating to me.

There were times when other things felt heavy-handed to me as well, for example, there’s a conversation between Grey and his men when he tells them that Annique was in Bruges when some of their fellow spies died. Adrian and Doyle start recapping who died there, who they served with in the past, and how it was supposed to be an easy exchange of the Albion plans for the gold. But I saw no reason for Adrian and Doyle to be telling Grey that — he’s the section head spymaster, so he already knows all this. Which makes me feel like the information is there only for readers, and not because it is a natural subject matter for the characters.

Something else that felt heavy-handed to me was Annique’s admiration for the English spies. It was like the mirror image of their admiration for her, and those were places where I felt that rather than being left the room to interpret the characters of Grey, Doyle and Adrian for myself, I was being told what to think of them.

And that brings me to another topic, which is that the way entire British Service behaved around Annique seemed out of character for spies and interrogators who needed the information she held so badly.

In a nutshell, my problems with The Spymaster’s Lady all come down to the issue of believability. Spying is a rather ruthless and dirty business, and that was not reflected in the book, at least, not to my satisfaction.

I had difficulty suspending disbelief and that’s where I feel that I needed more — more competence from Annique, whose ineptitude only grew in the book’s second half, more ruthlessness and shades of gray from all the characters, more showing and less telling me (via the chorus of Annique’s admirers) what to think and feel. One of the things I look for in a book is room for interpretation, a place for my own imagination to connect with the characters, and for all the gorgeous writing, I don’t feel that I got that here.

At this point I have reached page 311 (chapter thirty-three), but the more I read, the more frustrated I grow. I don’t think I’d have made it this far if not for my original commitment to Robin. I’ve now read well over four-fifths of the book, so I could force myself to finish, but then I’d have to grade it, and there is simply no grade I could give The Spymaster’s Lady that would be reflective of both my appreciation of the beauty of the language, and my growing frustration that I did not find this book believable, realistic, or convincing. The more I read, the more the latter overshadows the former, and so, I think it best that I stop here. DNF.

Sincerely,

Janine

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, “Kiss of Life,” appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

106 Comments

  1. Bethany Allinder
    May 19, 2008 @ 15:32:56

    Oh my goodness. I thought I was the only one in the world who could not finish this book. Between this one and Anna Campbell’s Untouched, I thought I had some “A” Review disease.

    Good review.

  2. Janine
    May 19, 2008 @ 15:42:13

    Bethany, I feel like an odd person out too. And I should probably have said in my review, in case anyone has been living under a boulder for the past six months, that I don’t think there’s been another romance that has received better reviews this year than The Spymaster’s Lady. Jane, Jayne, Robin, Cheryl at AAR, Sarah at Smart Bitches and Mrs. Giggles, among many others, all thought very highly of it.

    I do feel kind of out in left field, and it does make me question my opinion, but in the end, my opinion is all I have to go on for reviewing books.

  3. rrw
    May 19, 2008 @ 15:51:59

    I’m about half way through with this book right now and I can not say that you’re wrong. Many of the points you’ve made have been bothering me as well, at the same time though, I’m really enjoying the book….perhaps the beauty of the language, as you point out, is still winning me over?
    As far as being told what a great spy she is and then witnessing something completely different, I’ve sort of been reading under the assumption that this would be straightened out later on, no such luck huh?

  4. Janine
    May 19, 2008 @ 16:01:38

    I'm about half way through with this book right now and I can not say that you're wrong. Many of the points you've made have been bothering me as well, at the same time though, I'm really enjoying the book….perhaps the beauty of the language, as you point out, is still winning me over?

    I think that the gorgeousness of the writing is a huge part of what kept me halfway engaged in the story. Had the prose been average, I probably would have thrown in the towel earlier on, and would not have read far enough into the book to be able to put together a review.

    As far as being told what a great spy she is and then witnessing something completely different, I've sort of been reading under the assumption that this would be straightened out later on, no such luck huh?

    Well, as I say, I only got as far as page 311, but I didn’t feel that it was straigthened out to my satisfaction by that time. But it’s very possible that you’ll feel differently. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the book when you finish.

  5. Jennie
    May 19, 2008 @ 17:31:29

    Oh my goodness. I thought I was the only one in the world who could not finish this book. Between this one and Anna Campbell's Untouched, I thought I had some “A” Review disease.

    Heh. I thought TSL was way better than Untouched, in large part because Bourne’s writing is so lovely. But I can name a number of books that Everyone Loved But Me (the first in that endless Stephanie Laurens series comes to mind; the only Laurens book I’ve ever read).

    So, TSL: I think I gave it a B-, but it was really a split grade – an A for the prose and a C- for the characterization, mostly when the action moves to England. Your comments have made me realize that I was somewhat mesmerized by the prose in the first half of the book, and really didn’t have the reservations you had about Annique’s characterization at the time. Prose and characterization are so closely linked for me that great prose makes me quite suggestible, and I didn’t have a problem, for instance, with all the British spies going on about how great Annique was, when there wasn’t much evidence of that. I had a few niggles about Bourne pulling back from the the seductive Annique of the opening chapter, but I did admire Annique for her cleverness in managing to hide her disability for so long.

    Then we get to England, and Annique just acts mind-blowingly stupid. I mean, unbelievably, I-thought-I-must-be-missing-something stupid. And then more stuff happens, and there are revelations that didn’t please me, and made Annique even less of an equal than she already was with Grey.

    I will say that I’ll definitely read Bourne’s next book. Her prose is just too gorgeous for me not to give her another chance.

  6. Beth
    May 19, 2008 @ 18:20:40

    When I first saw that Bourne’s book was being reviewed AGAIN, I was irritated: hasn’t Bourne received enough glowing praise in the last 6 months? Aren’t there other unsung books worthy of front page news on a popular romance novel review website? But then I saw the “DNF” and thought, whoa, this is going to be interesting. And it was a very interesting review which brings to light some overlooked problems with the book. I think that novelty is hard to come by in romance, especially historical romance, and that it is weighted too heavily in some reviews, especially by reviewers who have read hundreds if not thousands of romances novels. I think the novelty of the heroine’s occupation and the plot obscured some of the problems with both of them. Thanks for a great review!

  7. GrowlyCub
    May 19, 2008 @ 18:48:28

    I think the novelty of the heroine's occupation and the plot obscured some of the problems with both of them.

    I think you might be right (haven’t read the book, don’t think I will since I find spy books tedious), although I’d like to point out that Mary Jo Putney had a lady spy in The Controversial Countess in 1989, so it’s not entirely a new concept.

  8. Emily
    May 19, 2008 @ 18:48:39

    Wow, me too! Thanks for articulating so clearly the problems I also had with the book. The characterization was simply not consistent with the description (uber-competent spy). I completely missed the “gorgeous, scintillating” prose because I kept thinking “wow, what a dumbass” and “not consistent!!” and “huh???”. I knew it would be a really dumb book when she got caught because she needed a drink of water. Please. And the virgin thing really really bugged me, too.

    So basically the whole book drove me crazy. I finished it, barely. My grade for it would be C-/D, but only because I finished. I think I skimmed the end. Thank god I got it from the library.

    Don’t bother finishing the book. The ending is ridiculous.

    Sadly, when there’s a lot of buzz about a book, I know that 80% of the time I probably won’t like it. But I read recommendations for the 20%.

  9. Janine
    May 19, 2008 @ 19:23:28

    Heh. I thought TSL was way better than Untouched, in large part because Bourne's writing is so lovely.

    I haven’t read Untouched but Campbell’s Claiming the Courtesan did not work so well for me. I reviewed it here.

    But I can name a number of books that Everyone Loved But Me

    I think we all can; or at least, that we all have that feeling at times.

    So, TSL: I think I gave it a B-, but it was really a split grade – an A for the prose and a C- for the characterization, mostly when the action moves to England. Your comments have made me realize that I was somewhat mesmerized by the prose in the first half of the book, and really didn't have the reservations you had about Annique's characterization at the time. Prose and characterization are so closely linked for me that great prose makes me quite suggestible, and I didn't have a problem, for instance, with all the British spies going on about how great Annique was, when there wasn't much evidence of that. I had a few niggles about Bourne pulling back from the the seductive Annique of the opening chapter, but I did admire Annique for her cleverness in managing to hide her disability for so long.

    I loved the opening chapter but it raised my expectations, which were then not met. I had mixed feelings when Annique’s disability was revealed: on the one hand, I liked that she’d hidden it for as long as she had, but on the other, I also felt that it made her that much more vulnerable to Grey, at a time when she was already his captive and I wanted them on more equal footing.

    And then more stuff happens, and there are revelations that didn't please me, and made Annique even less of an equal than she already was with Grey.

    I felt somewhat similarly, except that by the point when those revelations came, I was no longer expecting Annique to be Grey’s equal. For me, the first half was actually the more frustrating, because the British characters were so impressed with Annique and I kept hoping the Annique they described would emerge. By the second half, I had come to the conclusion that the book was going in a different direction and taking Annique toward greater and greater vulnerability.

    I will say that I'll definitely read Bourne's next book. Her prose is just too gorgeous for me not to give her another chance.

    I feel similarly — Bourne is such a terrific wordsmith that I can’t cross her off my list of authors to read in the future, no matter how frustrating I found this book. I will be very interested to hear your opinion of My Lord and Spymaster, Jennie.

  10. Kat
    May 19, 2008 @ 19:29:43

    While I don’t disagree with this review, for me, as a reader, the prose overcame any problems I had with (in)consistency and (im)plausibility. I was disappointed by the ending, because I felt it was too neat, but I loved the writing too much to let it bother me much. One thing I loved about the writing, too, is that the heroine always felt French to me–her thoughts, her actions, her words. I think another DA reviewer might have mentioned something similar.

  11. Jill Sorenson
    May 19, 2008 @ 19:30:17

    Ooh, I haven’t read this yet, and I’m scandalized! Thanks for making my eyes pop out, Janine. It’s so interesting when opinions differ this greatly.

    By the way, you were right about FIRE AND ICE.

  12. Janine
    May 19, 2008 @ 19:31:23

    And it was a very interesting review which brings to light some overlooked problems with the book. I think that novelty is hard to come by in romance, especially historical romance, and that it is weighted too heavily in some reviews, especially by reviewers who have read hundreds if not thousands of romances novels. I think the novelty of the heroine's occupation and the plot obscured some of the problems with both of them. Thanks for a great review!

    You’re welcome. I agree with you that the plot was fresh and the heroine’s background unusual. Those are strengths that I should have mentioned in my review.

  13. Jia
    May 19, 2008 @ 21:22:39

    Jennie, I think we had very similar reactions to this book. I was so impressed with the prose that I ignored the problems Janine outlined until about halfway through the book. Unfortunately, at that point, the inconsistencies had piled up so high that they overshadowed my initial delight with the writing. I did finish the book but I was so annoyed by so many different things, it left me disappointed.

  14. Janine
    May 19, 2008 @ 21:22:50

    I'd like to point out that Mary Jo Putney had a lady spy in The Controversial Countess in 1989, so it's not entirely a new concept.

    Yes, but the heroine of Putney’s book was an English spy. Annique spied for the French, which is even more unusual, though I have seen it in a book previously. It was a spoiler about the heroine of that book though, so I will list the title under a spoiler warning.

    SPOILER
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .

    That book was Tracy Grant’s Daughter of the Game, which was recently reissued as Secrets of a Lady.

  15. Janine
    May 19, 2008 @ 21:31:51

    Sadly, when there’s a lot of buzz about a book, I know that 80% of the time I probably won’t like it. But I read recommendations for the 20%.

    That is often true for me as well. I know that because of our similar noms de plume, some people get us Ja(y)nes confused with one another, but our tastes vary, as was the case with this book. I didn’t finish it, Jia and Jennie finished it but didn’t love it, Jane, Jayne and Janet/Robin all loved it, and I don’t know if Jan has read it yet. Sometimes it’s the other way around and I love a book that one or more of them don’t care for. I know that my recommendations won’t pan out for everybody but all I can do is go with my opinion, and I think that is true for anyone who reviews.

  16. Ann Bruce
    May 19, 2008 @ 21:41:06

    I’m in Houston, have a 6 am meeting…and I’m at DA. (So very, very sad.)

    Janine, you’re obviously not alone in your opinion.

    I’ve been holding off on buying this book despite all the glowing reviews because I couldn’t wrap my head around a virgin expert spy (and wasn’t she imprisoned? wouldn’t her jailers…um, violated her to get info or simply to punish her?). Anyhow, I’ve had a lot of problems with grade A books lately. There’s been at least 6 titles in the last 6 months or so that everyone in the blogosphere LURVED that made me scratch my head and wonder if my reading taste is so philistine that I can enjoy Harlequin Presents novels and find reading some of those A novels a chore.

    It seems a number of reviewers are falling in love with the writing to the extent plot issues are no longer noticeable.

    (Of course, it goes without saying that I’ll love the new highly-praised Loretta Chase because I worship the ground that woman walks on.)

  17. Janine
    May 19, 2008 @ 21:42:46

    While I don't disagree with this review, for me, as a reader, the prose overcame any problems I had with (in)consistency and (im)plausibility. I was disappointed by the ending, because I felt it was too neat, but I loved the writing too much to let it bother me much.

    I completely understand why anyone would feel that way, given how great the writing was. But I think that for me, that just frustrated me more, because I loved the writing style so yet the consistency and plausability issues kept me from being able to savor the beauty of the words. It was kind of like having a delicious ice cream sundae in front of me on a hot day yet being unable to eat it because I had a toothache at the same time. I adore lyrical writing and Bourne’s was so gorgeous that I wanted nothing more than to be able to just sink into it and enjoy. But the implausabilities kept yanking me out.

    One thing I loved about the writing, too, is that the heroine always felt French to me-her thoughts, her actions, her words. I think another DA reviewer might have mentioned something similar.

    Yes, I think that Jane and Jayne both mentioned this in their A- review of the book, and I mentioned it in the beginning of this review as well. Sarah at Smart Bitches noted it too. Bourne did a truly superb job with that and I was incredibly impressed with how well she conveyed Annique’s Frenchness.

  18. Ann Bruce
    May 19, 2008 @ 21:43:09

    Campbell's Claiming the Courtesan did not work so well for me. I reviewed it here.

    Crap. I just bought this at Borders this aft.

  19. Janine
    May 19, 2008 @ 21:47:40

    Thanks for making my eyes pop out, Janine.

    Anytime, Jill! (-;

    By the way, you were right about FIRE AND ICE.

    Thanks; I’m glad that review was helpful.

  20. Janine
    May 19, 2008 @ 21:51:10

    Jennie, I think we had very similar reactions to this book. I was so impressed with the prose that I ignored the problems Janine outlined until about halfway through the book.

    I think that sometimes great prose has this effect on me as well. I’m not sure why it didn’t in this case, but I think it may have been because of all the praise heaped on Annique by the secondary characters. That really raised my expectations of the heroine, and I think that if her spying abilities hadn’t been so highly touted I might have cut her more slack.

  21. Janine
    May 19, 2008 @ 22:06:54

    I've been holding off on buying this book despite all the glowing reviews because I couldn't wrap my head around a virgin expert spy (and wasn't she imprisoned? wouldn't her jailers…um, violated her to get info or simply to punish her?).

    To be fair, that was explained in that her jailers did plan to rape her but didn’t have a chance to get that far before she escaped. I could buy that instance of getting out of the situation before things got sexual, but the long history of spying without ever having sex was less believable to me.

    Since I know you are a writer I will say that all my rantings aside, I think this is a book writers should at least take a look at (the library is always an option) because the prose is just masterly. I say this since I am an aspiring writer myself. I was extremely frustrated while reading it, did not finish it, and higly doubt I will ever reread it, but at the same time, I do not doubt for a second that Ms. Bourne worked very hard to give readers their money’s worth. If you at all like it, you will be very glad of having read it, because the prose is worth studying. It’s that good.

    Anyhow, I've had a lot of problems with grade A books lately. There's been at least 6 titles in the last 6 months or so that everyone in the blogosphere LURVED that made me scratch my head and wonder if my reading taste is so philistine that I can enjoy Harlequin Presents novels and find reading some of those A novels a chore.

    That happens to me at times as well and I think it happens to other readers as well. I think that sometimes when books are so well-reviewed it can create the impression that everyone adored them, but the truth is that there is no book anywhere in the world that is universally loved.

    It seems a number of reviewers are falling in love with the writing to the extent plot issues are no longer noticeable.

    I think I have been guilty of that at times as well. Great prose can sometimes have a hypnotic effect on me. And it is also a rare find, so it’s hard not to appreciate it when I come across it.

    ETA: Hopefully you will enjoy Claiming the Courtesan more than I did.

  22. Rebecca
    May 19, 2008 @ 22:16:08

    That is a very good review.

    I admit it, I gushed.

    But I also think that Bourne is one of the best writers and stylists out there.

    Kat’s comment about the portrayal of the utter Frenchness of Annique is spot on.

    I saw all the holes brought up in the review but the quality of the writing kept me going.

    She also wrote a very good hero.

    All in all though, I realized that I was really working hard on suspending my disbelief…

    Mary Jo Putney’s books are all fabulous and her characters are logical.

    So, I’m downgrading my gush to a trickle and a nod of good work to Mrs. Bourne. (Is she a missus?)

  23. Ann Bruce
    May 19, 2008 @ 22:19:40

    Since I know you are a writer I will say that all my rantings aside, I think this is a book writers should at least take a look at (the library is always an option) because the prose is just masterly. I say this since I am an aspiring writer myself.

    Good point, but as a writer, I don’t want to mimic someone else. (WARNING: Run-on sentence coming up.) For me, I think that’s slightly dangerous territory and it can lead you to staring at your computer screen and not typing a single word because your mind is a total blank since nothing you come up with is as good as this other writer’s.

  24. Brenna
    May 19, 2008 @ 22:21:17

    I've put off buying this book and that of Sherry Thomas as of now because I'm rather reluctant to try them. Sometimes an over praised book just doesn't strike a chord with me. I remember your review of an Elizabeth Hoyt's book wherein you didn't like it either while a lot of people were raving about it. Wasn't I glad to see that someone shared my opinion back then. I just wished I read your review first before buying The Raven Prince and Leopard Prince at the same time because of those glowing reviews going around. I could have saved myself the money plus the irritation when neither one of those two books captured my interest.

    By the way, have you read Loretta Chase's Your Scandalous Ways (a definite to buy book for me)? I'm curious to know what you think about it.

  25. Janine
    May 19, 2008 @ 22:22:29

    That is a very good review.

    Thanks.

    But I also think that Bourne is one of the best writers and stylists out there.

    Kat’s comment about the portrayal of the utter Frenchness of Annique is spot on.

    I agree with you on that.

    I saw all the holes brought up in the review but the quality of the writing kept me going.

    I really envy you, because I think that had that happened to me, I would have loved the book too.

    She also wrote a very good hero.

    Grey was a good character and I would probably have liked him better had I felt that he and Annique were on equal footing. As it was, I kept thinking I would rather see her with Adrian.

    (Is she a missus?)

    I don’t know.

  26. Kat
    May 19, 2008 @ 22:26:39

    Great prose can sometimes have a hypnotic effect on me. And it is also a rare find, so it’s hard not to appreciate it when I come across it.

    I call this my Eloisa James syndrome. ;-) If anyone else had written the last two books EJ wrote, I doubt I’d have the next one on auto-buy. But for EJ, I’m even willing to cross the book aisles into general fiction (if indeed that’s where she’s headed).

    Has anyone read Bourne’s previous novel? Curious to know if the prose is just as strong. I’ll have to look her up the next time I’m out buying books. For some reason, I thought this was her first book.

    Edited: Realised she has one previously published book (in 1983), and another due in July.

  27. Janine
    May 19, 2008 @ 22:57:00

    Good point, but as a writer, I don't want to mimic someone else. (WARNING: Run-on sentence coming up.) For me, I think that's slightly dangerous territory and it can lead you to staring at your computer screen and not typing a single word because your mind is a total blank since nothing you come up with is as good as this other writer's.

    I don’t really want to mimic anyone else either, and I’ve had what you describe happen to me, but I’ve also had the opposite happen where great writing inspires me. But I understand where you are coming from on this, so I won’t press.

    Incidentally, for other writers who may be interested, Bourne is giving some great writing tips on her blog.

  28. cecilia
    May 19, 2008 @ 23:00:48

    I just read this book last week – I’ve had it in my TBR pile for awhile, and was putting it off, because I wasn’t sure I would like it at all (mainly because spy plots don’t interest me on the whole). The good news was that I did enjoy the prose, and the Frenchness of Annique did seem as authentic as everyone said, so it wasn’t as bad as I feared it might be, but the bad news was that ultimately, it just left me unmoved. I really didn’t care how it ended. I was engaged at the outset – as someone points out there is evidence that Annique is good at what she does, but after the nth time that she looks foolish and inept compared to Grey’s cool invincibility…the plausibility problem arises. I did make it to the end, but I thought it was absurd.

    May I also say how much the review-several-months-after-the-release is appreciated, Powers that Be? So many more people can get involved in a conversation about the book (beyond the “I can’t wait to read this” comments).

  29. Janine
    May 19, 2008 @ 23:04:17

    I've put off buying this book and that of Sherry Thomas as of now because I'm rather reluctant to try them. Sometimes an over praised book just doesn't strike a chord with me.

    Sherry Thomas is my good friend and crit partner so you can take my opinion with as much salt as your palate desires, but I loved Private Arrangements and I think Delicious, which is coming out at the end of July, is terrific too.

    I do know what you mean about highly praised books, though. Sometimes the more praise a book receives, the higher my expectations climb and the harder it is for the book to live up to them. I do wonder if that was the case here. Perhaps if I’d read The Spymaster’s Lady as an ARC of an author I knew nothing about and had heard nothing of I would have been blown away. But coming to it knowing that so many other people loved the book raised my expectations, for good or ill.

    By the way, have you read Loretta Chase's Your Scandalous Ways (a definite to buy book for me)? I'm curious to know what you think about it.

    No, I haven’t read it yet. I am looking forward to it and hoping that I like it as much as my fellow reviewers here at DA who have read it do.

  30. Janine
    May 19, 2008 @ 23:09:26

    Has anyone read Bourne's previous novel? Curious to know if the prose is just as strong.

    I haven’t read Her Ladyship’s Companion but maybe someone else here has and can answer the question.

    I just realized I mistakenly referred to The Spymaster’s Lady as Bourne’s debut in my review. I did know about her earlier novel, but I forgot it when I was composing my intro. With a 24-year break between novels, it feels like a debut.

  31. Janine
    May 19, 2008 @ 23:14:02

    May I also say how much the review-several-months-after-the-release is appreciated, Powers that Be? So many more people can get involved in a conversation about the book (beyond the “I can't wait to read this” comments).

    Thanks for this feedback. It is good to hear. I often feel pressure to review newer releases because I know that many readers want to know our opinions of those books when they come out. But you make an excellent point about the discussion aspect of reviewing a book several months post-release.

  32. Jennie F.
    May 19, 2008 @ 23:18:09

    I've put off buying this book and that of Sherry Thomas as of now because I'm rather reluctant to try them. Sometimes an over praised book just doesn't strike a chord with me.

    JMO, of course, but I loved Private Arrangements. I gave it an A-, but really it edges into A territory. Thomas’ writing is every bit the equal of Bourne’s, and her plot (and especially her heroine) are much stronger.

  33. Angelle
    May 20, 2008 @ 00:04:27

    I read it, and didn’t love it. Prose was good, but the plot & character drove me insane. I wondered why Annique was a good spy when all she does is TALK TALK TALK (and she wasn’t lying or anything). Grey didn’t have to torture her or anything. All they had to do was wait long enough and eventually she’d tell them everything they needed to know because she seemed unable to keep her mouth shut. I almost gave up when Annique started talking about LeBlanc, etc. to Robert. All I could think was “What would James Bond do?” (or “What would Jason Bourne do? What would Sydney Bristow do?”)

  34. Ann Bruce
    May 20, 2008 @ 00:43:02

    Brenna, I’ll third the praise for Thomas’s prose in Private Arrangements. But I’ll probably be the lone dissenter since I didn’t feel emotionally engaged with Cam and Gigi for various reasons. Their scenes, even the ones after they reconciled, left me…well, cold. (Sherry, if you read this, I’m so sorry!) That being said, I am looking forward to the next book because the woman CAN write and I think once she creates characters I can root for, she’ll become one of the authors whose web sites I check daily in pitiful hope of an update. But I’m going to avoid all reviews of Delicious so my expectations for it won’t be stratospheric.

  35. Allie
    May 20, 2008 @ 01:20:46

    This review pretty much encapsulated my thoughts on TSL. I finished it – but by the point where Grey drugs Annique, I was pretty much done with the romance. It wasn’t so much that Annique was a bad spy (which she was most of the time), but that I couldn’t get behind a hero who incapacitates the heroine. It kind of creeped me out.

    I’m hoping in Bourne’s next book that the heroine is more formidable and the hero is less controlling.

  36. Brenna
    May 20, 2008 @ 03:09:33

    May I also say how much the review-several-months-after-the-release is appreciated, Powers that Be? So many more people can get involved in a conversation about the book (beyond the “I can't wait to read this” comments).

    That's so true. But I think this has more to do with how a blog or website is designed. While I always search for reviews of books that are about to be released and welcome them, it can be a bit frustrating because one can't have a real discussion on the book itself because nobody has read it yet, except those who received an ARC. I just received my copy of Jo Beverley's A Lady's Secret and will be reading it soon. Much as I would probably like to comment or discuss the book here at Dear Author, the review has already been posted a few weeks back plus the comments and is buried among other topics. I could do a search of the review and post, but I wonder if it will garner new discussions. I would also like to read a good discussion about Loretta Chase's Your Scandalous Ways, but again, the review (w/c was very much welcome) has already been posted and has move further down before the reading public can get their hands on the book.

    I'm not saying I don't like the way Dear Author is designed as I quite liked it. But it has its drawbacks I think when it comes to book discussions. I used to hate All About Romance's (AAR) new format when they decided to change it, but what is nice about it is that when you comment on any of the threads, no matter how old the last discussion was (it could be a year or so), it gets up there first in the discussion board and people are bound to notice it. It gets current again and people who have just read the books can discuss it.

  37. Marianne McA
    May 20, 2008 @ 03:59:27

    Has anyone read Bourne's previous novel? Curious to know if the prose is just as strong. I'll have to look her up the next time I'm out buying books. For some reason, I thought this was her first book.

    Yes, I loved The Spymaster’s Lady, so I bought the earlier one from Amazon. It was several months ago though, and I wouldn’t usually consciously notice writing style. My impression, looking back, is that it was fine, but hadn’t the stands-out-from-the-crowd quality that TSL has.

  38. Laura Vivanco
    May 20, 2008 @ 04:04:00

    A while ago I went Googling to find reviews of the novel and came across similar comments about the plot from one reviewer who also had negative comments to make about the language:

    Cod-French. I live and work in a Francophone environment. The one thing in the book that really prevented it from winning me over was the bastardised version of English with a French accent and occasional syntactical inversions. We spent much of the book in deep third perspective of the heroine and it was like living through a female version of Inspector Clouseau. Tintin and Dorothy Dunnett are the great exemplars for me – characters should speak naturally in the language that is being used – exclamations of Sapristi and Tonnerre de Brest should be kept to the French version of Tintin. But our author uses pidgin Franglais to emphasise the Frenchness of our heroine in a way that served only to distract. Otherwise, by and large, the settings were wallpaper. The London sections in particular struck me as being set in a Disneyfied place where a Cor-Blimey Dick Van Dyke might well be poised to hop into position for a quick chim chim cheree soon as you like guvnor.

    I’ve not read The Spymaster’s Lady, so I can’t comment on it specifically, but I thought that was interesting, because I know that often, when American authors get praise (from American readers) for sounding authentically English/British, I’ll not be at all convinced (I’m from the UK). I suspect that something that can sound convincing enough to foreigners may well not be as convincing to those who come from the country depicted/speak the language in question.

  39. Jayne
    May 20, 2008 @ 06:13:34

    I would also like to read a good discussion about Loretta Chase's Your Scandalous Ways, but again, the review (w/c was very much welcome) has already been posted and has move further down before the reading public can get their hands on the book.

    My solo review will be posted closer to the release date.

  40. Sherry Thomas
    May 20, 2008 @ 07:01:53

    Brenna, I'll third the praise for Thomas's prose in Private Arrangements. But I'll probably be the lone dissenter since I didn't feel emotionally engaged with Cam and Gigi for various reasons. Their scenes, even the ones after they reconciled, left me…well, cold. (Sherry, if you read this, I'm so sorry!)

    Ann, no need to apologize. It’s just a book. :-)

  41. katiebabs
    May 20, 2008 @ 07:32:53

    This book is one of the best historical romances I have read in years. I don’t know what Bourne did but she grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go. The one thing that annoyed me was Ann’s little problem that is solved in a WTF way. I felt the story could have been a bit better without Ann’s problem. Also, Ann was bit too much of a superheroine, but overall I loved her wit and how she gave it to Grey. I loved the scene when she tries to strangle him!

  42. Aoife
    May 20, 2008 @ 07:42:22

    I read Her Ladyship’s Companion shortly after I read TSL, and I would say that it was pretty typical, plotwise, for the time it was written. The writing was good, but not anything remarkable.

    I gave TSL a B- when I read it. It was very, very well-written, but I absolutely did not buy into Annique’s competence as a spy, and I really did not buy into that competence considering she was blind. I just did not believe it.

  43. Marianne McA
    May 20, 2008 @ 07:57:13

    I suspect that something that can sound convincing enough to foreigners may well not be as convincing to those who come from the country depicted/speak the language in question.

    Laura, I read interviews with Joanna Bourne at the time the book came out, and I’m fairly sure that she’s both lived in France and speaks French. (Two don’t necessarily go together – my aunt lived in France for years with minimal French.)

    My own French is pretty dire, so anything would convince me.

  44. Jill D.
    May 20, 2008 @ 08:56:23

    Well, I loved the book and one of the things I liked best about Annique was her vulnerability. I have to say I thought she gave Grey a run for his money in the beginning, she practically strangles the guy and he barely escapes. Not to mention that if she did get the better of Grey, I would have found it emasculating for him and I wouldn’t have liked his character as much. I want my man to win! I don’t want a loser for a hero, LOL!

    It was interesting to hear your view point and I could see where you are coming from. I am surprised at how long it took for this book to get a negative review. I mean no book is perfect and it is very rare to not have an opposing view at some point in time. I myself have been in the minority before although, now that you have said something it seems like more people are in your corner.

  45. Cathy
    May 20, 2008 @ 09:15:13

    I enjoyed TSL, though probably not enough to stay on my Keeper shelf. I think I would have liked this book better if it had just been about Annique’s adventures, with the romance playing a very secondary or nonexistant role. If Annique was really as amazing as the English said she was, I imagine that her pre-Grey life was fairly exciting.

    The issue I had with this book – and that I have with many romances – is that the heroine is often described as smart/intelligent/self-sufficient/clever/witty/capable, etc., etc., right until she meets the hero. (I’m certainly not the first person to comment on this.) I get tired of the trend that the heroine is just holding her life together until a Big Strong Man can come along and take care of everything for her. Like others, I think I would have liked this book better had Annique managed to stay on more equal footing with Grey.

  46. Janine
    May 20, 2008 @ 09:37:41

    Angelle — I agree with you on Annique’s talking, especially to Robert.

    All I could think was “What would James Bond do?” (or “What would Jason Bourne do? What would Sydney Bristow do?”)

    I agree with you on Bond and Bourne, but I actually always found Sydney Bristow much too weepy for an agent. I guess it is hard to write a female spy that satisfied me, because I also had some problems with Isobel in Anne Stuart’s Ice Storm.

  47. Laura Vivanco
    May 20, 2008 @ 09:44:21

    Laura, I read interviews with Joanna Bourne at the time the book came out, and I'm fairly sure that she's both lived in France and speaks French.

    Marianne, I wonder if something else is also a factor, and that’s personal preferences about how/if language shifts should be signalled in the text. Jane mentioned her preferences in a recent review:

    The big nagging problem is that when Meg and Santiago speak to each other in Spanish (although it reads in English but the understanding is that the two are speaking Spanish) and the sentence patterns are distinctly English. I guess I feel like if an author is going to use another language as the mode of communication, the translated English should be in the rhythm and using the idioms of that other language.

    Clearly Jane would like the other language to be clearly signalled, and that’s something that many people said they enjoyed about The Spymaster’s Lady. I don’t think that I would enjoy reading a book in which the characters’ use of Spanish was indicated in the way Jane suggests. It would jar with me, I think. Certainly I’ve read far too many romances in which the Spanish characters drop in a few words of Spanish (sometimes with incorrect grammar) and it’s annoyed me a lot. I also read a historical recently in which the author (presumably trying to signal the language shifts) had many of the characters sounding like Yoda because their word order mixed up it was!

    I know that when I’m speaking Spanish, in Spain, I don’t even think about which language I’m using. I might say different things because of the cultural/social context I’m in, but the language use itself is something that I don’t notice. I don’t go around every day being aware that I’m speaking English, and the same goes for when I’m speaking Spanish (when I’ve got back into the swing of things. At the moment my Spanish is a bit rusty). I only notice if I’m switching backwards or forwards between the two. So when language differences are signalled in novels (and the same goes for historicals in which characters say things like” ’tis only nine of the clock”) it can feel intrusive and unnatural because it calls attention to the language. I’d rather not notice the language, and if I do notice it, it tends to mean I’ve been pulled out of the story and away from the emotions/ideas the characters are expressing.

    I suspect that preferences will vary a lot with this, and some of the differences of opinion might have to do with different people’s experiences of language-learning and/or their experiences of their own language/accent being treated as exotic and marked as something outside the norm.

  48. Janine
    May 20, 2008 @ 09:46:00

    This review pretty much encapsulated my thoughts on TSL. I finished it – but by the point where Grey drugs Annique, I was pretty much done with the romance. It wasn't so much that Annique was a bad spy (which she was most of the time), but that I couldn't get behind a hero who incapacitates the heroine. It kind of creeped me out.

    I think that if I’d been convinced that Annique was a real threat to three male spies, I would not have minded Grey’s incapacitating her as much.

    I'm hoping in Bourne's next book that the heroine is more formidable and the hero is less controlling.

    Me too. Or rather, I’m hoping that the couple in her next book seems more well-matched to me. I would not mind a less formidable heroine as long as we aren’t told she is so formidable, and I would not mind a hero like Grey with a tougher heroine, either.

  49. Janine
    May 20, 2008 @ 09:59:03

    I would also like to read a good discussion about Loretta Chase's Your Scandalous Ways, but again, the review (w/c was very much welcome) has already been posted and has move further down before the reading public can get their hands on the book.

    There is a review from Jayne in the offing.

    I'm not saying I don't like the way Dear Author is designed as I quite liked it. But it has its drawbacks I think when it comes to book discussions. I used to hate All About Romance's (AAR) new format when they decided to change it, but what is nice about it is that when you comment on any of the threads, no matter how old the last discussion was (it could be a year or so), it gets up there first in the discussion board and people are bound to notice it. It gets current again and people who have just read the books can discuss it.

    I agree with you that it is easier to revive book discussions on AAR. Regarding the timing of our reviews, it’s a tough call for us because so many readers shop for books when they are just coming out, and that is when they want to see reviews. We had a book club for a while last year, and even though we kept the reviews linked to the front page for a whole month, not many people actually participated in the book discussions. And I know that sometimes I’ve posted a review of a book months after it came out, and it did not get many comments. This one is getting a lot, but I think that has to do with the popularity of TSL and with the fact that my review is dissenting from the majority opinion, as well as with its timing.

  50. Janine
    May 20, 2008 @ 10:05:50

    I suspect that something that can sound convincing enough to foreigners may well not be as convincing to those who come from the country depicted/speak the language in question.

    Probably true. What I thought was interesting about TSL was that Bourne made Annique sound French without using almost any French words in her dialogue or POV thoughts. It was the syntax that made her seem French, more than her vocabulary. I thought the resultant effect was that Annique sounded French without my ever feeling that I was being hit over the head with her Frenchness. It worked very well for me, but I can believe that (like anything else) it wouldn’t work for everyone.

  51. carolyn Jean
    May 20, 2008 @ 10:07:27

    I, too, just loved The Spymaster’s Lady. I am one of those who gushed over it! I may be a contender for the gushiest of all gushes. But I just loved reading this review. I guess it sort of challenges and expands my mind about the reading experience.

    You make so many good points, and I don’t argue with them. In fact, you are kind of right! Still, I found the book positively magical, and I swear, I’m not an easy reader. I don’t do negative reviews on my blog for aspiring author reasons, but my DNF list is long and star studded.

    I just think, what is it about this story that made me willing to suspend my disbelief, or why did I let this character off, where other characters annoy the hell out of me? I don’t have any answers or anything smart to say, and obviously it’s all quite personal, but I really appreciated this review.

  52. Janine
    May 20, 2008 @ 10:11:28

    I loved the scene when she tries to strangle him!

    I loved the surprise of Annique’s use of the garrote on Grey, but I was a bit disappointed when it was revealed that she hadn’t tried to actually kill him, just to temporarily disable him. And later in the book it was revealed that Annique didn’t have the will to kill even in self-defense. I think I would have enjoyed the book much more had Annique been more ruthless.

  53. Janine
    May 20, 2008 @ 10:24:16

    I gave TSL a B- when I read it. It was very, very well-written, but I absolutely did not buy into Annique's competence as a spy, and I really did not buy into that competence considering she was blind. I just did not believe it.

    I think it was the combination of those two elements, the greatness of the writing and my inability to buy into Annique’s competence, that made reading the book frustrating. Usually books with such beautiful prose rank among my favorites, so I really wanted to love this one.

  54. Angelle
    May 20, 2008 @ 10:25:24

    I think I would have enjoyed the book much more had Annique been more ruthless.

    Same here.

    I would’ve been like w00t!!!! if she’d blown several characters’ brains out. Or…snap their necks. Or disembowel them … or something! It just seems grossly unfair that only guys get to kill, ya know?

    I still don’t know why she hadn’t killed LeBlanc guy when she had the chance, except that it was really convenient for Bourne to bring him back and have him cause more trouble at the end.

  55. Janine
    May 20, 2008 @ 10:33:04

    Not to mention that if she did get the better of Grey, I would have found it emasculating for him and I wouldn't have liked his character as much. I want my man to win! I don't want a loser for a hero, LOL!

    I think you’ve hit your head on a problem that a lot of books in the genre run into. In order to have the hero seem manly, he has to overpower or defeat the heroine in some fashion. For me, that often makes the heroine seem less strong.

    I don’t actually mind a vulnerable heroine (for example, I loved Stuart’s Black Ice, a book in which the hero is constantly saving the heroine’s life), but those heroines work much better for me when I’m not told that they are strong and super-competent. It’s not that I require that every heroine be strong, but rather, a consistency issue for me.

    By the same token, I also think that it is possible to have the heroine best the hero occasionally without emasculating him. If she bests him some of the time, and he bests her some of the time, then I think I could see them as strong equals and still feel that the hero is someone I could respect.

  56. Janine
    May 20, 2008 @ 10:40:26

    It was interesting to hear your view point and I could see where you are coming from. I am surprised at how long it took for this book to get a negative review. I mean no book is perfect and it is very rare to not have an opposing view at some point in time.

    There probably have been one or two earlier negative reviews, like the one Laura quoted above. I think this is just the first on a major site like DA.

    I myself have been in the minority before although, now that you have said something it seems like more people are in your corner.

    I am glad to see both posters who don’t agree with me and those who do agree with me, because I want everyone to feel that their opinion is welcome here, regardless of where they stand on a book.

  57. Janine
    May 20, 2008 @ 10:48:26

    The issue I had with this book – and that I have with many romances – is that the heroine is often described as smart/intelligent/self-sufficient/clever/witty/capable, etc., etc., right until she meets the hero.

    I think this gets back to the issue Jill D. brought up — that if the hero doesn’t best the heroine, or rescue her, some readers feel that he isn’t masculine. You’re absolutely right that it leads to a lot of books where the heroine’s strength drains away when she meets the hero, as if she were supergirl and he were kryptonite.

  58. K. Z. Snow
    May 20, 2008 @ 10:53:13

    …the French dialogue and Annique's POV thoughts in French are absolutely spot on in capturing the cadences of the French tongue.

    I’ve read this in other reviews, and the comment invariably makes me want to ask, How do you guys know?

    In what period is this book set? Hasn’t the French language, like the English, changed since then? How can a modern reader discern what ***teenth-century French, translated into English, sounded like?

    Just wonderin’. (I mean, I’m somewhat familiar with modern German, but I’ll be dicked if I’d know how eighteenth-century German rendered in English should “sound”.)

  59. Janine
    May 20, 2008 @ 11:01:48

    You make so many good points, and I don't argue with them. In fact, you are kind of right! Still, I found the book positively magical, and I swear, I'm not an easy reader. I don't do negative reviews on my blog for aspiring author reasons, but my DNF list is long and star studded.

    I have to acknowledge that it isn’t easy to give a book with such fabulous prose a DNF. My DNF is more a reflection of my frustration and not an indication that the book lacks merit. In fact I think that I would not have been nearly as frustrated if the strengths of the book had not been so stellar.

    I also admit that the DNF here was partly my way of getting out of grading this book. I find grading one of the toughest parts of reviewing for Dear Author, and in this case, it would have been especially hard since a C here means “Eh, not bad, but I will probably never reread it.” I know that I won’t reread TSL, but grading under a C indicates that a book is worse than average, and this one is so far above average in certain regards that a DNF seemed less unfair.

    I just think, what is it about this story that made me willing to suspend my disbelief, or why did I let this character off, where other characters annoy the hell out of me? I don't have any answers or anything smart to say, and obviously it's all quite personal, but I really appreciated this review.

    Thanks. I think these things really are very personal. There is no such thing as a perfect book. There are only books that work their magic on us so well that we forget or don’t notice their imperfections. For you, TSL was such a magical book. I really wish that it had been for me as well.

  60. Jill D.
    May 20, 2008 @ 11:03:45

    those heroines work much better for me when I'm not told that they are strong and super-competent.

    This is a very going point that you make. Although I thought Annique was very clever and emotionally strong, she did come across more child-like than a super-competent adult woman.

    I am glad to see both posters who don't agree with me and those who do agree with me, because I want everyone to feel that their opinion is welcome here, regardless of where they stand on a book.

    Thank you for providing a media where romance lovers can discuss books. It wouldn’t be a very interesting discussion if we agreed on everything all the time now would it!

    Respectfully yours,
    Jill D.

  61. Janine
    May 20, 2008 @ 11:08:10

    I would've been like w00t!!!! if she'd blown several characters' brains out. Or…snap their necks. Or disembowel them … or something! It just seems grossly unfair that only guys get to kill, ya know?

    LOL. I feel the same way. And I’m really not very bloodthirsty in real life, no matter how bloodthirsty I might sound when I say I wished Annique had had the will to kill her enemies — at least the ones who had no compunction about killing her. I guess because I’ve read too many romances where the heroines either don’t kill, or do kill but can’t deal with it in some fashion, while the heroes kill left and right with few problems. So for me, it’s not so much about wanting to see villains get what they deserve, but more about wanting to see more parity in the way heroes and heroines are portrayed.

  62. Janine
    May 20, 2008 @ 11:24:21

    I've read this in other reviews, and the comment invariably makes me want to ask, How do you guys know?

    In what period is this book set? Hasn't the French language, like the English, changed since then? How can a modern reader discern what ***teenth-century French, translated into English, sounded like?

    Just wonderin'. (I mean, I'm somewhat familiar with modern German, but I'll be dicked if I'd know how eighteenth-century German rendered in English should “sound”.)

    You make a good point, K.Z. I was thinking of contemporary French. What I meant was that Annique’s dialogue and thoughts sounded French to me, without ever jarring me by sounding fake. But you are absolutely correct that I don’t know Napoleonic era French.

  63. Janine
    May 20, 2008 @ 11:30:59

    Thank you for providing a media where romance lovers can discuss books.

    You’re very welcome, but the thanks for that should really go to my fellow Dear Author reviewers. Most of them contribute more than I do.

    It wouldn't be a very interesting discussion if we agreed on everything all the time now would it!

    I couldn’t agree more. Lock-step agreement would take all the fun out of book discussions, and we would not learn much from them then, either.

  64. Lacey
    May 20, 2008 @ 13:51:38

    I found your review very interesting Janine, because we had opposite reactions to TSL and another book brought up in the comments Private Arrangements. The writing in both was superb, but while Annique and Grey never annoyed me, I wanted to toss Gigi and Cam out a window at times. I felt that while some of the situations were improbable, the way Annique handled them was very real to me. Her motivations stayed true and her decisions did not seem silly in the context of those motivations. She made decisions within the frame she was given. Gigi, on the other hand, could not make a decision to save her soul.(Freddie Cam Freddie Cam) I found this annoying, particularly because I really wanted to love the book.(I must admit here that I don’t really like love triangles)

    I also rarely have a problem with improbable situations, because if the world-building is good those situations don’t bug me. All too often I hear fellow readers saying something is improbable only to hear that it is based on a real life event or something the author has personal experience with; so if the world feels real I am okay with it. Like with Annique’s French accent, I don’t know if it is authentically French, but it is certainly not one of those annoying let’s throw in the occasional cherie and ma petite and call it a French accent. The syntax feels authentic, at least to American me, and I have a very clear picture of Annique in my head and the way she speaks is part of who she is. It is not so much the foreign language that is impressive, as the clear distinct voice each character has. You know who is speaking on any given page, and I think a lot of authors strive for that type of character identification.

  65. Robin
    May 20, 2008 @ 13:51:58

    Count me in as one who adored Annique, but I think my read on her is a bit different than even some of the people who loved the book.

    **BEWARE** BIG SPOILERY SPOILERS AHEAD

    I saw TSL as a book about how appearances can be and are deceiving. Annique, as a character, seems to have so many guises, and she seems to mean so many different things to different people, as is appropriate given her work as a spy (and clearly we feel that as readers, too!!). But I didn’t see her as an invincible or ruthless figure of heroism; I saw her as a young woman who, unbeknownst to her, was being used as a weapon by two powerful nations, a young woman who desperately wanted to live up to what she thought were the ideals and expectations of two larger than life parents, and who was, more often than not, scared to death inside:

    They would have made good Frenchmen, these two. It was a pity Leblanc would soon take her from this cell. One could find worse companions for the long journey into the dark. At least the two of them would be together when they died. She would be wholly alone.

    But it was better not to speculate upon how Leblanc would break her to his will and kill her, which could only lead to melancholy. It was time to slide from beneath the touch of this English spy and be busy again. She could not sit forever, hoping courage would seep out of his skin and into her.

    She squeezed her eyes closed and wished for the hundredth time she could see his expression and guess what he was going to do to her. Nothing so simple as to hurt her.
    The rumble of his voice vibrated across her skin. “That shirt’s more erotic than I would have believed possible. To see my shirt wrapped around you and know there’s nothing… but you… underneath it.” He plucked at the fabric, considering it with his fingertips. “You take the prerogatives of a longtime lover when you help yourself to my clothes. I should be disarmed. Clever Annique.”
    “I am not so clever,” she muttered, being sincere.

    She had become pitiable. She had never been the clever Fox Cub. She had been the dog to fetch secrets to Maman. She had felt so smug in her cleverness all those years, but she had always been the dupe. All her life, the dupe.

    I guess I saw Annique as an extremely smart and able young woman, but who had human limits that were exacerbated by her blindness. IMO it was only a miracle that she hadn’t been caught before:

    “You were with your mother when she died, weren’t you? How did you get from Marseilles to Paris, blind?”
    “It is no concern of-’” His hands tightened on her. She decided not to try his temper further this morning. “I walked.”
    “You… walked? You didn’t just walk. Not blind. Not alone.”
    “Maman has…” Pain clenched at her throat. Maman was dead. “Maman had… many friends. It was a network all her own from the years even before the Revolution. They helped me.” So many people had helped her. Maman’s network. Friends of Vauban. Friends of old Soulier, who had been Maman’s lover and who was most senior in the secret police. Friends of her colleagues Rene and Francoise. Men who had known her father. Friends she had made herself over the years. She had come so far because of a legion of ordinary people she could call upon for a favor worth a life.

    As for her ruthlessness, or lack thereof, I have to say that I’m not all that thrilled with male characters who can kill without thought, so I’m not all that anxious to see that in heroines, either. I do not mind the conscience in this regard, and frankly, I think people die too readily in Romance, especially Romantic Suspense.

    Now, I definitely felt that it was ridiculous that Annique did not recognize Grey on the way to Dover, and her reaction to the revelation of her mother’s true identity was very short-changed, IMO. Had I not loved the book up to that point, that might have done it for me.

    But because I didn’t see her as a super-spy a la Jason Bourne, I didn’t feel that the mistakes she made in TSL were inconsistent, in part because I think that her reputation was, like the story around her father’s life and death, more legend than reality, and, perhaps, part of what allowed her to keep operating as she did. And I didn’t see her as childlike, although I think that other characters did sometimes diminutize her in their speech. Again, I guess I saw this as part and parcel of the layers of appearance I felt surrounded Annique as a young woman who was taking a multi-level journey, where the truth was ever-changing and elusive, and where personal identity was fluid and malleable. I really saw Annique’s struggle as one to define herself and her world, under circumstances that made that difficult.

    And that brings me to another topic, which is that the way entire British Service behaved around Annique seemed out of character for spies and interrogators who needed the information she held so badly.

    I am not well-educated about the history of interrogation techniques, but when I read this book I had recently completed a project on torture as an interrogation technique, and had found some really, really surprising things:

    Seasoned interrogators know that an important first step is to disarm one’s adversary by resorting to the unexpected. Treat a captured general or colonel with dignity and respect. Better yet, treat a sergeant like he is a colonel or general.

    In interrogation centers I ran, we called prisoners “guests” and extended military courtesies, such as saluting captured officers. We strove to undermine a prisoner’s belief system, which we knew instructed him that Americans are unschooled infidels who would bully him and resort to intimidation, threats and brutality. Patience was essential. We rejected the view that interrogators could merely “take off the gloves” and that information would somehow magically flow if we brutalized our “guests.” This notion was uninformed and counterproductive, not to mention illegal, and we made sure our chain of command understood that bowing to such tempting theories would result in bad information.

    Persuasive? I’d always thought so, and it certainly worked for us in contingency after contingency in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.
    – ret. Col. Stuart Herrington, army interrogator

    When the characters talked about treating spies with the respect due their position, this is what came to mind. As I said, I have no idea if this is historically accurate or not, but I know these concepts weren’t created in the 20th century, and because I had read so much stuff on how ineffective torture is, I didn’t raise my eyebrows in TSL like I might otherwise have.

    So bottom line for me is that I can definitely see the validity of many of the articulated objections to the book, but I guess I emphasized other things in my own reading, yielding a different conclusion. Which, IMO, is the beauty of a book like this — it’s rich enough in its composition to give rise to very different interpretations.

  66. Robin
    May 20, 2008 @ 14:06:22

    Between this one and Anna Campbell's Untouched, I thought I had some “A” Review disease.

    Untouched did not work all that well for me, either (my review is here, if you’re interested), although I find Campbell a provocative writer whose books I will continue to read. And I was actually glad that so many readers liked it, because I thought that some of critique of Claiming the Courtesan went past the parameters of the book to the author herself.

    We’ve actually at DA had quite a few differences over books, from Megan Hart’s Dirty, which Janine and I loved but Jane didn’t (and Janine liked Broken much more than I did), to Meredith Duran’s Duke of Shadows, which Jan and Janine thought was much stronger than Jane, Jayne, or I did (although I think I was closer to the middle). And I’ve also seen discussions of all these books on AAR in which readers have taken thumbs up and thumbs down positions for a wide variety of reasons. I think it has to do with momentum, and the fact that some books just seem to pick up momentum of either good or bad buzz and seem to be swept up in a wave that seems more harmonious than it really is.

  67. readerdiane
    May 20, 2008 @ 14:59:41

    I thought I was missing out because I didn’t even finish it either and it was because of the characters.
    Some one was good at creating buzz but I will be more careful about buying the next book.

  68. rrw
    May 20, 2008 @ 15:06:12

    But because I didn't see her as a super-spy a la Jason Bourne, I didn't feel that the mistakes she made in TSL were inconsistent, in part because I think that her reputation was, like the story around her father's life and death, more legend than reality, and, perhaps, part of what allowed her to keep operating as she did.

    I have to say I agree with this. I mentioned far upthread that I am not finished with the book and I thought the inconsistencies with how she was described and how she actually IS would be straigtened out later in the book. Well, I’m still not finished but I have to say, I am leaing toward your interpretation. I am reading it as we are being shown that her legend is greater than she and she has been woefully used. It seems her strength was in her youth and innocence because she IS young and innocent. Isn’t she only nineteen? I imagine for a nineteen year old she is amazing, she’s been spying for how many years now?
    Anyway, having said all that, I can still see where that’s just not the type of heroine some would enjoy. I can wholeheartedly see Janine’s and other’s points but I’m just reading it slightly differently….as we all tend to do.
    I am enjoying this discussion greatly, thanks guys!!

  69. Janine
    May 20, 2008 @ 15:13:44

    I found your review very interesting Janine, because we had opposite reactions to TSL and another book brought up in the comments Private Arrangements. The writing in both was superb, but while Annique and Grey never annoyed me, I wanted to toss Gigi and Cam out a window at times. I felt that while some of the situations were improbable, the way Annique handled them was very real to me. Her motivations stayed true and her decisions did not seem silly in the context of those motivations. She made decisions within the frame she was given. Gigi, on the other hand, could not make a decision to save her soul.(Freddie Cam Freddie Cam) I found this annoying, particularly because I really wanted to love the book.(I must admit here that I don't really like love triangles)

    Lacey, I understand where you are coming from, and I agree that Cam and Gigi were far more flawed as characters and human beings than Annique was. But the fact that they had strengths and weaknesses was actually a big part of what made them feel real to me, and made me care about them.

    I had moments of wanting to shake Camden, and Gigi clearly acted wrongly at times (especially when she was young). But to me, Private Arrangements was a book about exactly that: the mistakes all human beings make at times, and how they sometimes can compound those errors by failing to forgive or to let go of them. While I don’t think PA was a perfect book, in that regard, I thought it was brilliant.

    With TSL, I felt that a large part of the problem was that Annique was not portrayed consistently. Yes, she was far less flawed and imperfect than Camden or Gigi, especially when it comes to the degree her flaws were acknowledged in the text.

    Yet that exactly was a big part of the problem — she was said to be good and brave and smart and capable and pure in almost every way. Every lie that she ever told was in the service of the greater good of her country; she never did one selfish or cynical thing. Maybe I’m a cynic myself, because I have trouble believing in such a character, and my disbelief makes it harder for me to love her.

    But even more importantly, I feel that her portrayal was not consistent. Her one big flaw, her ineptitude, was only rarely acknowledged in her own POV, and never acknowledged in anyone else’s POV that I saw. Her male adversaries kept talking about how amazing she was, in private conversations with one another, and thinking about it in their thoughts. What I am saying is that I felt a big need for consistency in Annique’s portrayal, and my need was not met.

    With Camden and Gigi, I very much felt that flawed as they were, the author never tried to tell me they were perfect. Whereas with Annique, I kept feeling that the praise being heaped upon her was the author’s way of wanting to make sure I was impressed with her. Since I don’t like feeling that I am being told what to think or feel, it had exactly the opposite effect.

    I also rarely have a problem with improbable situations, because if the world-building is good those situations don't bug me. All too often I hear fellow readers saying something is improbable only to hear that it is based on a real life event or something the author has personal experience with; so if the world feels real I am okay with it.

    I do look for good world building, but to me, good world building is world building with verisimilitude, one where the rules of the world are consistent with some of the rules of our own world.

    Similarly, I look for consistency in characterization — for the characters actions and their reactions to other characters to make sense given what I observe about those characters and the ones they are reacting to.

    Like with Annique's French accent, I don't know if it is authentically French, but it is certainly not one of those annoying let's throw in the occasional cherie and ma petite and call it a French accent. The syntax feels authentic, at least to American me, and I have a very clear picture of Annique in my head and the way she speaks is part of who she is. It is not so much the foreign language that is impressive, as the clear distinct voice each character has. You know who is speaking on any given page, and I think a lot of authors strive for that type of character identification.

    On that we can agree completely. But while the syntax felt authentic to me, Annique and other characters’ reactions to her did not.

  70. Laura Vivanco
    May 20, 2008 @ 16:12:24

    “That shirt's more erotic than I would have believed possible. To see my shirt wrapped around you and know there's nothing… but you… underneath it.” He plucked at the fabric, considering it with his fingertips. “You take the prerogatives of a longtime lover when you help yourself to my clothes.

    I don’t know if she’s disguised as a boy here, and I don’t know much about fashion/clothing in this period, but in general would women in the Regency period not have been wearing such different garments from those worn by men that they wouldn’t have been able to help themselves to their lover’s clothes? The way he’s talking, you’d get the impression that women would routinely slip on their lover’s shirt, but although that maybe happens nowadays, when women can wear a man’s shirt or top, I’m not sure how/if it would have worked in this historical period. I thought women would have had a long shift/chemise under their dresses, but it would have been different in construction from a man’s shirt.

    As I said, I haven’t read the novel so I’ve got no idea of the context in which this is being said, but it made me wonder.

  71. Janine
    May 20, 2008 @ 16:31:56

    **BEWARE** BIG SPOILERS AHEAD

    I saw TSL as a book about how appearances can be and are deceiving. Annique, as a character, seems to have so many guises, and she seems to mean so many different things to different people, as is appropriate given her work as a spy (and clearly we feel that as readers, too!!). But I didn't see her as an invincible or ruthless figure of heroism; I saw her as a young woman who, unbeknownst to her, was being used as a weapon by two powerful nations

    Well, I tended to see her this way as well, but I did not feel that this was how the author wanted me to see her. This conversation brings to mind a discussion you and I once had about Balogh’s The Secret Pearl, another book where I was frustrated by a character I felt was being idealized too much (the hero). I think at that time (if I’m not mistaken) you felt that the problem with that book was that the author’s portrayal of the character was not consistent, and that was how I felt when reading TSL.

    a young woman who desperately wanted to live up to what she thought were the ideals and expectations of two larger than life parents, and who was, more often than not, scared to death inside:

    Her desperation in wanting to live up to her parents’ ideals and expectations was one of the quaities that made her seem childlike to me. I agree that Annique was sometimes afraid inside, but I would not go so far as to say “scared to death.”

    If she’d been scared to death in the first passage you quoted, she would not have been able to chide herself that speculation on Leblanc’s techniques would only lead to melancholy. I agree she is afraid, but to me, it doesn’t read as “scared to death.”

    She squeezed her eyes closed and wished for the hundredth time she could see his expression and guess what he was going to do to her. Nothing so simple as to hurt her.

    The quote above does seem like pretty bad fear to me.

    “I am not so clever,” she muttered, being sincere.

    This quote is actually a pretty good illustration of why the writing sometimes felt heavy-handed to me. I can tell she is being sincere here from her other POV thoughts, and don’t need that explicated.

    She had become pitiable. She had never been the clever Fox Cub. She had been the dog to fetch secrets to Maman. She had felt so smug in her cleverness all those years, but she had always been the dupe. All her life, the dupe.

    This quote above did fit very closely the way I saw her, but I didn’t feel that this was how the author wanted me to see Annique. When I reached these lines, I felt that this was Annique in a moment of being upset with herself, talking herself down, but I did not feel that her self-image in this moment of anger at herself and others was meant to be viewed as accurate, or that it was the way the author intended readers to see Annique.

    I guess I saw Annique as an extremely smart and able young woman, but who had human limits that were exacerbated by her blindness.

    I started out seeing her as smart and able, but as time went on, I saw that as less and less the case. And while I agree that blindness would limit anyone, I thought it should at least have made it possible for her to detect the opium Grey put in her coffee.

    IMO it was only a miracle that she hadn't been caught before

    I agree with you. But that’s exactly why I found conversations like this one, between Grey and Doyle, frustrating:

    “Crikey. Blind?”

    “She took a saber cut to the skull, five months ago. There’s a scar hid up in her hair, if you go feeling for it.”

    “Cats in hip boots.” Doyle fetched a little ivory pick out of his waistcoat pocket and began a ruminative exploration of his back teeth. “Why don’t I know this? I heard she was in Marseilles with her mother. Never heard a whisper about the Cub being out of commission. Not from any of my sources. Not a syllable.”

    “She’s good at hiding it. She must’ve spent months practicing.” How long had it taken her to learn ot fight in the dark?

    “That’s why we got her so easy. Blind and on the dodge.”

    “…and hungry and hurt and exahusted. It only took three of us to haul her in.”

    They don’t make it sound like it’s a miracle she hasn’t been caught before — they are very impressed with her and make it sound like if there hadn’t been three of them and only one of her, they would not have caught her — even blind, “on the dodge,” hungry, hurt and exhausted.

    I would venture to guess that for every single reference in Annique’s POV to her fear, there are at least five references, either in Annique’s POV or someone else’s, to her being the famous Fox Cub, an incredible spy.

    I end up feeling that I’m supposed to be very impressed with her competence, *and* feel her extreme vulnerability at the same time.

    As for her ruthlessness, or lack thereof, I have to say that I'm not all that thrilled with male characters who can kill without thought, so I'm not all that anxious to see that in heroines, either. I do not mind the conscience in this regard, and frankly, I think people die too readily in Romance, especially Romantic Suspense.

    I don’t disagree with you in regard to how easily people die in Romantic Suspense, but I guess my frustration around this issue comes from a feeling on my part that there is a double standard operating when it comes to the ease with which male characters kill relative to female characters, and I feel this double standard has to do with gender sterotypes where women are viewed as soft and nurturing, while men are seen as the protectors. Genearlly speaking, I find books that diverge from traditional gender roles more interesting and exciting than those that reinforce them.

    Now, I definitely felt that it was ridiculous that Annique did not recognize Grey on the way to Dover

    Me too. How did you feel about the way she so easily confided in “Robert,” whom she thought was a stranger?

    But because I didn't see her as a super-spy a la Jason Bourne, I didn't feel that the mistakes she made in TSL were inconsistent, in part because I think that her reputation was, like the story around her father's life and death, more legend than reality, and, perhaps, part of what allowed her to keep operating as she did.

    While I agree that her reputation was undeserved, my reading was that I was meant to view it as deserved. Otherwise, I don’t think so many of the side characters — as far as I could tell, every single “good guy” other than Annique within the story — would have been so impressed with her. I feel that if her reputation was intended to be read as more legend than reality, then one of these other smart, perceptive spies ought to have seen though it sometime in the first 310 pages of the book.

    The uniformity with which everyone in the British Service agreed she was amazing, even toward the end when she decides to stop eating, made me feel that I was meant to be impressed with her as well.

    And I didn't see her as childlike, although I think that other characters did sometimes diminutize her in their speech.

    I saw her as childlike not just because of the way the other characters spoke of her and treated her at times, but also because I felt she had a wide-eyed sense of wonder in the way she looked at her surroundings, or felt when Grey was making love to her. And because she was so idealistic and wanted to please the people who had trusted her with important information so much. It was all these things together, including the dimunitizing dialogue, that made me view her as childlike and innocent.

    Again, I guess I saw this as part and parcel of the layers of appearance I felt surrounded Annique as a young woman who was taking a multi-level journey, where the truth was ever-changing and elusive, and where personal identity was fluid and malleable. I really saw Annique's struggle as one to define herself and her world, under circumstances that made that difficult.

    That is a very rich reading, and I wish I shared it.

    Seasoned interrogators know that an important first step is to disarm one's adversary by resorting to the unexpected. Treat a captured general or colonel with dignity and respect. Better yet, treat a sergeant like he is a colonel or general.

    If that was their intent in this case, then why did they also think of Annique as impressive in their private thoughts, and speak of her with dignity and respect when she was not present? I think that if the respect with which they treated Annique was merely a ploy in order to extract information, it was not adequately shown to be one.

    So bottom line for me is that I can definitely see the validity of many of the articulated objections to the book, but I guess I emphasized other things in my own reading, yielding a different conclusion. Which, IMO, is the beauty of a book like this -’ it's rich enough in its composition to give rise to very different interpretations.

    I think that is the beauty of reading in general. I’m glad that you enjoyed the book so much, Robin.

  72. Janine
    May 20, 2008 @ 16:47:35

    We've actually at DA had quite a few differences over books, from Megan Hart's Dirty, which Janine and I loved but Jane didn't (and Janine liked Broken much more than I did), to Meredith Duran's Duke of Shadows, which Jan and Janine thought was much stronger than Jane, Jayne, or I did (although I think I was closer to the middle).

    Jennie (our newest reviewer) also loved Broken and The Duke of Shadows, IIRC, but was less keen on Dirty than you or I.

    I think it has to do with momentum, and the fact that some books just seem to pick up momentum of either good or bad buzz and seem to be swept up in a wave that seems more harmonious than it really is.

    Yes, that’s very true. There have been quite a few popular books that did not work their magic on me, and I’ve reviewed several of them here without it hurting their momentum in the least.

  73. Janine
    May 20, 2008 @ 16:56:15

    Some one was good at creating buzz but I will be more careful about buying the next book.

    I think in this case the buzz came from many people who were excited about this book, and that is actually often the case with buzz. I’ve tried to start my share of it when I’m excited about a book (the latest book I loved and touted being Wicked Gentlemen), but it doesn’t really turn into full-blown buzz unless a lot of people agree with me and pipe up to say as much.

  74. Janine
    May 20, 2008 @ 17:04:17

    I am reading it as we are being shown that her legend is greater than she and she has been woefully used.

    I’m glad the book is working well for you, rrw. I wish that had been the case for me because the writing is so lovely. I posted my thoughts on this in my long reply to Robin.

    It seems her strength was in her youth and innocence because she IS young and innocent. Isn't she only nineteen? I imagine for a nineteen year old she is amazing, she's been spying for how many years now?

    If I’m not mistaken she was spying since she was ten or so.

    I can wholeheartedly see Janine's and other's points but I'm just reading it slightly differently….as we all tend to do.

    It’s the variety of opinions that make the conversation interesting so I am glad you posted your thoughts.

  75. Janine
    May 20, 2008 @ 17:08:36

    I don't know if she's disguised as a boy here, and I don't know much about fashion/clothing in this period, but in general would women in the Regency period not have been wearing such different garments from those worn by men that they wouldn't have been able to help themselves to their lover's clothes?

    This a scene that comes after Annique’s clothing has been taken away and she has been given the revealing dress of a prostitute. She has nothing else to wear so she helps herself to Grey’s shirt.

    I also questioned whether women borrowed their lovers’ clothing in the Napoleonic era but I decided that it wasn’t an impossiblity.

  76. Jorrie Spencer
    May 20, 2008 @ 17:38:43

    I did find some negative reviews on livejournal, not that I can find them now. And I think your review has a lot of valid points.

    I really loved this book though. I read Annique as actually being somewhat stunted by her upbringing. I mean look how her mother treated her, even if she loved her. I felt Annique had a very slanted, somewhat naive view of the world and that meshed well with her virginity and her inability to kill Grey.

    I also thought she did accomplish a number of things: getting herself and the men out of prison, putting herself in the position to kill Grey (without admittedly following through) and saving Adrian’s life.

    That said I can see your point about people saying what an amazing spy she was while Grey constantly has the upper hand. I can see other points too, but for me, the book weaved its magic.

    In fact, I’ve been decidedly taken by most of the “buzz” books this year: this one, The Duke of Shadows, If His Kiss Is Wicked (well I guess that was last year, but I’m behind the times).

  77. Rebecca
    May 20, 2008 @ 19:06:56

    . . .I know that often, when American authors get praise (from American readers) for sounding authentically English/British, I'll not be at all convinced (I'm from the UK). I suspect that something that can sound convincing enough to foreigners may well not be as convincing to those who come from the country depicted/speak the language in question. Laura Vivanco

    Laura, there was no pidgin French or Franglaise. Bourne must know French or speak it very well, for the syntax was rendered extremely well.

  78. Janine
    May 20, 2008 @ 19:26:32

    I really loved this book though. I read Annique as actually being somewhat stunted by her upbringing. I mean look how her mother treated her, even if she loved her. I felt Annique had a very slanted, somewhat naive view of the world and that meshed well with her virginity and her inability to kill Grey.

    I think that’s an excellent point; I too felt that she was stunted, esp. with regard to the naive worldview that you describe. And I agree too that it meshed with her virginity and her inability to kill Grey or the villains who were trying to kill her.

    But I didn’t feel that this naivete meshed so well with her profession or with the way others saw her. I think it was a case where the gap between her naivete and the harsh realities of “the Game” were wide enough that I could not entirely believe that she had functioned as a successful spy for nearly a decade.

    I also thought she did accomplish a number of things: getting herself and the men out of prison, putting herself in the position to kill Grey (without admittedly following through) and saving Adrian's life.

    True. I did love the first chapter. But after that Grey got the better of her so often that her occasional successes seemed like anomalies to me.

    That said I can see your point about people saying what an amazing spy she was while Grey constantly has the upper hand. I can see other points too, but for me, the book weaved its magic.

    That is really great. I envy you, Robin, Jane and all the other people who loved this book so much. I do think it was successful for the vast majority of readers, and I wish that I’d been one of them.

    In fact, I've been decidedly taken by most of the “buzz” books this year: this one, The Duke of Shadows, If His Kiss Is Wicked (well I guess that was last year, but I'm behind the times).

    I am glad our recommendations are working out for you, Jorrie. :)

  79. Rebecca
    May 20, 2008 @ 20:24:48

    Greetings all.

    After I got over the fact that, past the first few chapters, I wouldn’t see Annique in superspy mode, I settled down to figure out what I *was* being told about her through her actions and dialogue.

    I never thought she was naive. I was surprised to learn that she was a virgin. I did think and believe that she was really, really weary of always being on her guard.

    It was on the basis of that weariness that I could almost (almost) understand her lowering her guard once she decided that Grey was all right.

    But, after thinking about what I had read (this is after the gush) I realized that I had willfully ignored my misgivings as to her behavior as a spy.

    I was just about to go off on another tangent when this thought occurred to me (I’ll bring up the other tangent later):

    If one is trained as a spy, one’s primary goal is to complete one’s mission – to the exclusion of all else. One uses whatever means necessary to do this.

    Perhaps Annique’s behavior could be seen as employing any means available to complete her mission? After all, just because we readers get all that nice interior monologue, doesn’t mean that we learn *everything* a character is thinking and feeling.

    After all, we were treated to an example of her becoming the kind of woman her foes wanted. Couldn’t she have become the kind of woman Grey wanted?

    Just a thought.

    Having fun.

  80. Robin
    May 20, 2008 @ 21:44:13

    Well, I tended to see her this way as well, but I did not feel that this was how the author wanted me to see her.

    I don’t know if any author has full control over her intent, else there wouldn’t be such different readings of the same book. But I think your point is more that you see Annique as inconsistently drawn, and I see the same things you do as conflicts within her character, and therefore as consistent in a different way.

    This conversation brings to mind a discussion you and I once had about Balogh's The Secret Pearl, another book where I was frustrated by a character I felt was being idealized too much (the hero). I think at that time (if I'm not mistaken) you felt that the problem with that book was that the author's portrayal of the character was not consistent, and that was how I felt when reading TSL.

    Yes, I understand what you’re saying about the book, Janine. I think I get tripped up a little on a feeling I get reading some of your comments (that you’re a reader who looks for character consistency, etc.) that I must be missing something to read Annique as I do. I don’t really think you mean to say this, but there is such a vehemence to your frustration (e.g. for every one example I find of x, you can find five of y) that that I may just be feeling a bit oversensitive in the wake of your very strong feelings. Believe me, I understand that kind of frustration; I felt personally insulted by Brenda Joyce’s The Conqueror. And I know that as a reader you are extremely conscientious about hearing other people’s views. But I’m going to refrain from a long explanation of why I feel the way I do about the book because I don’t really want to make it seem like the book is on trial, with both of us dug in on our “sides.”

    I don't disagree with you in regard to how easily people die in Romantic Suspense, but I guess my frustration around this issue comes from a feeling on my part that there is a double standard operating when it comes to the ease with which male characters kill relative to female characters, and I feel this double standard has to do with gender sterotypes where women are viewed as soft and nurturing, while men are seen as the protectors. Genearlly speaking, I find books that diverge from traditional gender roles more interesting and exciting than those that reinforce them.

    I agree that there is a double standard, and that it’s frustrating to see women be the ones who don’t kill. But I don’t know if the answer — for me — is to have more ruthless women. And you know, I was thinking about the Anne Stuart series, and about how neither Peter, nor Taka, nor Bastien was able to kill the heroine, either, even though all have a reputation for being completely ruthless. That doesn’t mean that the men aren’t more acclimated toward killing without conscience, but honestly, it’s hard for me to believe that anyone who isn’t completely psychotic or antisocial can kill without some regret or long-term emotional cost, so I don’t necessarily value that trait in either a Romance hero or heroine.

    How did you feel about the way she so easily confided in “Robert,” whom she thought was a stranger?

    Well, I think this could cut both ways, actually. I kept wondering if it would come out later that Annique really did know that Grey was Robert, or whether she was just breaking down in general:

    She was tired beyond measure of these stupid and intransigent plans, which kept trying to cause her death and had no resting place anywhere. They were the most sharp of two-edged swords, those plans: deadly to the land of England if they remained hidden, perilous to France if given to the English. It was foolish beyond measure that Napoleon should have ordered them made and she was entirely disgusted with the whole business.

    I see Annique as so profoundly affected by her mother’s death, and I guess I see a lot of Annique’s reputation as purchased through her mother’s manipulation (she was an extraordinary spy, I think), through her connections and her network (Annique was essentially being protected by both sides, without even knowing it). Also, it was my sense that Annique’s specific talent was to be a walking oracle of secrets and a courier, given or overhearing information that she was passing on or storing, as the case may be. So is she inept at that? I didn’t see it that way, although I think once her mother is gone and she is blind that the young woman pushes forward through the cocky little informant and disorients her to some degree (I think at one point Annique even refers to herself as a “worm”).

    They don't make it sound like it's a miracle she hasn't been caught before -’ they are very impressed with her and make it sound like if there hadn't been three of them and only one of her, they would not have caught her -’ even blind, “on the dodge,” hungry, hurt and exhausted.

    I don’t see this as inconsistent, even though I understand why it bothers you. For me, Annique does have substantial talent in moving around, in getting herself out of situations, and of ferrying information. But she’s not used to doing so blind (she’s been helped by her mother’s network up to this point), and I kind of see Annique as a woman who is both capable of capture and capable of helping Grey and Adrian to escape (could they have done so without her help?). I mean, in real life spies are caught all the time, too (just look at the contrast between Nathan Hale, who was caught during his first mission, and Robert Hanssen, who spied for like 20 years and was eventually entrapped by a rookie agent). In the movies and such we’re used to only the bad guy spies getting killed or being unable to escape. And since Grey and Adrian were capable of capture, as well, I guess I didn’t feel that Annique was inept *as a spy*. That doesn’t mean I don’t understand your POV, I just had a different experience of reading it.

  81. Janine
    May 20, 2008 @ 22:49:57

    If one is trained as a spy, one's primary goal is to complete one's mission – to the exclusion of all else. One uses whatever means necessary to do this.

    Perhaps Annique's behavior could be seen as employing any means available to complete her mission? After all, just because we readers get all that nice interior monologue, doesn't mean that we learn *everything* a character is thinking and feeling.

    After all, we were treated to an example of her becoming the kind of woman her foes wanted. Couldn't she have become the kind of woman Grey wanted?

    Just a thought.

    Having fun.

    Interesting thought, Rebecca. It gets at how we all read differently. I do tend to interpret characters partly based on their POV thoughts, and if those thoughts point in a certain direction and aren’t contradicted by actions, I usually go with that interpretation. But I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to read a book, or that there is only one correct interpretation.

  82. Writing: The Influences « The Not-so-deep Thoughts
    May 20, 2008 @ 22:54:31

    [...] where did I learn this craft, etc. It got me thinking because earlier (yesterday? the day before?), Janine at Dear Author said in reference to Joanna Bourne’s The Spymaster’s Lady: Since I know you are a [...]

  83. Elle
    May 20, 2008 @ 23:45:43

    Unlike you, Janine, I loved the whole first half of this book. Things didn’t start to fall apart for me until Annique got to England and ….

    SPOILY, SPOILY, SPOILERS…

    S
    P
    O
    I
    L
    E
    R
    S

    ….even with her sight miraculously restored, she started walking into every trap that was set for her. I thought it beyond improbable that she would not have recognized Robert/Grey or been a little suspicious of his motives. I was also really irked by her virginity, which seemed inconsistent with the way her character was drawn in the first portion of the story. I didn’t buy the “needs to be able to pretend to be a boy” explanation either, and agree with you, Janine, that Annique’s virginity was used as evidence of her virtue and to make her a more universally acceptable romance heroine. The double standard in this story is clearly demonstrated by a comparison of Adrian and Annique’s sexual histories. While they are similar in age and both have been spies working in the field since childhood, Adrian is ultra-sexually experienced and Annique, despite her occupation, universally acknowledged sexual appeal, unconventional upbringing, sensual/adventurous nature, total lack of chaperonage and her training in the use of sex as a weapon, is (improbably, IMO) a virgin at age 19.

    But even though I was disappointed (relatively) by the second portion of the story, I still really liked TSL. You made the comparison (elsewhere) between this story and The Windflower, stating that the spies in TSL reminded you of the pirates in The Windflower who didn’t act like pirates around the heroine in that book. I think that is a very astute comparison actually. I know that I was charmed by the heroine in both stories, so it didn’t strike me as particularly inauthenic for the other characters in the book to be charmed by her as well. (Off topic, and in defense of The Windflower, some of the pirates took a lot longer to warm up to Merry, and Rand was never what I would call warm and fuzzy. The English spies in TSL, in contrast, seemed ready to adopt Annique as their mascot from the onset.) But I found both The Windflower and The Spymaster’s Lady to be such well written stories with really vibrant characters that I was more than willing to overlook a little nonsense along the way.

  84. Janine
    May 21, 2008 @ 00:39:57

    I don't know if any author has full control over her intent, else there wouldn't be such different readings of the same book. But I think your point is more that you see Annique as inconsistently drawn, and I see the same things you do as conflicts within her character, and therefore as consistent in a different way.

    I apologize if this is confusing, and that’s probably because it’s hard for me to fully articulate my response to the book. But I think what I was trying to get at are two things. One is that, as you say, I see Annique as inconsistently drawn, and the other is that while I absolutely agree with you that no author has full control over her intent, there were several places where the text felt like it was trying to impose a certain interpretation or reading on me, and was not leaving me as much room for interpretation as I need to have in order to enjoy a book.

    Yes, I understand what you're saying about the book, Janine. I think I get tripped up a little on a feeling I get reading some of your comments (that you're a reader who looks for character consistency, etc.) that I must be missing something to read Annique as I do. I don't really think you mean to say this

    No, I absolutely do not. Actually I envy you for reading her as you do, and, after this discussion, I don’t even think our interpretations of her are very far off. It seems to me that where we differ is more in our interpretations of other parts of the book, like what the other spies’ opinions of Annique indicate. But even there, I don’t think you are missing anything, I think that the same words are simply striking you differently than they are striking me, and I envy you that.

    but there is such a vehemence to your frustration (e.g. for every one example I find of x, you can find five of y) that that I may just be feeling a bit oversensitive in the wake of your very strong feelings.

    I am sorry about that. My frustration is not with you, nor with any other reader of the book, nor even with the author. It’s just with the book, which I almost feel I’m having a kind of push-pull relationship with. The lovely prose beckons and says “Come here,” and then some inconsistency, implausibility or heavyhandedness comes along and I feel like the book that was just opening up to me is being slammed shut.

    Believe me, I understand that kind of frustration; I felt personally insulted by Brenda Joyce's The Conqueror.

    I haven’t read Joyce, so I can’t compare them, but I also can’t say that I feel insulted by TSL. I have read a lot of books that I felt underestimated my intelligence a lot more, but they don’t usually frustrate me, for the simple reason that I stop reading them early on.

    I can’t recall if I said this already but I don’t think the book would have been half so frustrating to me if the prose weren’t so gorgeous. It makes me want to love it, and wish that I did, and then, every time I run across something that prevents that, I feel like I am being tantalized with something mouthwatering that I can’t quite reach.

    And I know that as a reader you are extremely conscientious about hearing other people's views. But I'm going to refrain from a long explanation of why I feel the way I do about the book because I don't really want to make it seem like the book is on trial, with both of us dug in on our “sides.”

    I respect your opinions tremendously, Robin, and I hope you know that. I think we can agree to disagree without getting into the particulars. I am going to get off the subject of TSL for the remainder of this post and just talk about Romantic Suspense in general.

    I agree that there is a double standard, and that it's frustrating to see women be the ones who don't kill. But I don't know if the answer -’ for me -’ is to have more ruthless women. And you know, I was thinking about the Anne Stuart series, and about how neither Peter, nor Taka, nor Bastien was able to kill the heroine, either, even though all have a reputation for being completely ruthless. That doesn't mean that the men aren't more acclimated toward killing without conscience, but honestly, it's hard for me to believe that anyone who isn't completely psychotic or antisocial can kill without some regret or long-term emotional cost, so I don't necessarily value that trait in either a Romance hero or heroine.

    I absolutely agree with you that there should be some regret or long-term emotional cost to killing, whether the one doing the killing is the hero or the heroine. But very often in Romantic Suspense books, the hero can compartmentalize for a while and only run into that regret or emotional cost later on, and for the heroine it’s a lot more immediate than that.

    I’ve been thinking about a book that was my favorite book in the world when I was thirteen, and set me on the path to reading romances, and that I still have tremendous affection for: Dragonflight, the first book in Anne McCaffrey’s SF/Fantasy Pern series. The heroine of that book, Lessa, is 20 or 21 when the book begins, she is disguised as a servant in the hall that once belonged to her family. It becomes clear very early on that she has been killing or at least, indirectly bringing about some deaths since she shortly after her family was massacred in a surprise attack when she was eleven years old. Her lethal history is unveiled in her POV thoughts in this fashion:

    The ash bucket banged against her shins as she shuffled down the low-ceilinged corridor to the stable door. Fax would find a cold welcome. She had laid no new fire on the hearth. Her laugh echoed back unpleasantly from the damp walls. She rested her bucket and propped her broom and shovel as she wrestled with the heavy bronze door that gave into the new stables.

    They had been built outside the cliff of Ruatha by Fax’s first Warder, a subtler man than all eight of his successors. He had achieved more than all the others, and Lessa had honestly regretted the necessity of his death. But he would have made her revenge impossible. He would have found her out before she’d learned to camouflage herself and her little interferences. What had his name been? She could not recall. Well, she regretted his death.

    It goes on to describe the second that followed him and also died as a result of her actions for a long paragraph, and then there’s this shorter one:

    The second was replaced and his successor fared no better. He was caught diverting goods — the best of the goods, at that. Fax had had him executed. His bony head still rolled around in the main firepit above the great Tower.

    I can’t resist quoting because I love this passage for the way it reveals both Lessa’s humanity and her inhumanity. She does regret killing, but not enough to remember the names of the men she’s killed. The regret is there, but it’s distant from her, overlaid with a coldness that makes it possible for her to survive. There is something almost chilling about Lessa’s pragmatism, and yet, I loved her to bits because of her courage, her determination, her strong will, and her love for a scrawny animal that no one else cares about. I also love the character partly because I can understand that she became a saboteur and assassin not just to avenge her entire family, but also because she herself would have been killed otherwise.

    My favorite part of Dragonflight is not the feel-good saving-the-world story (although I enjoy that very much) but the alpha/alpha romance between Lessa and a hero with whom she’s very well matched, and the redemption of her character, who goes from being someone who takes lives rather easily to someone who would willingly die to save lives.

    This is a long tangent but it is just to say that there can be heroines who are willing to kill without being psychotic (though it is fair to call Lessa somewhat antisocial) or lacking in emotional depth. It is, I think, possible to strike a balance between regret/emotional cost and toughness, and come to a middle ground that would make such a heroine a hero’s equal. Of course, not every heroine has to be like that and it would be very boring if they all were. But I would love to see more alpha heroines in romances, since off the top of my head I can think of very few.

  85. Janine
    May 21, 2008 @ 11:11:42

    You made the comparison (elsewhere) between this story and The Windflower, stating that the spies in TSL reminded you of the pirates in The Windflower who didn't act like pirates around the heroine in that book. I think that is a very astute comparison actually. I know that I was charmed by the heroine in both stories, so it didn't strike me as particularly inauthenic for the other characters in the book to be charmed by her as well.

    I’ve had that problem with other books as well. I’m afraid that when so many characters (especially if it’s all of the “good guys” in the story) find the hero or heroine charming it’s hard for me to accept it at face value. In real life even the most charming people aren’t so universally loved — there is usually someone who is impervious to that charm. So when it happens in books (Especially if the charming character has very few personality flaws) I usually start feeling that there is some wish-fulfillment fantasy at work and that the charm is being oversold.

    The Windflower is another book I didn’t finish. My list of DNF books is long and venerable so an author who gets one of those from me is in good company.

    But I found both The Windflower and The Spymaster's Lady to be such well written stories with really vibrant characters that I was more than willing to overlook a little nonsense along the way.

    I can completely understand that and I wish that I’d been able to overlook it also.

  86. Robin
    May 21, 2008 @ 12:13:30

    This is a long tangent but it is just to say that there can be heroines who are willing to kill without being psychotic (though it is fair to call Lessa somewhat antisocial) or lacking in emotional depth. It is, I think, possible to strike a balance between regret/emotional cost and toughness, and come to a middle ground that would make such a heroine a hero's equal. Of course, not every heroine has to be like that and it would be very boring if they all were. But I would love to see more alpha heroines in romances, since off the top of my head I can think of very few.

    I agree with all of this, and think it comes down to a reluctance in Romance to provide morally and ethically ambiguous heroes and heroines. Heroines, especially, have been shortchanged in this way, for many reasons we’ve noted at length.

    What has been irking me lately about Romantic Suspense, in particular, is the way that moral ambiguity seems to be communicated primarily through ‘killing without conscience,’ as opposed to the kind of example you provide from Dragonflight. That may be one of the reasons I didn’t find Isobel Lambert completely objectionable (I felt that the Committee as a whole had lost its teeth by that point, and that Killian would have outsmarted Peter, too, until he knew the connection) but haven’t been able to make it through Jilly’s story (at least Isobel had actually shot someone, lol). So, yes, I’m all for more alpha heroines, but I don’t want them to look like the current crop of so-called alpha heroes. I’m mot sure, actually, my definition of an alpha heroine would match most readers, since I felt that Rue from Shana Abe’s Smoke Thief was alpha, whereas many readers felt she was weaker than Kit.

  87. Elle
    May 21, 2008 @ 12:45:39

    I've had that problem with other books as well. I'm afraid that when so many characters (especially if it's all of the “good guys” in the story) find the hero or heroine charming it's hard for me to accept it at face value. In real life even the most charming people aren't so universally loved -’ there is usually someone who is impervious to that charm. So when it happens in books (Especially if the charming character has very few personality flaws) I usually start feeling that there is some wish-fulfillment fantasy at work and that the charm is being oversold.

    Yes, I do know what you mean and that is a valid point. As I recall, you had a similar objection to Jamie in Outlander (you unnatural creature! *g*)

    But I would love to see more alpha heroines in romances, since off the top of my head I can think of very few.

    Yes, they are rarities. I actually can only think of a handful–Rue and Maricara from Shana Abe’s Drakon series, Claire from Outlander, Beau Dante and her daughter Juliet from Marsha Canham’s Across a Moonlit Sea and The Iron Rose, most of Linnea Sinclair’s heroines and In Death’s Eve Dallas. What are some others off the top of your head???

  88. Janine
    May 21, 2008 @ 12:55:23

    What has been irking me lately about Romantic Suspense, in particular, is the way that moral ambiguity seems to be communicated primarily through ‘killing without conscience,' as opposed to the kind of example you provide from Dragonflight.

    I know what you mean and it does bother me too. Setting aside the implications of romanticizing killing without conscience, I feel that conscience is a big part of most people’s makeup, and leaving it out makes for weak characterization.

    That may be one of the reasons I didn't find Isobel Lambert completely objectionable (I felt that the Committee as a whole had lost its teeth by that point, and that Killian would have outsmarted Peter, too, until he knew the connection) but haven't been able to make it through Jilly's story (at least Isobel had actually shot someone, lol).

    SPOILERS for Ice Storm and Fire and Ice
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    Actually, if you read further in Fire and Ice, you will see that Jilly shoots someone too. It was one of the strongest moments in that book, for me.

    I didn’t find Isobel completely objectionable either — I liked her a lot in the flashbacks to her youth — but I had a hard time understanding how she had run the Committee and prior to that, been its agent for years, given the way she was portrayed. I agree that the entire Committee lost its teeth by then, but that loss felt to me like a contrivance to allow Killian to have the upper hand over all of them. To me it looked like another case of a bunch of characters acting inconsistently. I still liked the book, though more for Reno, Mahmoud, Stuart’s tight writing, and the past flashbacks than for the current day romance.

    So, yes, I'm all for more alpha heroines, but I don't want them to look like the current crop of so-called alpha heroes.

    I agree with that. When I say alpha I don’t mean conscienceless, or “kick ass” either. But I would love to see some heroines with a streak of ruthlessness or ambition or calculation.

    I'm mot sure, actually, my definition of an alpha heroine would match most readers, since I felt that Rue from Shana Abe's Smoke Thief was alpha, whereas many readers felt she was weaker than Kit.

    FWIW, I thought Rue was an alpha too. And I thought Maricara from Abe’s Queen of Dragons was also an alpha heroine. My favorite example of an alpha heroine in the romance genre is Melanthe from Kinsale’s For My Lady’s Heart.

  89. Janine
    May 21, 2008 @ 13:27:26

    Yes, they are rarities. I actually can only think of a handful-Rue and Maricara from Shana Abe's Drakon series, Claire from Outlander, Beau Dante and her daughter Juliet from Marsha Canham's Across a Moonlit Sea and The Iron Rose, most of Linnea Sinclair's heroines and In Death's Eve Dallas. What are some others off the top of your head???

    I agree with you about Rue and Maricara. Claire kept getting rescued by Jamie — not my idea of alpha. I liked Juliet in The Iron Rose but I would have to reread the book to see if I agree with your alpha designation. I liked Linnea Sinclair’s heroine in Games of Command very much, but I would describe her as gamma. I only read the first In Death book, and that was long ago, so I’m not sure I have a good feel for Eve, but I can believe she’s an alpha. A Nora Roberts heroine I loved and felt was alpha is her heroine from Sweet Revenge. I already mentioned Melanthe from For My Lady’s Heart. I think Gigi from Private Arrangements is an alpha. The heroine of Cheryl Sawyer’s Siren is an alpha, too. I had mixed feeling about the book for a variety of reasons but I really appreciated the heroine. If you liked The Iron Rose you might like Siren too, as it’s also about pirates (and the heroine is a pirate).

    Actually, on further reflection, I think there were a lot more heroines who were close to alpha in the romances of the early eighties. I don’t really want to turn back the clock, as those books were often full of rapes and forced seductions, but there were a lot of strong-willed heroines in those days. For example, Christine Monson’s Rangoon comes to mind. Sometimes the battles of the wills in those early eighties books got shrill, and I can see why they don’t appeal to many of today’s readers, but there were some that I really enjoyed in their day, and I do wonder why we see fewer alpha heroines now.

  90. Zeba
    May 21, 2008 @ 14:08:34

    I didn’t think the writing was good – I’m opening the book and here’s a bit in the heroine’s head: ‘Now Maman was dead in a stupid accident that should not have killed a dog.’

    Hmmm. Bourne uses a lot of imagery, but it’s actually imagery that yanks me out of the story – pawlike ivy. I’m afraid I think she is a pretty unsubtle writer and I didn’t feel for one minute that Annique was authentically French. Or a spy. I had just as much difficulty in suspending my disbelief. I finished the book and it’s close to the Da Vinci code for me in terms of total bafflement as to why so many people rate it. It’s not as badly written as the DVC, but it’s not that well-written. Not compared to Tracy Grant or Eva Ibbotson or Jenny Crusie.

  91. Janine
    May 21, 2008 @ 15:12:00

    I didn't think the writing was good – I'm opening the book and here's a bit in the heroine's head: ‘Now Maman was dead in a stupid accident that should not have killed a dog.'

    That line worked for me because even though it is a bit illogical to say that the accident should not have killed a dog, I saw that as a sign that Annique was not thinking so clearly due to her grief for her mother. I do agree that the writing wasn’t always subtle, but I did think it was often beautiful.

  92. Elle
    May 21, 2008 @ 20:12:30

    I agree with you about Rue and Maricara.

    IMO, they are both very definitely alpha (and are even called “alpha” in the text of the story.) There are echoes of Lessa (from Dragonflight) in both characters.

    Claire kept getting rescued by Jamie -’ not my idea of alpha.

    I know that I am wasting my breath since we have been around the block on this point before, but Claire is totally alpha, IMHO. You need to finish reading the book if you don’t believe that Claire is capable of rescuing Jamie. (I know that you never will finish it, but I think that you probably would change your opinion if you did.)

    I liked Juliet in The Iron Rose but I would have to reread the book to see if I agree with your alpha designation.

    Juliet was more alpha than her hero, a fact which I think made some readers uncomfortable. Her mother, Beau, was matched up with a very alpha hero, so that story is more of an alpha/alpha pairing.

    I liked Linnea Sinclair's heroine in Games of Command very much, but I would describe her as gamma.

    I will concede this point. I really like Linnea Sinclair’s books, but I confess that I am getting many of the storylines and characters scrambled in my head. Certainly her heroines tend more toward alpha and are more capable and self-reliant than the average romance heroine.

    I only read the first In Death book, and that was long ago, so I'm not sure I have a good feel for Eve, but I can believe she's an alpha.

    I definitely think so.

    A Nora Roberts heroine I loved and felt was alpha is her heroine from Sweet Revenge. I already mentioned Melanthe from For My Lady's Heart. I think Gigi from Private Arrangements is an alpha.

    I agree that Melanthe is alpha. Gigi is not such a clear cut case, but I won’t argue with you about it. She is certainly no shrinking violet.

    The heroine of Cheryl Sawyer's Siren is an alpha, too. I had mixed feeling about the book for a variety of reasons but I really appreciated the heroine. If you liked The Iron Rose you might like Siren too, as it's also about pirates (and the heroine is a pirate).

    I think that I have that book in a TBR pile. I will have to dig it out.

  93. Janine
    May 22, 2008 @ 00:37:49

    There are echoes of Lessa (from Dragonflight) in both characters.

    Yes, Rue and Maricara remind me of Lessa too, and that’s one of the highest compliments I can give.

    You need to finish reading the book if you don't believe that Claire is capable of rescuing Jamie. (I know that you never will finish it, but I think that you probably would change your opinion if you did.)

    Actually, when I misplaced my copy of Outlander, I had just reached the point where Claire was planning to rescue Jamie. I fully believed that she was capable of rescuing him, but that still didn’t make her an alpha in my eyes.

    There are plenty of heroines who would be capable of rescuing the hero, should he need rescuing, that I would still not designate as alpha. For example the heroines of McNaught’s Something Wonderful and Sandra Schwab’s The Lily Brand rescue the heroes of those books, and while I was delighted by the flipping of the gender roles in those books, I did not see them as alpha heroines.

    The term “alpha” denotes a certain toughness to me, and if I did not feel that Claire possessed it after reading 800 pages of Outlander, I don’t think the last hundred pages would have changed my mind. In any case, by the time my copy of Outlander turned up again, a long time had gone by, and I would have had to reread from the beginning to refresh my memory, and since the first 800 pages had been slow going the first time, I decided not to do so. I liked some things about the book, but I didn’t love it, and I really have to love 900-page books to stick with them through the end.

    Juliet was more alpha than her hero, a fact which I think made some readers uncomfortable.

    Yes, the hero of The Iron Rose (I have forgotten his name) was a beta hero, but that doesn’t automatically make Juliet an alpha in my mind. I think she was a borderline case, which is why I say that I’d have to reread to be certain.

    I agree that Melanthe is alpha

    Melanthe is probably the one I consider alpha-est, LOL.

    Gigi is not such a clear cut case, but I won't argue with you about it. She is certainly no shrinking violet.

    Nothing to argue about, since I agree she is more borderline.

    Re. Cheryl Sawyer’s Siren:

    I think that I have that book in a TBR pile. I will have to dig it out.

    I will be interested to hear your thoughts on it.

  94. Kat
    May 22, 2008 @ 01:45:46

    How about Lilith from Demon Angel? Whether or not she would want to save someone is another matter altogether.

    And OT: Kinsale. *sigh* I just read Flowers from the Storm. What a great storyteller she is. And For My Lady’s Heart is one of my favourite romances of all time.

  95. Robin
    May 22, 2008 @ 12:08:14

    Actually, if you read further in Fire and Ice, you will see that Jilly shoots someone too. It was one of the strongest moments in that book, for me.

    I may get there someday.

    As for Isobel and Killian, the part of the book that really bugged me was the last section where Killian is basically dragging Isobel across the desert and she has no idea where they are going. At that point he seemed much more competent and in control. Up to that point, though, and in the final pages, I felt that there was more of a give and take of power (in their past relationship and their reunion). Also, I think I got more of a sense of emotional equity between them than in some of the other books in the series — they both seemed to me damaged in similar ways. One of the reasons I stopped reading the Reno/Jilly book is that I started rolling my eyes very early at the way I felt that Jilly’s cluelessness brought out Reno’s boorishness. And I think that one of the reasons I liked Black Ice so much was that I never felt that Chloe’s ignorance came across as stupidity (at least not to me). So I accepted the differences in experience and emotional connectedness in a way I haven’t been able to since in the series, except for part of Isobel and Killian’s story.

    When I say alpha I don't mean conscienceless, or “kick ass” either. But I would love to see some heroines with a streak of ruthlessness or ambition or calculation.

    What I’m tired of, I guess, is heroines who feel to me that they’ve been crafted according to a more sentimental notion of femininity or womanhood — who won’t kill because it goes against their biological role as mothers, for example. Or heroines who refuse to be selfish because that would be unfeminine. It’s the way certain aspects of the character are connected to gender that bothers me, much more than the characteristics themselves. So I don’t mind a kind heroine or a virgin heroine, as long as those characteristics aren’t mere extensions of her “womanhood.”

    And Melanthe is definitely a class A alpha heroine. I also love Zenia from Dream Hunter, Maddy from Flowers from the Storm (and believe her to be an alpha), the Abe heroines, Nell from Crusie’s Fast Women, Francesca from Chase’s Your Scandalous Ways, Coco from Ivory’s Sleeping Beauty, etc. I think right now that fantasy and paranormals is where we’re seeing the stronger heroines, although I think that sometimes we simply get the “kickass” heroine, and not a more subtle and layered alpha heroine. Some of the Kresley Cole IAD books feature alpha heroines, though, IMO (Myst and Kaderin, especially).

  96. Robin
    May 22, 2008 @ 12:08:54

    How about Lilith from Demon Angel? Whether or not she would want to save someone is another matter altogether.

    Oh, yeah, definitely Lilith!

  97. Janine
    May 22, 2008 @ 17:46:57

    How about Lilith from Demon Angel? Whether or not she would want to save someone is another matter altogether.

    For me, she is another one that’s right on the borderline.

    And OT: Kinsale. *sigh* I just read Flowers from the Storm. What a great storyteller she is. And For My Lady's Heart is one of my favourite romances of all time.

    She has probably written more romances that I absolutely loved than any other author. I hope The Lucky One will be published eventually.

  98. Janine
    May 22, 2008 @ 18:17:23

    As for Isobel and Killian, the part of the book that really bugged me was the last section where Killian is basically dragging Isobel across the desert and she has no idea where they are going. At that point he seemed much more competent and in control. Up to that point, though, and in the final pages, I felt that there was more of a give and take of power (in their past relationship and their reunion).

    I think I started to be irritated earlier on, when Isobel did not see through Killian’s disguise and then when she allowed him to drug her (I’m referring to the drugging in the present day storyline rather than in the past).

    Also, I think I got more of a sense of emotional equity between them than in some of the other books in the series -’ they both seemed to me damaged in similar ways.

    That’s true — there was more emotional equality and that was probably one of the things that made the book a B- for me. I think I could have loved it had Isobel not kept getting outsmarted.

    One of the reasons I stopped reading the Reno/Jilly book is that I started rolling my eyes very early at the way I felt that Jilly's cluelessness brought out Reno's boorishness.

    I didn’t love that, either (Fire and Ice was a B- for me, too), but I liked the way Stuart made me feel Reno’s own youth and fear of commitment, as well as his protectiveness of Jilly.

    And I think that one of the reasons I liked Black Ice so much was that I never felt that Chloe's ignorance came across as stupidity (at least not to me). So I accepted the differences in experience and emotional connectedness in a way I haven't been able to since in the series, except for part of Isobel and Killian's story.

    I also thought that Black Ice was the best book in the Ice series. I read the rest of the series hoping for another book that good, but as is often the case with series for me, the first was the best and the most potent.

    What I'm tired of, I guess, is heroines who feel to me that they've been crafted according to a more sentimental notion of femininity or womanhood -’ who won't kill because it goes against their biological role as mothers, for example. Or heroines who refuse to be selfish because that would be unfeminine. It's the way certain aspects of the character are connected to gender that bothers me, much more than the characteristics themselves. So I don't mind a kind heroine or a virgin heroine, as long as those characteristics aren't mere extensions of her “womanhood.”

    I don’t categorically mind virgin heroines either. I think the heroines I like best are the ones who feel whole and multidimensional to me, whose behavior and choices make sense to me and seems in keeping with the rest of their personalities and backgrounds.

    I love, for example, Leda in Kinsale’s The Shadow and the Star, and I feel that her virginity is integral to that story because of the fierce way she clings to her reputation and her sense of propriety as a result of being illegitimate. That she is willing to sacrifice that reputation for Samuel in the way that she does is very telling about just how much she feels for him, and it makes for some incredibly powerful scenes.

    I think right now that fantasy and paranormals is where we're seeing the stronger heroines, although I think that sometimes we simply get the “kickass” heroine, and not a more subtle and layered alpha heroine.

    Yeah, that is true. To be honest, I don’t know if a kickass heroine that is not subtle or layered interests me much more than a more traditional heroine. Probably a little bit, but what I really long for are those layered characters.

    But I like to think that this trend toward stronger heroines in fantasy and paranormals is seeping into other subgenres as well as a result of the paranormals’ popularity, and that hopefully we’ll be seeing heroines grow stronger across the board.

  99. Janet Mullany
    May 24, 2008 @ 23:23:30

    There were things I loved about this book and other things that made me smack my head. The pacing was amazing–but at the same time I felt that ending (what seemed like but probably weren’t) many chapters with a huge, huge cliffhanger became tedious. The prose was pretty nice, but all that “the French, it is, how you say, the way we speak it” stuff drove me fairly nuts.

    Most mystifying to me was the way the book started off as being about the brave French resistance/English agents of WWII and once the characters were in London became John Le Carre.

    And the virginity thing was just silly.

  100. marywho
    May 27, 2008 @ 16:55:19

    The power differential between the two kept me from enjoying them falling in love. Every time they became closer I would think “Not yet, dammit, give her time”.
    When she travelled to England I was hopeful- thinking she would begin a life (secretivly, like a good spy) and grow up… NOPE. Then when the improbable ending began I hoped she would live with her grandfather, maybe have a season or something, he would leave her alone for a while, they would meet again, still be in love, and get married. NOPE.
    I know, the author made her decisions, but I the heroine never felt like she grew up. If that had occured I would have enjoyed the book more.

  101. Debbie
    May 28, 2008 @ 14:54:50

    For those who are upset with the apparent imbalance of skills, I think its fair to say that at the end, Annique has found a solution to the problem she’s grappling with that is not what Grey has been pushing for or expecting… so she does in some sense outwit him at the end.

  102. Hello, I’m Jane. I have a lot of reader baggage. | Dear Author: Romance Book Reviews, Author Interviews, and Commentary
    Jun 03, 2008 @ 04:01:48

    [...] you look at Janine’s review of the Spymaster’s Lady and the subsequent commenters who saw Annique as almost infantile v. the opinion of other readers [...]

  103. Books and Games
    Jun 14, 2008 @ 12:16:28

    [...] Bourne’s The Spymaster’s Lady (to mention it again: the spy thing), there’s a DNF review up at Dear Author. Since I don’t mind spoilers (too much) I read [...]

  104. mia
    Jul 02, 2008 @ 07:55:14

    I found this review late, and have to say that I liked Annique simply because she reminded me of Leonie in Heyer’s These Old Shades, so I was able to enjoy her a lot.

    What bothered me about the book was its lack of plot, its lack of authenticity, its lack of historical detail–I had been pointed to this book as being fabulously researched, etc., etc., etc. and I was expecting something more than just a poorly-plotted romance.

    I know, I should have known better, but the story was such a disappointment, just a (very) thin excuse to bring the two lovers together, a story without substance, and I’m left still looking for a more substantive love story set in this time period.

  105. When (not) to DNF a book | VacuousMinx
    Jun 12, 2011 @ 12:09:53

    [...] than happy to read DNF reviews like the ones by my DA colleagues, Janine’s in particular. Sometimes they can be more insightful than reviews of fully read books. It’s worth remembering that there are a variety of reasons [...]

  106. Miki S
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 20:59:38

    I finally got around to reading this book and kept thinking, “Did I remember it wrong? Didn’t DearAuthor love love love this book?!” It seemed to me her falling in love with Grey, and then with “Robert”, was just because she was supposed to. There wasn’t anything I saw in his actions that explained to me why she would think it was love, other than she’d been tortured in captivity and he was treating he generally well in captivity. I kept thinking…it’s Stockholm syndrome! And that scene where he forces her into the spyhouse – then takes her upstairs and baths her and has sex with just squicked me out! Other than the fact that author wrote thoughts for Annique to say she wanted it, it seemed mighty close to rape to me.

    I can’t not finish books…so I will continue with this, but I find it hard to imagine anything will redeem it for me, especially given your comments above about how she’s worse in the second half of the book.

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