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GUEST REVIEW: The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne

Reader Christine sent me this beautiful review of Joanna Bourne’s book, The Black Hawk, and I am honored to share it with the DA readership.


The novel “The Black Hawk” begins in 1818, six hundred yards from number saeven Meeks street where Justine, a former member of the French “Police Secrete,” long estranged from her former lover Adrian, now Head of British Secret Service, is hurrying to his headquarters to break their impasse and warn him of a deadly plot she has uncovered being woven around him. An assassin attacks and Justine has her first face to face meeting in years with Adrian while lying gravely wounded on the rug of the entryway. I say the novel begins in 1818 rather than the story, because as any follower of this author knows, Adrian and Justine’s story really “began” twenty two years before.

The Black Hawk Joanna BourneThe greatest danger of any novel where a supporting character becomes a standout over several books and readers clamor for their story is disappointment. When their tale is finally told it is often impossible for the book to live up to what may be years of reader anticipation and expectation. It can result in a perceived triumph (Zsadist and Bella) or a letdown (Gina and Max) by its readers.

I had followed the story of “Hawker” aka Adrian Hawkhurst, not chronologically, but in the order Joanna Bourne wrote her books. First encountering him as a wry, seasoned and flirtatious 18 year old agent during “The Spymaster’s Lady,” leaping forward nine years in time in “My Lord and Spymaster” to learn more secrets of his past, enjoying his avuncular role with the heroine and his new responsibilities as  head of section, to finally hurtle back in “The Forbidden Rose” to see him on his first mission  in 1794 as a surly thirteen year old thief and cutthroat pressed into British Service after a botched job robbing their headquarters. Hopping about in his history like Dr. Who on the Tardis, touching down in this time or that, here and there, not fully understanding the implications of a random sentence in his “future” until offered a “later” glimpse into his past. I enjoyed myself picking up pieces of his puzzle and felt clever for sussing out the clues woven by Bourne into the novels. Bits of Justine and Adrian’s history are seeded in these books, offering tantalizing glimpses of what promised to be an epic and passionate romance begun in 1794 with two very precocious thirteen year old agents working for opposing sides during the French Revolution.

My anticipation for this novel was so great that when the parcel containing the ARC arrived at my home, I clawed it open leaving shreds of envelope in my wake as I charged up the stairs, book in hand to barricade myself in my room with this Holy Grail until I had learned all the twists and turns of their story. Whenever Joanna Bourne publishes a new novel the temptation for me is to devour the book as quickly as possible, gulping it down whole in my rush to experience it. This does her work an injustice however, as books by her are like a box of fine Laduree macaroons, not cheap junk food. They should be leisurely savored as the exquisite delicacies they are, for Bourne is a master wordsmith, able to charm, excite or break a reader’s heart with the stroke of her pen.

When I settled in to read, from the first page all my fears of disappointment melted away. This is the story I was hoping to read, and even better than imagined. While the novel begins in 1818 we don’t miss a piece of Adrian and Justine’s relationship. From 1794 on, through “flashbacks” we follow the growth of their friendship and love while they act as official adversaries but frequent allies during one of the most tumultuous periods in history.

Because of their past, this romance is more wistful than Bourne’s previous works and feels more serious. In previous books the couples’ stories evolve over a matter of weeks, not years. By allowing their relationship to mature and evolve over time, their story seems the most passionate and complete. It is also the most heartbreaking as time and circumstances serve to continually separate them. This is not to say the romance is dark or depressing, for when the two are together their sheer joy in each other’s company leaps off of the page. As Adrian observes, admiring Justine “Owl, at work was bright as the edge of a diamond, hot as fire sparks. Tonight heat glowed out of her, from wanting him. He glowed right back, wanting her.” Knowing their romance jeopardizes both of their lives they still cannot help snatching stolen moments across most of Europe while in the midst of intrigues and wars that continuously put them on opposite sides.

One of the most refreshing things about Adrian and Justine how is equal they are as a couple in almost every way, including age, experience and drive. Justine and Adrian struggle to meet in the middle on so many grounds, literally and figuratively. He is bettering himself after a ragged upbringing in the toughest part of London as a cutthroat and burglar for the “King of Thieves,” while she is striving to deal with the horrific abuse done to her after knowing only a privileged childhood as an aristocrat.  He is clawing his way up from the bottom; she is struggling to survive there after a plummet from the top. Both are using their native intelligence and respective opportunities in the “game” to advance their positions in life. In so many novels the woman is the inferior to the man, trailing along in his wake and content to conform her world to his. While Justine has the misfortune to be both a woman and on the losing side of the war, she pursues her goals as ruthlessly and advances as steadily in her world as Adrian does in his. Their relationship does not culminate in her conceding or “seeing the error of her ways” as she is a true idealist for her cause, willing to sacrifice her life for a man that she sees as bringing the first sense of equality to her country. In her opinion “Napoleon was all that held France together. He was the great man of this age. He renounced the worst excesses of the Republic but kept the great gains. Because Napoleon held France, all men could vote. The Jew, the Black, the poorest peasant in the field- every one of them was French and free…The Republic had been purchased with rivers of blood. Only Napoleon could preserve it.”  So often in novels the means for keeping a couple apart seems contrived and false and the characters appear foolish as a result of letting it happen. In “The Black Hawk” it seems perfectly logical throughout the book that not only their opposite sides, but their equally strong wills would keep them from finding a way to be permanently together for so many years.

Perhaps the most touching thing about Adrian and Justine’s romance is how well they know and accept each other. Justine, emotionally scarred by her abuse has allowed it to define her in her own mind. “For some things there is no lie big enough…The knowledge of what she was lay down at night to sleep beside her. Stared at her from the mirror every morning. “I was a child whore in the most fashionable and degenerate house in Europe.” “I can escape France but I cannot escape what I am.” In Adrian she finds a kindred soul who has already come to terms with the violent life he was born into and considers any escape from the narrow confines of it a triumph. The acceptance Justine sees in his eyes helps her to work through her feelings of self loathing. “His voice poured warmth over the cold inside her. He knew what she was. Knew what she had done. There was no condemnation in him. He had done terrible things, himself.” Their love affair, rather than shameful, is seen as cleansing by Justine, a kind of rebaptism, and begins initially (and quite symbolically) in the middle of a downpour. Adrian continually thinks of himself as two people, the street thief he was born and “Sir Adrian” the persona he created over years of study and work. He makes a careful division between the friends who know him as a respectable servant of the crown and those that knew him when. Adrian allows only Justine to see a part of him he has had to repave to advance in the world. When they reconnect briefly in England in their later teens Justine asks him to speak English for the first time with her but he initially refuses as “They don’t want me speaking English.” “I don’t do it right.” He quickly relents and allows Justine to hear his tentative and imperfect new “upper class” accent.  Each is unafraid to show each other the parts they hide from the rest of the world. In lives that are led totally in deception they can be truly honest only with each other.

Throughout “The Black Hawk” Bourne provides so many scenes I had longed for as a reader, a glimpse into Adrian’s home life in England, Severine and Justine interacting in France and later after her adoption, Meeks Street under Adrian’s rule with new upstart apprentices (who do not react as Adrian did to a recycled barb of Carruthers), Doyle as older agent and advisor, and the close friendship that develops between former rivals Pax and Adrian. Chief amongst these joys is seeing Justine and Adrian together and through each other’s eyes.

At one point Justine’s observes a now adult Adrian, her lover, while hiding together. “His jacket fell open around him, pulled by the weight of the knives he carried in secret pockets inside. He slouched beside her. The gray waistcoat fitted his body as close as skin, showing a man of lean muscle. A tomcat of a man. A sleek imperturbable hunter. The strength of him, the danger, the coiled spring of unlikely possibilities that was Adrian Hawker – all contained within that elegance.”

Their mutual admiration for each other is based in a healthy appreciation for each other’s intellect and skill, and pride in each other’s accomplishments. While Adrian frequently remarks on how beautiful he finds Justine, he is just as impressed with her intelligence and tenacity. “Ten feet from the door he let himself look back. Owl had attached herself to that bastard Napoleon, playing guard. She was drawn up straight, all steel ready to shoot anybody who looked at Bonaparte cross-eyed. Clever Owl. Consummate professional. Nothing she didn’t see.” When Adrian figures out a complex riddle perplexing them both, Justine is just as appreciative of his mental acuity and tells him. “You are more than adequate.” He was her Hawker and he was brilliant. He was already pacing back and forth across the rugs. Thinking. Plotting. Muttering to himself. Had she not seen this a hundred times? She had never wanted him more. She said “I must leave. This will require preparation.” And because there was no one else to tell him this. “You have been clever. You are very, very clever.” Both Adrian and Justine are, and for a reader nothing is more enjoyable than reading a beautifully written story about two highly intelligent people.

I have tried to avoid spoilers for the plot as I feel any reader should be allowed to be carried along and experience the books twists and turns as breathlessly as I did, but I will say an underlying theme of this book is the manipulation of children and how they are used and/or abused by both sides of the conflict. This is something both Justine and Adrian feel keenly and work to prevent when they can. I don’t however, think it is a spoiler to say there is a clever twist I did not foresee, and that eventually everything ends happily, perfectly, but not in any way saccharinely. There are no big reunions between Justine and Adrian and couples of previous books. No gratuitous mentions of other characters are made; the only characters revisited are integral to the times and the plot. There are as always, a few oblique references that Bourne includes which never fail to make me feel clever when I catch them. (One very small one- Adrian is said to be very wealthy and among his holdings is a partial ownership in a shipping company. Any guesses who the other owners could be?)  

As a reader of all of Joanna Bourne’s works, with the exception of the frustratingly elusive “Her Ladyship’s Companion,” my opinion is this is the best novel she has written and destined to be a classic in the romance genre. If you have read Joanna Bourne’s work before you know what a compliment this is, and the depths she is capable of.

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Guest Reviewer


  1. Lorenda Christensen
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 05:55:39

    I enjoyed this book as well, but fair warning – there was A LOT of jumping around in time, and even though I’d read all Joanna’s books before, there were a couple of times I had to re-read sections to figure out when and where the scene was taking place.

    But again, this was a great book.

  2. Sandra
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 07:13:55

    I just finished this last night. The only word I can think of that adequately describes this book is “intense”. Joanna Bourne is a wonderful writer, and this is, easily, the best book I’ve read all year.

    I don’t really think the story jumps around. It’s told chronologically within a framework of the action taking place in 1818. There is minimal overlap with the stories told in previous books. The only exception has to do with an event that was emotionally important to Justine that occurred near the end of The Forbidden Rose.

  3. Jane
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 07:53:52

    I tend to agree with Lorenda that the story’s flashbacks often made it difficult to keep track. I would have liked it to be told chronologically with the stuff about the two as kids first and then to the current time period. One thing I never really completely understood was Justine and Hawker’s separation later in life. And why there was virtually no mention of Grey. He had retired as spymaster and had nothing to do with it anymore?

  4. Christine
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 09:05:32

    @Jane, First of all thank you for posting this it’s quite an honor!

    Regarding no mention of Grey- he had retired many years before- In “My Lord And Spymaster” which takes place seven years before “Black Hawk” he is not mentioned either.Ms. Bourne is very scrupulous about not using characters again unless they directly affect the action and have a place in the plot although she does give some nice Easter Eggs.

    According to Joanna Bourne the timeline is:

    The Forbidden Rose- 1794

    The Spymaster’s Lady — 1802

    My Lord and Spymaster — 1811

    Her Ladyship’s Companion — 1818

    Black Hawk– 1818

    (I haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy of Her Ladyship’s Companion but I gather Black Hawk takes place after this book)

  5. Jane
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 09:06:30

    @Christine Do you think you could elaborate, for me, on why there was such a prolonged separation for the two, particularly after Justine came to London?

  6. Kim
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 09:37:13

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this series, so I’m looking forward to reading The Black Hawk. I’ve been waiting for Hawker’s story since The Spymaster’s Lady, where we see him lying wounded in the jail cell and learn that a former lover was at fault.

  7. Christine
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 09:38:52

    Jane, my sense was Justine was still very angry (whether justified or not) at Adrian for quite some time. She had his knives for a reason at first, even if she would never have actually acted upon her feelings. It seemed like she never really consciously knew exactly when she had reached the point that she was past her anger or had ceased to blame him. Even if she had realised it I thought she believed things were beyond fixing that he was probably over her (she had been in England and knew he knew it). If there hadn’t been a plot against him (which gave her the excuse to actually face him) I am not sure when, if ever they may have reunited.

    As a reader we know they are “destined” to be together but looked at realistically I think this makes sense. How many people will show up at the door of an old boyfriend/girlfriend and admit unresolved feelings? Add to their situation how things ended and their history, unless someone like Severine or Doyle got involved they may not have found their way back to each other.

  8. Jeannie
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 09:41:11

    Ditto. I felt every sentiment expressed in the review. Loved Adrian from the first book and felt he stole the show in every other book. Every time I wrote fan mail to Joanna, I mentioned how much I was looking forward to his story. I was probably one of those fan girls authors love and hate. When I stalked her for the arc, I realized maybe my expectations were so high for Adrian that there was no way the story could measure up…but it exceeded my expectations.

    Though I’ve heard joanna suggests reading the books in chronological order, I actually suggest they be read in order of publication. I think of her works as a collection with an ensemble cast — not a series but a coherent body of work. The style of Forbidden Rose, with its jump back in time and its greater emphasis on secondaries, sets up The Black Hawk and it’s use of flashbacks…at least it did for me. I wonder how readers who first try Joanna Bourne with this book will react, but I think it’s her best so far. I think I’d say that even without my mad Hawker crush.

  9. Christine
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 09:45:21

    @Lorenda Christensen- there is a fair bit of jumping around. In the book I think it’s pretty understandable but if you want to piece it together with the timeline of the other books you definitely need to be up to speed on the other books. Personally, I love that and love that no matter how many times I reread her books I can discover something new in them.

    @Sandra- I agree on both points, Bourne is intense (in the best way) and for me it’s the best book of the year.

    @Kim- Adrian is one of those characters that just immediately takes hold of your imagination isn’t he? There is a scene with him in “My Lord And Spymaster” that is so simple yet heartbreaking it had me longing for his book.

  10. Jeannie
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 09:48:52

    @jane re: the long separation–I felt that both Justine and Adrian had resolved to have one of those classically tragic and maudlin “French” endings, loving and hating each other until their last breaths. :) Their last meeting was as enemies and she promises to cut his throat–something he fully believes her capable of and he wouldn’t love her as much if she wasn’t. At least that was my interpretation. Thinking of Adrian watching her bookstore with longing….sigh…and so French.

  11. Frannie
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 09:52:36

    I’m halfway through the book, and loving it every bit as much as the previous ones. I’m not finding the flashbacks bothersome, although I often find them annoying in other authors’ works. Adrian has been a charming and compelling character throughout the series but whether I’ll think this book the best of them remains to be seen – so far my favourite is My Lord and Spymaster. Thank you,though, for this thoughtful and beautifully written review.

  12. Christine
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 09:59:44

    Frannie said “so far my favourite is My Lord and Spymaster.”

    @Frannie- I am so happy you said that! Of all her books that has always been my favorite even though overall it is probably the least loved of her works. I’m glad I am not the only fan of that book- I love Jess and Sebastian and the parts with Adrian are some of his best and most telling scenes. That staircase scene with him and Jess is probably one of the sweetest scenes ever written despite not being about “romantic” love.

    It’s very interesting and unusual to see a main character outside of their role as romantic lead. We get to see Adrian and Doyle this way in a few books and gives such a complete picture of what these two men are really like.

  13. Christine
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 10:04:31

    Jeannie said ” I was probably one of those fan girls authors love and hate. When I stalked her for the arc, I realized maybe my expectations were so high for Adrian that there was no way the story could measure up…but it exceeded my expectations.”

    @Jeannie- That was my fear also- that I had built this book up so much there was no way the story could surprise me or live up to those expectations. I was very happily proven wrong. I am also afraid of coming across as a crazy fan girl- there are so few authors I truly respect that much.I think Joanna Bourne is one of those authors you can hand to someone who had negative feelings about the romance genre and say “Here- tell me this is not excellent writing.”

  14. Christine M.
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 10:05:46

    Reading the comments I feel I must ask…. do they get their HEA?

  15. dick
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 10:13:36

    A remarkable book, my only caveat being that I thought the character of Justine mimicked to a great extent the character of Annique, especially in the patterns of speech in the dialogue, and somewhat in the states of mind and expressions of will. I, too, thought the jumping around in time was excessive, mainly because I don’t much care for flashbacks, but I soon became OK with it. I, too, though their avoiding each other once Justine reached London was very human; deep feelings create the deepest uncertainty. Whether this or “The Spymaster’s Lady” qualifies as the best in the series is still up in the air for me, perhaps because I had already experienced in the earlier book the freshness of Bourne’s writing and was prepared for it in this last one.

  16. Christine
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 10:14:35

    @Christine M. Yes! They do! Joanna Bourne is first and foremost a historical romance author. There are no curve balls in that way. All her couples get their happy endings.

  17. dick
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 10:18:43

    I don’t know how the double post occurred and I don’t know how to delete one or the other. Sorry.

  18. Jane A
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 10:28:43

    Great review for a great book! I inhaled it and now feel the need to go back and read the whole series again. I normally dislike flashbacks, but here they didn’t bother me and indeed felt very seamlessly integrated into the story.

    I read voraciously, and this book brings home to me how many books are just placeholders while I wait for the truly great ones.

  19. Ridley
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 10:53:43

    That is one terrible cover.

  20. Christine M.
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 11:16:22

    @dick: Well the speech pattern should be a surprise since they’re both French and I remember Annique feeling very ‘French’ in her speech pattern despite the text being in English (I’m a native French speaker). So I would actually expect this, especially since at the time the studies on translation, ESL and interpretation mustn’t have been common. It feels logical to me that someone from that time who’s learned a second language would keep strong patterns of their native tongue and simply replace French words for English words when they speak. Baudelaire went a little deeper than that when he translated EA Poe (aka his translation didn’t read as English transposed into French), but he was a writer and he spent almost 20 years translating Poe’s work so that has to count somewhere.

    So yeah. Sorry for veering slightly OT.

  21. Christine M.
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 11:22:03

    @Christine M.: @Christine M.: Gah. *shoud NOT be a surprise (…). Sorry for that.

  22. Christine
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 11:38:29

    Dick said ‘I thought the character of Justine mimicked to a great extent the character of Annique, especially in the patterns of speech in the dialogue, and somewhat in the states of mind and expressions of will.”

    @Dick- I agree about the speech patterns- Bourne does a great job of making the characters sound French without falling into cliches (Mon Dieu! etc) I disagree a bit about the states of mind and expressions of will. To me Justine is a much harder edged character which shows in her thoughts and speech- Bourne has compared her to a diamond which seems very apt. Annique while articulate and strong willed had a much softer edge. It’s pointed out often in “Spymaster’s Lady” that Annique really couldn’t bring herself to kill anyone even if they probably needed it. Justine is almost eager to kill and get her revenge at first. Justine is also far more vocal about getting her way and has a way of “dressing down” people with her speech. Her aristocratic roots definitely show. Annique is less confrontational- IMHO.

    @Christine M- It’s so interesting to hear a review from a native French speaker! How would you rate Bourne’s job of writing as a French woman? To me it sounds very authentic however my French is very poor and I am really no fit linguistic judge.

  23. Sandra
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 11:42:42

    @dick: About the speech patterns… you have to remember, too, that Lucille was a great influence to both Annique and Justine. They probably both picked up not only speech patterns but modeled other aspects of their lives and personalities on her. Justine, in particular, seemed to consider what “Madame” would do in various circumstances.

  24. Christine M.
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 11:47:52

    @Christine: I only ever read Annique’s book (and that wa s afew years ago) but I remember that I enjoyed how her English felt distinct from the other protags and that it was easy for me to ‘see’ how this could easily be any French speaker who’s never *studied* English patterns/syntax/etc. (I have several books on compared stylistics that I bought while I was studying). Floriant Bellanger (Cupcake Wars on telly) comes to mind as a good example. He doesn’t use English patterns. Same goes for many French personnalities who speak ‘French’ through their English. Does that make any sense?

  25. Christine
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 12:09:04

    @Christine M- who said ‘He doesn’t use English patterns. Same goes for many French personnalities who speak ‘French’ through their English. Does that make any sense?”

    Yes- perfectly. Not to go too far off topic but there is a great book called “The Story of English” which was also a TV series on PBS in the US back in the 1980’s. It went into a lot of speech patterns that were brought into English from other languages.

  26. Na
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 12:11:21

    Very soon I am about to read my first Joanne Bourne books (not this one) and I’m excited as I’ve heard so much about her historical romances. All great things.

  27. dick
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 12:51:43

    @Christine M: But the book suggests that both H/h sounded like “native speakers,” when they used second languages. In fact, the hero has supposedly got an overlay of a provincial dialect. Further, my experience with non-native speakers is that even though there are similar elements in the patterns when they speak a second language, those patterns differ from individual to individual. And the similarity between Annique’s and Justine’s speech patterns occurred in internal musings when I think it’s a pretty good assumption that she was thinking in her native language.

  28. Christine M.
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 12:55:37

    @Christine: I very highly recommend Comparative Stylistics of French and English: A Methodology for Translation (Benjamins Translation Library) by Jean-Paul Vinay (sometimes spelled Viney for unknown reasons) and Jean Darbelnet, ISBN 9781556196928. This is as good as it gets and it was written in 1958. :)

  29. dick
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 13:15:39

    @ChristineM: I agree to some of what you wrote; Justine is a more hardened character than Annique, with good reason. But I also think that she reacted to setbacks, to problems, in much the same way that Annique did.

    Example: p. 26, TSL: inner thought: “Feel safe in the darkness, Annique. You must do that.”

    p. 68, TBH: inner thought: “I will not let fear control me. If I do, I will become nothing. I will not do that.”

  30. Meri
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 13:18:00

    I finished The Black Hawk today and I’m sorry to say that I was expecting to love it and ended up admiring the craft but not loving the book. Expectations too high, maybe? Bourne has set the bar very high for herself, for sure.

    For me, Adrian and Justine both were so compelling in the previous books, and they have such a complex relationship – but here it seemed like their story often took a backseat to the spying and the mystery and the intrigue. And I get that that’s a big part of who they are, but it’s not all they are. They’ve been through a lot, together and separately, and had been apart for many years as adults. I wanted more about the relationship in the present and not just in the past; more of them interacting and not everyone running around hunting spies and traitors; more of how the past affected them and less of the actual past (interesting as some of it was, Paxton’s role especially).

  31. Christine M.
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 13:22:54

    @dick: If she’s supposed to sound like a native then you’re absolutely right, Justine shouldn’t sound like Annique. My bad. :)

    Also the spelling Annique bugs me so much when it’s supposed to be Annick.

  32. Christine M.
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 13:28:50

    @dick: Not sure if this was a typo, but there are two Christine’s in this thread right now: the reviewer (Christine) and myself (ChristineM). :)

  33. Meri
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 14:10:20

    @Christine M.:

    Bourne explained her decision to use Annique rather than Annick in this blog post –

  34. Christine
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 14:47:00

    @Meri- who said “I wanted more about the relationship in the present and not just in the past; more of them interacting and not everyone running around hunting spies and traitors; more of how the past affected them and less of the actual past”

    So much of this book was dictated by mentions made by Bourne in other books of events that had happened but the author had not yet written. Joanna Bourne has said that she was afraid she had painted herself into a corner at times. For me it worked- but every novel is such a personal experience and everyone’s expectations are different.

    One thing I do emjoy is more time with a couple once they have achieved their happy ending which is why I am always glad to have a mention in a subsequent book of a previous couple. After “The Forbidden Rose” came out I went back to reread the few bits with Maggie and Doyle in “Spymaster’s Lady” that take place in the “future”(even though it was written first) of them as a long married couple. I am hoping we see more of Justine and Adrian in the next book Ms. Bourne is writing which is Pax’s story.

  35. Christine
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 14:51:48

    @dick- I understand your point about the internal monologues that Justine and Annique share but to me it’s the writer’s style of conveying how someone’s thoughts would appear written out. If they both referred to themselves mentally by name as Annique does I would agree more.

    If I had to write out “the voice in my head” when I am trying to convince myself of something or get my courage together it might sound like that too.

  36. Christine M.
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 17:20:52

    @Meri: thanks for the link. Unfortunately, I seriously think Ms Bourne’s information is wrong. This was the first and only time I ever saw Annick spelled with a QUE finale. The only names that I know of that have a variant CK-QUE are UNISEX names (such as Dominic/ck/que and Frederic/ck/que) whereas the QUE finale is used for girls. Annick being a female-only first name, it makes no sense whatsoever that there would be a QUE final to distinguish it from its male counterpart.

    Ms Bourone is also wrong is stating that Annique/ck would be a diminutive of Anne, or Annie (and Annie’s no diminutive of Anne either, for that matter). Unless things have changed drastically in the last 200 years or so, that is.

  37. Annie
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 18:07:27

    Christine, I know you from Jo’s blog. This is just a wonderful review that does justice to everything we fans love about Jo’s novels. I’m similarly obsessed. I want to meet everyone in person so that we can have one of those conversations peppered with “didn’t you just love…?” and “were you prepared for . . .?” and “wasn’t it perfect when Hawker said . . .?” and “do you think that little chit is being groomed for her own novel?” and on and on. Kind of like when you discover someone else loves Preston Sturges movies or Dickens novels. (I often think of Dickens when I read Jo’s books.)

    It’s implied at the end of TSL that Grey is going to retire from the service. However, Jo blogged about that once and said that Grey didn’t after all, so it’s possible they’re still in the Game when BH takes place. Blogger for mysterious reasons took down some fascinating spreadsheets she posted with historical events matched up with the timelines of the novels. You find out a lot of stuff about what the characters off stage are doing. She’s working on getting those back up for the obsessed among us.

    I am in the minority in thinking that Justine and Annique have distinct voices, even though Jo gives each a French accent, as it were. For me, Annique comes across as whimsical and charming in her speech and when we’re in her point of view. Justine sounds hard — her humor is often hurtful and sarcastic. The care-free juggler as opposed to the stubburn maker of potions. Not that Annique’s not determined as heck, of course.

    I’d have a hard time picking a favorite of Jo’s books, especially now that I’ve got my head full of BH. But I do love me some Maggie and Doyle. Doyle and Adrian both have special places in my heart.

  38. Deborah
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 20:25:12

    I believe that Grey and Annique have gone back into France as independent agents, with their son, by the time of MLAS.
    I loved this book,in so many ways. I had to go back and reread it as soon as I finished it. While I am not a flashback fan, I found that in this book it really worked–and a big reason was that we could see the parts of Adrian and Justine’s relationship that was strong before any sexual attraction heated up between them. I love how he let her lead an operation she dreamed up even though he knew he had more experience and then helped her execute it right; and I really loved the scene where he comforts her–and sits one step up so that she will feel like he’s bigger (more adult?) when he isn’t, yet. He’s so perceptive of her feelings and admiring of her, and she of him, long before they fall in love that it made it totally convincing when they do.
    But I really wish she had shown us more of what happened after Adrian gets shot before the end of the war. Thats a long time–12 years–and while we know they didn’t see eachother often, we also know that when they did it was “interesting”. (I think that’s the word.) I also wonder if we are meant to believe that Hawker, who is such a great admirer of women, remained physically faithful even during that long period where, apparently ,they were no longer lovers. Its completely clear that emotionally he was faithful…but there is that reference to how he has kissed beautifulwomen over the years, and its hard to believe they were all before he turned 16!

  39. Annie
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 21:14:13

    It makes me sad to think of Hawker celibate for 12 years in his prime. Also, too, not buying it.

  40. Christine
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 23:11:06

    @Annie, thanks so much for your kind words. I was so thrilled to be able to read this novel early as I cannot remember anticipating one more than Black Hawk. Joanna Bourne has such a wonderful blog and is so generous with her experience, time and advice. Like you I really adore knowing all the minutiae that makes up a novel I admire. I want to read every extra page that was chopped for length. The beauty of her books is that there is nothing throwaway, everyone has a reason for everything they do even if it doesn’t make it into the final copy. It’s always wonderful to speak with other people (even if it’s not in person) and hash out ideas and theories. It’s just one reason I’m so thrilled and honored Jane posted my review. I’ve been busting to discuss this book since the night I burned through it.

    I like your notion of Annique as the carefree juggler, I always picture her like that, self contented and gypsy like. Justine is rapier sharp in wits as well as purpose. I could never picture her gamboling about -she is all cool control. Severine and Adrian seem to be her only soft spots.

    I think my favorite book of Ms. Bourne’s changes depending on which I am rereading but I have a soft spot for MLAS.

  41. Christine
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 23:21:45

    @Deborah- Justine and Adrian are such interesting characters and their relationship has so many touching moments. It’s impossible to imagine concocting a more perfect match for “Hawker” than “owl”. I had a hard time choosing quotes for my review- there were so many wonderful moments to choose from.

    I’d also love to have a glimpse into those 12 years. We know Adrian was in Russia for a good part of them being Hurst the butler and helping to raise Jess.

    @Deborah and @Annie- as for Adrian and the other women, that’s a part of the 12 years I could do without even though I know rationally it surely “happened”.

  42. Luna
    Nov 04, 2011 @ 05:39:16

    I love Joanna Bourne, but would never have picked up any of her books based on the cover art. When is she going to get the artist her stories deserve? Someone, please, hit her publishers over the head with a cosh to make them think outside the stereotypical box of a hero looking like a gay mannequin wearing Seinfeld’s puffy shirt and a halloween cape. Oh, the horror, poor Adrian!

  43. Mandi
    Nov 04, 2011 @ 07:07:35

    Great review Christine! I adored this book!! It lived up to my great expectations.

    My only little niggle is that I wish we had had more time with them in current day. But this is still an A read for me :)

  44. Annie
    Nov 04, 2011 @ 07:26:29

    Luna, *g*, I feel the same way about the covers. They’re off-putting and probably prevent her books from having a more diverse audience. BH may be the worst — a pumped up Hawker with the subtlety of a frat boy? One of the many things I love about his character is that he doesn’t have the generic hero body-type.

    Christine, I was also fortunate enough to get an ARC that I read in a night. I’ve been bugging Jo for Adrian ever since the prison scene in TSL, and I still can’t wrap my head around her thinking of him exclusively as a secondary character. Fortunately, he was having none of that as his breaking into all 5 of her novels shows.

    Like you, I’ve been dying to talk to people, as no one in my circle reads historical romance. I hadn’t read one for maybe 20 years, and Jo’s books are the ones that brought me back to the genre. Your review has been a magnet for the obsessed — of course, I mean that in the best possible way. I wrote a couple of short reviews for B&N and Amazon — highlighting different aspects of her writing in each one and trying to keep them light and fairly short while also giving a sense of the language. I’ve never written a review for either of those sites — I think my original drafts were c. 1,000 words.

    Speaking of language, I’ve enjoyed seeing the small changes that Jo made between the ARC and the mass market edition.I feel as though I am receiving another of her brilliant writing tutorials.

  45. Christine
    Nov 04, 2011 @ 08:30:25

    @Ridley, Luna and Annie- I don’t think most of Joanna Bourne’s books have ever been served well by their covers- with the exception of Forbidden Rose and the revamped cover for Spymaster’s Lady.

    Remember the original Spymaster’s Lady cover with whom we can only assume was Grey flashing his chest to everyone? Hilarious and as un-Grey like as one could imagine. I never would have read that book based on its cover. Thank goodness for online reviews!

    Even one of the earlier titles is off- I love My Lord And Spymaster but the hero Sebastian is neither a Lord nor a Spymaster.I believe the publishers wanted it to tie into Spymaster’s Lady.

    I do think there still must a large amount of the romance reading population that buys their books based on old school style shirtless men on the cover or publishers would not continue to use them. I can only assume their marketing departments know what they are doing. At least the cover suggests 18th century France and “Adrian” has the right hair color. Physically they could not have gotten him more wrong.

    @Mandi- Thank you, it’s so nice to hear comments from other readers who enjoyed this as much as I did.

    @Annie- I bought Black Hawk for my Kindle as well but haven’t read this published version yet- really looking forward to seeing if I pick up on any differences.

  46. dick
    Nov 04, 2011 @ 10:59:42

    @Christine & Christine M.: I even cautioned myself at the time not to mix you two up. Sorry.

    @Those worried about Hawker’s fidelity during the 12 year hiatus:

    I always get a bit incensed when it’s automatically assumed that males, even those who “love” women,” cannot be faithful. That Hawker has kissed many beautiful women can surely be taken at the face value of the words. After all, the author’s words don’t imply that something more than a kiss occurred.

  47. Christine
    Nov 04, 2011 @ 11:34:22

    @Dick- no worries on the mix up of names it was almost inevitable with both of us posting back to back.

    You said “I always get a bit incensed when it’s automatically assumed that males, even those who “love” women,” cannot be faithful. That Hawker has kissed many beautiful women can surely be taken at the face value of the words. After all, the author’s words don’t imply that something more than a kiss occurred.”

    I personally wasn’t doubting Adrian could be faithful. I was only being fair to him- not only did he and Justine “break up” (if that is what you can call it precisely) but she vowed to kill him and certainly seemed serious for a matter of years. He certainly couldn’t be blamed for seeing other women (sometime over the course of 12 years) even if Justine was still in his thoughts and heart. I just don’t want to know the specifics.

    It is also mentioned he had quite a reputation with the ladies (and we know he was supposed to be faithful while with Justine) so did he acquire a reputation that lasted decades all while he was only 13-16 years old? That’s what everyone is trying to figure out.

  48. Annie
    Nov 04, 2011 @ 18:56:10

    For me, it’s not about Adrian being faithful to Justine, which as Christine points out has been rendered a semantic impossibility. His affection for women is one thing that gives him access to his softer side, and I don’t want him to lose that *and* Justine for 12 years. I imagine him finding comfort with another lonely soul — maybe even falling a little in love with her, as he did with Annique. I don’t want him to break her heart, though, so she’d also have to be carrying a torch. Otherwise, how could she resist falling in love with him? It would also make me happy for Justine to experience warmth with another man, but her history makes it unlikely.

    @Christine, I do kind of want to know the specifics, because it makes me less sad for Adrian. And for some reason, it doesn’t interfere with my joy in his HEA with Justine.

  49. swati
    Nov 04, 2011 @ 20:56:26

    As soon as i got my hands on it, I found myself a do-not-disturb-me corner and got down to reading the book.

    What a massive disappointment. I think everyone who loves Bourne’s work had been waiting for Adrian’s story. Except this doesn’t feel like Adrian’s story. He hardly gets anything to say. We see none of the wit, the sarcasm we are used to in the previous books. justine of course mentions his rapier wit many times, but we don’t get to see it.

    And worse, we don’t get to go inside Adrian’s head. It is so frustrating! The book is almost all about what justine is feeling/thinking/doing. She is fantastic but damn it! i want to read about Adrian. The book is overwhelmingly from Justine’s point of view.

    Also, did anyone notice something different about Bourne’s style this time around ? The entire book is in abrupt sentences, declarations. I can’t seem to describe it better but i was searching for complete sentences.

    For me this was the most disappointing book of the year after the Meredith Duran earlier. Maybe it is a case of sky high expectations. Its just that i have been wanting to read Adrian since years and this was so unsatisfactory.

  50. Meoskop
    Nov 04, 2011 @ 21:27:23

    @swati I knew there would be someone who felt that way. I loved Black Hawk, it is my book of the year, but I also missed Hawker. I wished the book came as a two volume set because there is nothing about it I would change, and yet I also wanted a completely different book. The problem of having two such compelling characters.

  51. swati
    Nov 04, 2011 @ 22:31:36

    @Meoskop: exactly, its not that justine is a bad heroine. In fact she is excellent. But i missed Adrian and since i knew Adrian from before, i wanted to know more of him. His childhood is very briefly mentioned, a lot is still left to speculation, we don’t get to read about any of his equation with the whitbys. Nothing. There is just so less of him.

  52. Christine
    Nov 04, 2011 @ 23:28:10

    @Swati while I disagree with you about the language in Black Hawk- for me it was classic Bourne and I didn’t notice any choppiness- you raise a very interesting point. For so many people this was “Adrian’s book”. He is the character the readers have known the longest and has had the most time devoted to when you add up his presence in all the books. However in all of Ms. Bourne’s works the story, from beginning to end has been the heroine’s arc and her journey. Every book begins from the heroine’s point of view including Black Hawk. While the hero always receives a significant amount of time and POV time it’s technically the heroine’s book. Even on Joanna Bourne’s blog she referred to each yet unnamed book as she wrote it by the name of the heroine “Maggies book” or “Justine” in this case. Even when the title referred to the man such as My Lord And Spymaster or The Black Hawk it was still about the heroine’s journey.

    It’s obvious that so many readers were just captivated by Adrian that they felt this was his book and it would/should be driven entirely by him.

    I also would have loved to see Adrian interact with Jess, Sebastian and Josiah again. I could read a whole book just about his time with Lazarus as hand (I find that whole world fascinating).

    @Meoskop- I could easily have devoured a two volume set. I think it’s a testament to Bourne’s writing and the creation of such a scintillating character that there doesn’t ever seem to be enough Adrian despite having appeared in every novel she has written.

  53. swati
    Nov 05, 2011 @ 00:51:56

    @Christine: Here is just something from a single chapter:
    She was sourly afraid. Sick with it.
    She was young. Thirteen.
    They’d heard something. She swallowed. Gathered herself to fight.
    My fault. Everything. My fault.
    So it was not discovery. Not disaster. Not yet.

    There are a lot more examples. Too many full stops and not enough conjunctions. usually, this technique is used when you want to emphasize something but she uses it so many times that it loses value. To me the sentences felt very abrupt.

    About the adrian/ justine focus, its very interesting that you mention that this is Bourne’s usual technique. i never noticed it before but it begs the question- should an author stick to their original vision or change it to give the fans what they want especially when a character has taken a life of its own. I don’t think the author ever thought that Adrian would become so popular, no author can predict that but do you still go with your original idea? I have to say yes becuase whenever authors try to pander to reader wishes, they make a hash out of it. So its great that she stuck to what she had envisioned but sadly, it doesn’t help in making me any less disappointed :)

  54. Review: The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne | Smexy Books
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  55. Annie
    Nov 05, 2011 @ 08:35:36

    @Swati, I’m going to have to reread the book with your criticisms in mind. For me, this was very much Adrian’s book, though Christine is right that Bourne’s novels are typically predominantly written from the woman’s point of view. You may be correct that Justine’s journey is in some ways more dramatic than Adrian’s insofar as she is unwilling to risk her heart even with him. But she suffered the most unimaginable abuse at the hands of men, whereas we’ve known for years that Adrian’s experiences with women have been perhaps the only humanizing element of his early youth. Adrian’s journey is of a different kind — from the assassin of his extreme youth to the more empathic (that’s not quite the right word) but still ruthless man.

    Possibly the reason I didn’t object to this (or even didn’t notice) is that Justine’s point of view is my point of view in a way. I’ve been watching and listening to Adrian since the prison scene in TSL. But I’m still not convinced Justine’s point of view predominates. The book opens with Justine, but otherwise we almost never see her without Adrian. Notable exceptions are the scenes with Severine. In contrast, Adrian has many scenes without Justine even in the flashbacks. He is also almost always the subject of the scenes in which he doesn’t appear — notably, those between Doyle and Pax, for example. I liked seeing how their views of him had evolved over the years. That contrasts with Annique who is at the center of everyone’s thoughts even when she’s off stage.

    And in the penultimate and crucial scene, we’re almost entirely in Adrian’s head, which again contrasts with the TSL. Also, he sets up that scene, whereas Annique is the one who initiates the final confrontation. He’s the one with a mission in this book, which again contrasts with the women in the earlier novels. I felt it was in this scene that Adrian and the reader, as well, fully understand how dramatic his transformation is. At one point, everyone defers to him, and he thinks something to the effect “I guess they’re expecting the head of section to finish this.” I heard an almost surprised tone there, as if it finally hit him how far he’d come. I don’t recall our ever going into Grey’s point of view in the final scene with Sollier (sp?). The very last scene is also from Adrian’s point of view; again, this contrasts with the last scene in TSL.

  56. Annie
    Nov 05, 2011 @ 09:00:09

    One more thing — with respect to Adrian, the novel is bookmarked by the scene in which he challenges Carruthers and the final confrontation. I see his journey as one from that brilliant but unproven boy whom everyone rightly mistrusts to the man on whom everyone can and does rely. (I’m sorry to go on so long — I am obsessed with this novel.)

  57. Christine
    Nov 05, 2011 @ 09:05:04

    @Swati- regarding the quotes you mentioned, I know without checking exactly what part of the book they are from. It’s one of the most tense parts with a 13 year old Justine terrified and in charge of so many lives for the first time. I think these short bursts work because for me it sound like “heartbeat heartbeat”. They emphasize the almost paralyzing fear Justine is fighting through. It reminded me of the beginning of Forbidden Rose where Maggie sees the pulse of the rabbit beating “terror terror”. As I said before I can’t say I noticed this through the book but now that you mention it I’ll be looking to see if I notice it on a reread.

    I agree that an author should not try to change their way of writing just to please readers because of one character, particularly when they have such a unique and distinctive style. I’m sorry to hear the book didn’t work for you. One of my biggest fears was that my expectations were too high but I ended up loving it. I should also say that I am someone who likes reading from the female point of view so maybe that made me more predisposed to enjoy a Justine centric book more.
    That being said I agree that there can never be enough Adrian. Even If he showed up as a supporting character in every new book Bourne writes I couldn’t imagine him getting stale. There is still so much of his life that hasn’t been written about.

    @Annie-before we met Justine in Forbidden Rose I would have thought of it as “Adrian’s book” but after that it became “their book” in my mind. Spymaster’s Lady is the only book that I think of as just one person’s “Annique’s book”. All the others I think of as the couples’s books. Forbidden Rose in particular seems very equal between Maggie and Doyle time and point of view.

  58. Kim
    Nov 05, 2011 @ 10:50:12

    I hit Target and WalMart and neither is carrying The Black Hawk. That’s happened quite a bit this year with mid-list authors. I’ll have to try BN.

    As for whether an author should change her characters/plot to appease the reader, then I have to vote no. When an author does this, she may be alienating some readers who liked the original concept. Two different authors changed the love interest in a series I was reading based on what “most” readers wanted. I happened to like the original love pairings, so I discontinued reading the series. Writers can never please everyone, so it’s a no-win situation for them.

  59. Annie
    Nov 05, 2011 @ 14:29:31

    @Christine, I mainly agree with you that BH is Justine’s story as well as Adrian’s. In making the point that I don’t see Adrian’s point of view getting short shrift, I went a bit overboard. That said, I still think the novel is more from his point of view than Justine’s.

    As to their journeys, among the many things this book is about is the question of identity. Can Justine be a DeCabrillac and a DuMotier or was the former irrevocably lost in the brothel? Must Adrian leave behind Hawker to become Hawkhurst? It’s interesting that both stop being children when they enter a brothel, though arguably Adrian stops being a child when he leaves the brothel and is “recruited” by Lazarus.

    FR is definitely both Maggie’s and Doyle’s story.

    @Kim, I agree that it’s a very bad idea for an author to try to their their style to please an audience. No good can come of it.

  60. Sara
    Nov 05, 2011 @ 18:20:59

    Her Ladyship’s Companion was my very first romance novel and got me started on the whole genre. I’ve loved all of Bourne’s books ever since and I’m so glad to hear that this one is so strong.

  61. Christine
    Nov 05, 2011 @ 18:50:35

    @Kim- good luck in your search for Black Hawk, B&N is sure to have it and if there are a few paperbacks you are interested I saw Black Hawk is part of Amazon’s “buy 3 get the 4th free” deal they are having.

    I’m curious about the two different authors that switched midstream on the love interests. I know there was an uproar a couple of years back when Suzanne Brockmann did something like that but I had fallen out of the series by that point.

    I think we are all in agreement so far that an author needs to be true to themselves and their style. I don’t however subscribe to the belief of “the characters made me write it” excuse when an author does something completely out of left field.

    @Annie, I agree that Adrian’s point of view was well represented in Black Hawk and he definitely got more POV time than Grey. I thought the novel was evenly split between him and Justine. Isn’t it funny how three different readers can see the same novel in three totally different ways in this matter?

    Identity is a theme in Black Hawk, and all of Ms. Bourne’s novels. Are you who you are born or who you make yourself, or somewhere in between? I loved the scene where Adrian told Justine to get out of France and become someone else if she wanted (much like he does) and she explained why she wouldn’t. It was wonderful for me as a reader because Adrian was asking the questions I wanted to and getting into Justine’s head in a way we hadn’t seen before.

    @Sara- I’m very envious of your having read Her Ladyship’s Companion. How do you find the first version of Adrian holds up to his later appearances? You can truly say you were a fan from the beginning!

  62. Annie
    Nov 06, 2011 @ 06:54:45

    @Sara, what a great place to start with the genre! I’m curious to hear what you think about Adrian, too. I read HLC after the first 3 of her spy novels, and I think the Adrian of Jo’s gothic is remarkably like our Adrian. I can understand why Jo was reluctant to write Hawker’s story — she had boxed herself in with respect to the timeline. Jo is somewhat dismissive of the writing in HLC, but I think it’s delightful.

    @Christine. I love that scene — how Adrian frames it, Justine’s answer, and how it shows that even when they first meet they reveal things to each other that they wouldn’t tell anyone else — that’s especially true for Adrian, since Justine is more candid with Madame than I could imagine Adrian being with Doyle or anyone else.

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  64. Malin
    Nov 07, 2011 @ 11:41:45

    I just finished the book a few moments ago (and then read this whole thread) and can say without a shadow of a doubt that it’s my favourite Joanna Bourne. I was tempted to call in sick to work today, so I’d have more time to read it.

    It surpassed all my expectations, and having adored Adrian since first encountering him in The Spymaster’s Lady, it was wonderful to finally get his whole story, and to see that Justine was so perfectly his match. I loved that they’ve both had such horrible childhoods, but rise above them and find such solace in each other. Such a wonderful read.

  65. Christine
    Nov 07, 2011 @ 13:01:00

    @Malin- I agree 100% that Justine is Adrian’s perfect match. For me that is one true test if a novel gets it right- if I cannot imagine the hero/heroine being with anyone more perfect. In so many novels there is attraction between the parties but not necessarily a strong friendship or a lot of common ground. Joanna Bourne is an expert at creating the perfect matches. Not necessarily perfect people but ones who are perfect for each other.

  66. JenMcQ
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 04:56:51

    I devoured this in two sittings, the first a plane ride to Vegas, the other the flight back. I literally touched down with 5 pages left to go and snarled at the stewardess who insisted I turn my Nook off, then opened it again to finish for the taxi to the terminal. It was that good.

    Such a beautiful book. I know I will have to re-read it. I could not stop myself from plunging on ahead and thus got all mixed up on the plot a few times. And it is a very complicated plot, made more so by the time jumps. But good God, I cannot wait to read it again.

    It is the prose. Ms. Bourne’s prose is just…. gah! I cannot relegate this to my Nook archives, and know I will have to buy it in all its glorious pages and slide it home on my keeper shelf.

  67. Christine
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 08:15:08

    @JenMcQ- Isn’t it wonderful when you find a book that consumes you like that? So many books I read are fine- there’s not a lot wrong with them- but only a handful want to make you grab the book and immediately read it again. I love it when I can’t stop thinking about what I have just read.

  68. Wendy
    Nov 17, 2011 @ 11:25:22

    I read the Amazon preview after reading this review, but could not buy it right away. This week, I FINALLY got to read it. I’m now sitting and making myself not read anything else for a while to digest this. Intense was the word, but I have so much love for this book.
    I’ve only been reading romance for a little while. I’ve been enjoying it, but (for the most part) not finding myself sucked into characters like I have been in fantasy and “literary” fiction. This book just launched itself into my list of favorites, regardless of genre. Yum.

  69. Christine
    Nov 17, 2011 @ 11:59:57

    @Wendy- I’m glad to hear you are loving Black Hawk. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say that Joanna Bourne is the author that “converted” them into romance readers. Please post your thoughts on the novel after you have finished.

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