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REVIEW: The Forbidden Rose by Joanna Bourne

The Forbidden Rose by Joaanna BourneDear Ms. Bourne:

This was such a hard review to write and not for the same reason I struggled with The Spymaster’s Lady. The Spymaster’s Lady was more No Way Out and there were a lot of secrets and surprises that I didn’t want to give away. The Forbidden Rose is has more of a Mission Impossible feel relying less on secrets and more on suspense to keep the story moving. No, the reason I struggled writing this particular review is because I felt like my reaction to it was influenced by my reading of and love for The Spymaster’s Lady.

Those who have read The Spymaster’s Lady know that William Doyle, one of the greatest British field agents married a French aristocrat named Maggie. The Forbidden Rose is their love story. Set approximately five or six years before The Spymaster’s Lady, readers are introduced to Marguerite de Fleurignac. Marguerite is one of the leaders of La Fleche, a group of French men and women dedicated to saving people from the guillotine. Robespierre’s Reign of Terror had been going for approximately five years and while history places this at the end of the Reign, the participants in the book are in its full grip..

William Doyle was sent to find Marguerite’s father who is suspected of providing names of key British people to the French. The men on the list are slated for assassignation. Find the father. Get the names. Those are Doyle’s orders. The father cannot be found, but Marguerite is easily located at the family chateau in the country, particularly after said chateau is burned to the ground and Marguerite is chased into the countryside. Marguerite presumes this is because someone has found out that she is part of La Fleche and when she is helped by William Doyle aka Guillaume LeBreton, she decides to travel with him and his young manservant, Adrian Hawker.

Marguerite is convinced that La Fleche has been totally compromised and is trying to find spread the word to the operatives to disband. Doyle plans to follow Marguerite believing she will lead him to her father.

Marguerite was a cipher for me. I never understood why she had involved herself in the movement of saving the aristos. She thinks of them in quite disdainful terms and without much affection. I’m not sure if she was supposed to be a casual anarchist, lover of no government, but her allegiance wasn’t to France. She was presented as a woman of strong convictions due to her involvement in the smuggling of those threatened by the Reign out of France, but her philosophies seemed non existent. I kept asking what drove her to take such risks, not just with her life, but with those around her. She was described as a leader, a brilliant strategist, but again, I saw none of that. Even at the end, when this was supposedly on display but even her brilliancy rested upon two good ideas. Most of the time, she followed Doyle’s direction, relying on him and Hawker to get them out of spots. Maggie, for all the excellent prose, seemed like a very superficial character.

Doyle was fairly straightforward. He became a member of the Service at a young age and his allegiance was clearly to Britain. This isn’t to say he wasn’t nuanced, but I understood him.

Adrian Hawker was probably the most interesting. Aged 12, Adrian had worked, killed, spied for a notorious man in London called Lazarus. Adrian undertook a task for Lazarus which placed him in proximity with the Service and Doyle took Adrian under his wing, so to speak. Watching Adrian sneak around, playing his spy games at the age of 12 (almost thirteen) lent poignancy to the situation. Was this how it was for Doyle when he had run away from home? It lent depth, even, to The Spymaster’s Lady particularly when we are introduced to yet another young child, a girl, who was heavily involved in the spy game. It is Adrian and this girl, Justine, and her younger sister, Severine, that provide a very bittersweet and memorable part. It is this story that stuck to my guts far longer than the romance of Maggie and Doyle.

As mentioned previously, the prose is superb. The dialogue is witty. The sensuality moving without being coarse. The lovemaking in the story expresses the evolution of the romance. Maggie is someone who is good with topography and maps and she looks and thinks about Doyle in that manner:

She could become lost in this man, in territories of amazement, countries of sensation. She felt the currents of his blood. He was not merely LeBreton, villain and rogue. He was more complex than that, and simpler.

She bent toward his mouth. He stretched upward to her, to meet her. It was as if she attached a string to a mountain and it came to her when she pulled. His lips were smooth and hot. The trembling she felt was all her own. The doubt and the nervousness, all hers. He had no doubts at all.

The Forbidden Rose is a gorgeous story yet I felt distanced from it because I never was able to connect to Maggie. That said, I feel really fortunate to have an author like you currently writing so I can look forward to future stories. B-

Best regards,

Jane

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This is a Berkley mass market. Berkley is a division of Penguin and subject to Agency pricing.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

19 Comments

  1. Danielle D
    Jun 04, 2010 @ 13:44:52

    I just bought this book. Thanks for the review. I can’t wait for Adrian’s story to be told.

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  2. katiebabs
    Jun 04, 2010 @ 14:05:19

    I’m so very excited for Adrian and his heroine who is bound to drive him insane.

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  3. Janine
    Jun 04, 2010 @ 16:39:46

    Really interesting review.

    She was described as a leader, a brilliant strategist, but again, I saw none of that. Even at the end, when this was supposedly on display but even her brilliancy rested upon two good ideas. Most of the time, she followed Doyle's direction, relying on him and Hawker to get them out of spots.

    I felt somewhat this way about Annique in The Spymaster’s Lady, that she wasn’t as brilliant as she was said to be.

    Your description of 12 year old Adrian really makes me want to read this book, though. I’m a sucker for a teenage spy or assassin.

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  4. Sunita
    Jun 04, 2010 @ 19:38:16

    I think these type of reviews are the most difficult, where you really like aspects of the book but don’t necessarily connect with the characters. It still is well worth reading but the experience is not entirely satisfactory. I have those kinds of experiences with lit fic all the time, but I somehow expect to have a stronger emotional connection when I read romance.

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  5. Lizzy
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 05:43:16

    Just finished it. Loved it, but like the other Bourne books I’ve read, “Spymaster’s Lady” is still my fave. Yes, can’t wait for Adrian Hawker’s story. Although … you know how it is … with buildup this big, I always worry about being disappointed! :)

    I don’t know the best way to communicate this thought here, so I’ll probably botch it. Sorry. Re: Annique and Maggie not being up to snuff — or, more accurately, up to snuff based on what we have been led to believe they are capable of. I feel like that’s a hard line for Bourne to walk, but she usually does it OK. After all, readers like a hero to be strong and smart; it kind of wouldn’t do for the heroine to outwit him all the time because then he would seem not worthy of her. Most books handle this challenge OK — but then, most books don’t have a heroine that’s a spy/master thief/resistance fighter, etc., such as Spymaster’s Lady or Lord and Spymaster or Forbidden Rose. When you make the heroine a spy/resistance fighter or whatever, readers expect her to be able of more cleverness — but then, see Point One again. She really can’t be constantly outwitting the hero, because that makes him look like a dip and readers will regard him as weak.
    Did that make sense?

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  6. CEAD
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 06:18:49

    @Lizzy: After all, readers like a hero to be strong and smart; it kind of wouldn't do for the heroine to outwit him all the time because then he would seem not worthy of her.

    While I do agree with that, I have the same reaction when the hero constantly outwits the heroine. Personally, I like my hero and heroine to be genuine honest-to-God equals. If the balance is obviously tilted in favour of either of them, I start losing my faith in their HEA and end up feeling that one or the other of them could do better. I wouldn’t want to be with a guy who constantly (if unconsciously) made me feel his inferior, so I’d rather not read about it happening to a heroine. Similarly, I want a guy who can keep up with me.

    What I like in a romance is some back and forth: he outwits her once, she turns the tables a few chapters later, and so on. That’s what lets me believe a couple is a perfect match. (I thought Meredith Duran did this particularly well in Written on Your Skin.)

    So my reaction to My Lord and Spymaster was a lot like Janine’s. I loved Annique, but she never seemed to live up to the reputation established for her, and she just didn’t feel like a match for Doyle. It was as though she’d met him too soon in her character arc; she did have potential, and in a few more years she may have grown into it. But I also loved Bourne’s writing (and Adrian), so I’m still looking forward to this one.

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  7. TKF
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 08:52:43

    I had major problems with Annique. The books was beautifully written, and the heroine was so strong and clever and capable in the fist half when she was blind, but as soon as she got her sight back her IQ plummeted to single digits. She became a witless ingenue who roamed the English countryside confessing her every secret to total strangers. And the idea that such a clever spy wouldn’t have recognized Grey immediately (by his voice, his scent) was too implausible for me.

    Bourne still has a lovely voice, but after three books, I just don’t understand where she’s going with any of her heroines and I haven’t connected with a single one (which at this point means she’s off my “must buy” list).

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  8. Ros
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 11:51:58

    I have a lot of sympathy for Jo Bourne writing these clever women. Because the thing is, you as the author, have to be that clever too in order to come up with their cleverness. It’s much easier to fake stupidity than brilliance. So I’ll give her a bit of a pass on the telling not showing on that front.

    But I do agree that there’s no reason for her male characters to always have to have the clever ideas and do the rescuing and so on. It doesn’t make the hero look weak, in my opinion. A hero who values strong and clever women being strong and clever is incredibly attractive. Loretta Chase’s Mr Impossible is a terrific example of this – he knows Daphne’s much cleverer than him and at least as brave and he adores that about her. It doesn’t weaken him at all.

    Anyway, I don’t seem to be allowed to read the Forbidden Rose yet because the publishers apparently don’t think my money is good enough – insert rant about the ludicrousness of geographical restrictions on new ebooks – so I shall refrain from further comment.

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  9. Bianca
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 18:21:00

    @TKF: I just don't understand where she's going with any of her heroines and I haven't connected with a single one (which at this point means she's off my “must buy” list).

    Agree completely. I remember loathing Annique at the end of TSL — sadly enough, because I started out loving her. I’m partway through The Forbidden Rose, and I see the same things I disliked about Annique in Marguerite’s character.

    Joanna Bourne writes well, but she also seems to pair strong heroes with very weak, powerless, blah heroines. That’s not a trope I enjoy, and since it seems to be her signature thing, I’m crossing her off my “auto buy list”, as well. :(

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  10. TKF
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 22:30:14

    Typed wrong thing. Argh.

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  11. DM
    Jun 06, 2010 @ 18:43:28

    I loved the book. Masterful prose, suspenseful storytelling, and a heroine who rescued the hero instead of the other way around.

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  12. Carolyn Jewel
    Jun 07, 2010 @ 08:48:42

    I am reading this book right now and I adore it. I’m not having any problem with Marguerite, in fact I like her quite a lot.

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  13. meoskop
    Jun 08, 2010 @ 23:48:51

    This is my book of the year – I understand what you’re saying about Annique, but I adored Marguerite. I saw it not as her being weak, but her being somewhat out of the element and biding her time. Returned to her element, she quickly returns to competence. She has the rare ability in a romance heroine (I am thinking specifically of Doyle’s self defense speech) to recognize reality instead of using false pride to deny it. She is fatalistic.

    She might be one of my all time favorite heroines.

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  14. Verona St. James
    Jun 16, 2010 @ 10:15:55

    I burned through the first 1/4 of this book, then as soon as they got into Paris it kind of fell over for me, and now reading the rest has felt like a bit of a slog.

    I think the prose is beautiful, but I feel like it does create distance from the characters. The love scene for instance, was beautifully written, but it was like looking at a painting. I admired the craftsmanship of the prose but I didn’t feel emotionally connected to what was happening at all.

    Usually I finish books in a day or two. I’ve been working on this one for over a week…

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  15. Polly
    Jun 17, 2010 @ 22:07:53

    I’m just starting the Forbidden Rose, so I suppose this comment is a bit premature.

    But–I agree that Annique seemed to get less capable as Spymaster’s Lady went on, and I think I’m alone here, but it was Grey who bothered me. I hated seeing him always come out on top and get the better of Annique. It’s the same as everyone else is saying, but I ended up getting mad at Grey rather than disappointed in Annique. I’ve heard other readers say things along the lines of not wanting a “weak” hero, but I hate that that translates into the hero always winning (and that’s the way it ends up reading to me–the hero wins and the heroine is tamed and shown to be not quite good/smart/fast/whatever enough).

    Bourne’s a wonderful writer, though, and I’m along for the ride for the foreseeable future.

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  16. Tamara Hampton
    Jun 18, 2010 @ 11:27:05

    I waited to read this review until I finished the book. I am completely mesmerized by the way Bourne arranges words on the page. However wonderful a wordsmith she is, I found myself very tired and almost bored when the story made it’s way to Paris. The rescue was a yawnfest; I drug myself to get through it. I really loved The Spymasters Lady so I suppose nothing she writes can quite compare to the strength of that book. I didn’t even finish My Lord and Spymaster. I couldn’t connect with that book at all.

    I also have a problem with Bourne telling these stories out of order. I like that relational tension between the hero and the heroine. There’s no suspense of are they not going to get together in the end for me.

    I’ll continue to read Bourne’s novels. I’m looking forward to Adrian’s story. He’s by far the most interesting character in the series.

    Thanks for the great review and echoing some of my thoughts about the story in it. :)

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  17. Kim
    Aug 19, 2010 @ 12:09:43

    Joanna Bourne is being interviewed today over at:

    http://www.romanticcrushjunkies.com/2010/08/giveaway-interview-with-historical_13.html

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  18. nasanta
    Oct 07, 2010 @ 16:23:02

    My response is late because I chose not to read this book until now.

    …I felt like my reaction to it was influenced by my reading of and love for The Spymaster's Lady.

    This is how I feel about The Forbidden Rose. I really enjoyed The Spymaster’s Lady, and I’ve reread it several times. With The Forbidden Rose, I read about half the book, took a couple days break, and then forced myself read the other half. It’s not a book that I will be rereading often, I think. I cannot help comparing it to The Spymaster’s Lady, and feeling it not as good.

    I saw it not as her being weak, but her being somewhat out of the element and biding her time.

    I think I kind of agree with this assessment of Maggie. Having been forewarned that the heroine would be a tell-clever than a show-clever may have colored my views of Maggie. However, when I try to look at it objectively, I feel that in a way, it does seem as if she is shown to be competent in her own way.

    The books was beautifully written, and the heroine was so strong and clever and capable in the fist half when she was blind, but as soon as she got her sight back her IQ plummeted to single digits. She became a witless ingenue who roamed the English countryside confessing her every secret to total strangers. And the idea that such a clever spy wouldn't have recognized Grey immediately (by his voice, his scent) was too implausible for me.

    That really bothered me about Annique in The Spymaster’s Lady (once it was pointed out).

    I loved the author’s writing in The Spymaster’s Lady, but find that it is a type of writing that I can only take in small amounts before I get aggravated by similarities in subsequent books. That is why I choose not to read My Lord and Spymaster – at least not any time this year.

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  19. Jane
    Oct 07, 2010 @ 16:36:07

    @nasanta No response is late as we all read at different speeds/times. I still think Bourne is a great writer with a great voice but like you said it is not a book I will re-read.

    ReplyReply

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