REVIEW: The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne
Dear Ms Bourne,
My blogging partner Jane and I usually have similar tastes in historical novels. Usually, I say, because we’ve been known to disagree at times. And it’s those times that I almost hate to do a review and have to say, sorry but I think this one sucked. I’m glad to say that this is a time when Jane and I agree on a book. Jane’s review lays out about as much information as a reader should probably have to not spoil the surprises and plot, so I will direct people there to learn the intricate story you tell. Makes it so much easier on me! I will now proceed with my thoughts, me.
I love how the book jumps right into the action. There’s no long set up or explanation of the characters but the story doesn’t need them. We learn what we need to know as we need to know it. I haven’t read it twice so can’t answer to Jane’s statement that the clues are there to be seen once the tale is known but I adore how you don’t lay the foreshadowing on like overly thick icing on a too sweet sheet cake. I hate books which are all but telegraphed ahead of time. There’s are no surprises then, no discoveries, no joy. This book is more like a French cake. Not too sweet, rich with flavor, enhanced by a strong cup of coffee.
Jane is right about the language and I would point people to this book as an example of how to do it right. Faux dialects and dialogue are among my pet peeves. Just tossing in a few foreign words here and there and trying to render an accent don’t cut it. Especially when said efforts to convey the speech of non-native English speakers comes and goes throughout the length of the story. Languages have a rhythm, as you point out when the English spies along with Annique are attempting to pass through a French checkpoint by pretending to be Germans. The grammar is different, the style is different and it takes some work to convey it properly. Thank you for making the effort.
But it’s not just the differences in speaking that work in this story. Janine is another of our bloggers here and she adores the use of the English language. The choice of adjectives, the turn of a phrase, the beauty of speech can make her wax rhapsodic. I will admit that I can usually take such things or leave them. I will admire these things but the lack of them won’t break a book for me. But oh my, I was drowning in delight in “The Spymaster’s Lady.” I was like a cat in a field of catnip.
“This tree we stand beneath,” she banged the stick against bark, “which naturally you have not been introduced to and cannot see anyway, is a beautiful cherry which was old already when I first came here. I have climbed it and stolen many cherries in my time. The whole corner smells of the fruit that fell a few weeks ago. The road you seek, the driveway to the Sisters of the Orphans, is opposite. There.” She touched his shoulder lightly, showing where she meant.
The noisy town of Dover stretched above her with its stone houses stacked one upon the other up the hill and the castle above everything. Around her, gray green water washed the pilings, splashing tiny explosions of light, spinning bubbles of silver and snow white. In baskets of fish, the scales shone in iridescent ripples.
After months of darkness, brightness assailed her on every side. Color whirled and danced around her till she was dizzy. She was drunk with it. The line of stark shadow on a white stone wall cut like a shout. A crimson dress in the doorway of a tavern dazzled. Sometimes she could barely think, her head was so full of color and shape. She was lost in this riot of light, struck dumb by the beauty of a gull hovering over a sparkle of water. Never, never would she take the light for granted.
This was to be her new country, this England.
Another battering volley. Lead hit the wallpaper and gouged holes six inches deep. The piano took a direct hit and died noisily.
Soulier waved impatiently. “Yves, put him– I do not know. I do not keep a cage for such rats in my house. Put him somewhere and watch him. The pantry. All of you go. Yes, all. Do not let him escape.”
Leblanc was dragged from the room, leaving threats behind him like the trail of a snail, departing.
Janine, really needs to read this book too. It’s a linguistic delight.
Books in which the heroine is held captive by the hero often annoy me. I don’t like it when the balance of power between hero and heroine is lopsided. Grey has Annique under his control for much of the book and at times this irritated me a little. Then I would recall, as the English spies ruefully did, that it usually took at least three of them — all top agents — to contain her. And even then they had to stay constantly alert, always on their toes in order to keep her.
Non-romance fans will point to the cover featuring a bare-chested hero and snigger. Another sex book, they’ll say with their lips curled in a superior sneer. We romance fans will be able to laugh at them as we settle in to read it. Yes, it does have sex but those scenes, often ones I skim over in other books, are as delicious as they come. Not merely two bodies banging together, coated with embarrassing adjectives and adverbs, signifying little beyond lurid prose, they are a joyful celebration and affirmation of love between two people.
There, I think I’ll stop now and let everyone who picks the book up discover just what it is they like the most about it. There’re are so many aspects from which to choose, so many delights to be found. I’m sure that some readers will read what Jane and I have written, then read the book and wonder “what are those two nattering on about?” But I believe that most will devour it, close the book and sigh with pleasure. The historical romance novel isn’t dead. A-