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REVIEW: The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne

Dear Ms. Bourne:

What a struggle I had with writing this review. I know some ask what are the hardest reviews to write and I am convinced, after drafting and redrafting this one, it is the review of the book that you love. Because as a reader, I am trying to convey the beauty that is someone else’s writing so that others will see the same beauty. The best thing I can say to readers is to go the bookstore and read the first chapter.

The Spymaster's Lady by Joanna BourneThe Spymaster’s Lady is about secrets. It is about the secrets the characters keep from each other. It is about the secrets that you, the author, keep from the reader. Annique, the Fox Cub, is an intentional mystery to Grey, the British Spymaster. But Grey is a mystery to Annique as well. Both characters fail to fit in the predetermined slots each has set for the other. “A man itches to peel you, veil by veil, laying your secrets bare, opening you up to reveal mysteries.”

However, the truth behind the secrets, the reveal, is always there for both the reader and the characters to see. It wasn’t until I read the book for a second time that I realized how brilliantly all the clues were laid out, like crumbs on the forest trail, for the reader to see. You even tell us, through Annique, that all the answers are there for the taking. “You ask many questions. Have I told you that? Now pay attention and I will teach you secrets.”

Because this story is so much about secrets and the constant reveal, I hesitate to say much about the plot at all for fear of giving too much away. Annique is a spy, trained from a very young age to be in the “Game”. It is believed that she is in possession of the plans to Albion, or plans for the French invasion of Great Britain. She is captured by another spy named Leblanc for her knowledge. She is imprisoned with two British spies, one gravely wounded. She escapes through cunning and guile and helps the English spies away as well, believing, in part that she would not leave anyone with Leblanc and that perhaps her good deed will come in handy down the road now that she is free to play the “Game” again. There is honor amongst spies.

Yet, Grey recognizes Annique instantly as someone who was involved with the death of his men at Bourges. That coupled with her knowledge of Albion makes her an irresistible capture. Even then, Annique is so skilled it takes three men to do the job. Over the course of the book, Grey and Annique play a cat and mouse game and Annique is often the winner.

The story is well devised because the conflict between Grey and Annique serves to be a metaphor for the larger Game played between spies. It isn’t always strength that wins either the game of love or life, but intelligence, quick wit, and craftiness.

One thing that I think will be universally exclaimed over is the use of language in this book. Annique is French and every thought or sentence that is uttered by Annique has that French flavor. Grey is English and his mannerism and way of speaking is also strictly English. The book has very few dialogue tags, if any, because a reader can gather immediately who is the speaker through the rhythm and phrasing of the words. It’s really a triumph.

The English spy spoke, deep and slow, out of the dark. “I would stand and greet you politely.” Chain clinked. “But I’m forced to be rude.”

It was a measure of how lonely she was that the voice of an enemy English came like a warm handclasp. “There is much of that in my life lately. Rudeness.”


“I remember what we have done together. I am almost sure it was not decent.” But she let him comb her hair back with his fingers and tuck a blanket around her and arrange her at ease along the seat. “I will decide what to do about it when I am awake. Perhaps I will try to strangle you once more. Though you have the most beautiful body imaginable. Like a large animal.”

Adrian murmured, “What complex and interesting nights you two must have.”

“Shut up,” Grey said.


“The English spies in Italy had a similar arrangement. I am all comprehension.”

The reason for the A- is that I felt that the emotional response of Annique to the reveal of one the biggest secret of the book was one that was not in keeping with the story that was built. But by that time, I wanted Annique to be happy. I was desperate for her HEA and would accept nothing less. In the hands of a less skilled author, it might have been a breaking point for me, but in this book, it was only a minor issue. I simply can’t wait for the next Joanna Bourne. I am all breathless anticipation. A-



You can purchase this book in ebook and mass market.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and 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


  1. jmc
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 13:26:49

    Oh, oh, pick me! I’ve got this one on my wishlist and am waiting not very patiently for it.

  2. Angela James
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 13:38:41

    Don’t enter me into the contest, I’m sure someone out there can use an early historical Christmas present more than I can, but I wanted to say you did do a good job of conveying part of what you loved about the book. And I agree, the hardest reviews are for the books you love, because it’s a harder thing to articulate than specific problems with plot, voice or technical issues.

  3. Jane
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 13:41:40

    JMC – I can’t wait for you to read this book. It really made me recall what made me fall in love with historical romances in the first place.

    Angie – yes, exactly. I just basically want to put up one giant excerpt and say “see, see, this is why you should buy the book.”

  4. Karmyn
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 13:48:32

    This looks like an interesting read. It’s so rare to find a French herione. I’d love to read this book.

  5. Ann Aguirre
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 13:51:25

    This is on my Must-Buy list for early 2008, right along with Iron-Kissed and Night Season. I had almost stopped reading historicals entirely when I found Jo Goodman. I hope to add Joanna Bourne to my short list of must-read historical authors.

  6. Phoebe
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 14:01:23

    I’ve read several good reviews on this. I’ve pretty much stopped on historicals at all, but this one has tweaked my interest.

  7. clara bow
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 14:05:12

    i love a plot stuffed full of secrets. Count me in, and thanks!

  8. Jia
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 14:08:26

    This sounds great. I love spies, and I especially love well-done dialogue. (Please don’t enter me into the contest.)

  9. Sarabeth
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 14:11:38

    I’d love to be in the potential give-away pool. Your review has piqued my interest in the book.

  10. Kerry
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 14:17:31

    Please consider me for your give-away–I’m really intrigued with what I’ve hear about the language and perfectly balanced plot.

  11. kristenmary
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 14:31:58

    I was totally ready to order this book after reading SB Sarah’s review on Smart Bitches until she added the comment about the villian being over the top and super evil. Did you get the same feeling? The idea of the villian and his actions kinda makes me squicky and turned off on the book. I’d love for you to change my mind because I really want to read it.

  12. Laura Vivanco
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 14:33:30

    I know you’re all raving about the language, and that sounds interesting, but I avoid romantic suspense because I don’t like reading about violence, so should I give this a miss for that reason?

  13. Jane
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 14:38:28

    Oh boy. I don’t know if I am a good measure of what is really violent and I would hate to lead you all astray. There isn’t alot of graphic violence but there is suggestions of violence and your imagination fills in the blank. I.e., Leblanc at one point asks for a girl, a young girl with dark hair and we all know that nothing good is going to happen for that girl. Given that some hate to be spoiled, I’ll hide the rest of my comments:
    In the opening scene, Annique hits someone who is trying to hurt her. There is mention of a lot of blood loss for one character. There is also one scene in which a family is hurt and the descriptions of what they looked like after they were hurt is not pretty.


  14. Laura Vivanco
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 14:51:13

    Thanks, Jane. Sounds like I should give this one a miss. So, obviously, don’t enter me in the draw.

  15. Jen
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 14:58:00

    This sounds like a great book – I love the excerpts you posted. Please enter me in the contest. :) Thank you!

  16. Rebecca
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 14:59:46

    Sounds promising — good historicals have been few and far between lately (although I just read Untouched and it was pretty darn good). This sounds like an excellent book for a cold winter’s night in front of the fire!

  17. Bernita
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 15:02:16

    The dialogue sounds entrancing.

  18. wendy
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 15:07:14

    The review was great. I don’t like suspense, so don’t enter me. Secretly, I just wanted to see what time my response went in.

  19. Molly
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 15:07:47

    Oh, I’m excited for this book! I’m always on the lookout for really well-written historical romance with great dialogue and it sounds like this hits the spot. Lately I’ve been staying away from spy plots, because for a while it seemed like every book I picked up had some completely lame and improbable spy element, so I’m glad to hear that the mystery here is good as well as the romance.

  20. Jane
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 15:11:13

    I really wouldn’t characterize this book as a romantic suspense anymore than an old Amanda Quick or Jo Beverly or even a Laurens would be an RS. This is truly a romance, a beautiful wonderful romance.

  21. Jane J
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 15:16:12

    I’ve been looking forward to this one since you mentioned it a while back. Please include me in your drawing. Thanks.

  22. MaryKate
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 15:18:12

    I am beside myself with excitement about this book. I’ve had multiple people (now you included, Jane) absolutely rave about this book, and in particular the use of language.

    I simply love it when debut authors knock it out of the park!

    Congrats to Ms. Bourne for writing a book that has the romance world talking. It’s be a while since we had that.

    Please enter me in the drawing, and thanks for the wonderful review, Jane.

  23. LindaB
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 15:18:53

    I really admire an author who can convey an accent in the writing. This has been on my “to buy” list ever since I heard about it. I’m as bad as Prof. Higgins in my fascination with accents.

  24. TLS
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 15:21:40

    Please enter me in the drawing for this. It sounds incredible.

  25. Jana J. Hanson
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 15:33:03

    What an intriguing book! I’ll be on the lookout (should I not win one of the giveaways).

    Thanks, Jane!!

  26. Julie Leto
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 15:35:14

    As an author who is always looking for inspiration from the masters of the written word, I hope I win! The book and the writing style sound utterly fascinating.

  27. Pam P
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 15:39:42

    I’ve excited to read this book every since I first heard about it and googled for more info about it. I hear so many say they are tired of the spy historicals, but I love them and all the danger and intrigue. After reading your review, Jane, it’s a must have. Count me in, love to be able to get it early and dive right in.

  28. Danielle D
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 15:45:20

    I have this book coming….I decided to order it because I enjoy trying new authors!!!!!! The storyline sounded interesting too.

  29. Stephg1
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 15:52:40

    This book sounds like just what I need for the holiday season, pick me, pick me!! Love to read debut authors especailly when the buzz is so good!

  30. SaraC
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 15:54:03


    Thi book looks really really good. I can’t wait until it comes out!

  31. Lorelie
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 16:01:47

    I’m intrigued by the language play that’s caught everyone’s attention.

    Though this isn’t a piece of a series, is it? Because there’s something about the set up that sounds vaguely familiar.

  32. Melanie L
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 16:04:29

    This book is now on my wishlist… I’m really looking forward to it coming out! And I’d love to win it from you! Thanks!

  33. Laura Vivanco
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 16:07:10

    Lorelie, Angela recently noticed four other “Regency Spy Historicals to be released next year whose plots hinge upon the heroine rescuing the hero from prison,” so it could be that that’s the reason “the set up […] sounds vaguely familiar.”

  34. Jill Myles
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 16:09:09

    Damn. Now I’m going to have to buy this one too.

    Don’t enter me in the contest, Jane. I’ll buy it on my own. *g*

  35. Sarai
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 16:14:39

    Dang another one to add to the wishlist… Unless I win… Oh I hope I win (I’ve already turned in the Christmas list ;)

  36. Rochelle
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 16:18:09

    This book sounds wonderful and has been on my wishlist since I first heard of it. I’d love to win a copy.

  37. Dev
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 16:25:44

    I’d like to get a copy of this one. It sounds like something I’d definitely want to read.

  38. Meljean Brook
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 16:44:49

    This is also on my must-buy list. Don’t enter me, though, because I’ve already pre-ordered.

  39. kristenmary
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 16:46:44

    Okay, I think you’ve sold me on it. I was more concerned about sexual violence than the blood and gore type. If its just implied then I may be okay. I can handle that a lot better than explict detail about nasty sexxoring.

  40. Angie
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 17:08:43

    I admire books where the characters have distinct voices, while still sounding realistic. It’s easy to make everyone distinct if you dip into stereotype or parody, but doing it with a straight face is much harder. It sounds like Bourne did a good job with this one.


  41. Phyl
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 17:15:49

    Oh, I’d love to win this one, too. But win or lose, I can’t wait to read it. Thanks, Jane!

  42. kathybaug
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 17:17:26

    Oooh, cat and mouse, this sounds interesting. Please enter me in your contest.

  43. Josie
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 17:22:20

    This has been on my must-by list since the Smart Bitches review… It sounds fantastic.

  44. Katie
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 17:24:09

    This looks like an awesome book and a heroine who is no wilting violet. :)

  45. Meredith
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 17:25:14

    Jane, our reading tastes tend to be on opposite ends of the spectrum, so I challenge you on this one: convince me with a free book. :-)

  46. Anji
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 17:28:47

    Oh, this sounds interesting! Pick me, please!

    (Can I say, in a case of judging a book by its cover – sorry! – I most probably wouldn’t have picked up this book without review/comments about it).

  47. jude
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 18:05:43

    This sounds wonderful! :)

  48. Sheryl
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 18:08:37

    I’m intrigued by the idea of reading a book that catches the French nuances of language – being from Canada and technically bilingual (meaning: I can barely order lunch without sounding like a nit!) I know that a direct translation is impossible most times – but to try and create a story with a French heroine and impart that language difficult and “make it work” is really sounding interesting!


  49. Dobby
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 18:24:27

    It sounds good. Like the idea of a French heroine.

  50. Katie
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 18:26:48

    Oh my, drooling here. I belong to the endangered species of readers who would be tempted to kill in order to have plain historicals and contemporaries to read. This one definitely goes on my wishlist. Thanks for the insightful review.s

  51. Stephanie H.
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 18:37:07

    I’m intrested as well :) this is such a lovely review.

  52. Michelle
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 18:40:22

    Very nice review. Especially about the beauty of the language and phrasing. Isn’t it interesting how sometimes that can elevate a book independent of the plot.

  53. msaggie
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 19:18:00

    I really liked the snippets of dialogue you put in the review. Please enter me into the draw for the book (alas I never win anything in draws, but then, it’s worth a try). So many spy historicals are farcical – it’s good to read of one which is special adn unique.

  54. Abbey
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 19:21:07

    Sounds great. Your review has definitely convinced me to pick it up.

  55. Julie
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 19:33:57

    Your review has me salivating for this book. I have read a couple of books reccomended here and you haven’t steered me wrong yet.

  56. Keishon
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 19:44:12

    It’s good to see some buzz for a historical romance novel that sounds very interesting. Can’t wait to read it. I still have the Lara Adrian to read, too. I haven’t forgotten :-)

  57. Tammy
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 19:45:43

    Jane ,
    Please enter my name in your contest. book sounds intriguing. I stop by to read your reviews and find them very honest and informative. I have found
    many new authors to try. I was iffy about the Spymaster’s Lady, it will be add to my wish list.

  58. Bev Stephans
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 19:58:51

    The excerpts you posted show that the author has a way with the language. This alone piques my interest. I would love to win a copy.

  59. Kristie(J)
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 20:00:05

    Count me in. Even if I don’t win I think I just might get this one anyway! Very intriguing review!

  60. Ann Bruce
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 20:18:08

    Hmm…the French language/cadence/word choice intrigues me.

    But don’t enter me for the draw. I’ll get my own copy.

  61. Caitie
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 20:46:52

    I’m not the biggest historical romance reader out there, but am very intrigued by your review of this one, so throwing my name in too :) Thanks for all your reviews – I love checking back every day or two to read the new ones!

  62. Stacy S
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 21:33:36

    I sounds like a great book.

  63. Sheila L.
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 21:35:23

    This book sounds pretty good. Please enter me in the drawing.

  64. Sarah Frantz
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 21:39:35

    Ooh, me! me! I can’t believe this isn’t coming out before Christmas, because it was so going on my Christmas list after SB Sarah’s review.

  65. sula
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 22:40:10

    I’ve been interested in this one since the SBs talked about the language cadence thing. As I mentioned there, one of the things I noticed when I was living in Africa and learning French was how spending long periods of time speaking and thinking in French changed the way I spoke English in the time following. For example, instead of saying “It’s been three months since I saw him”, I would say “I have not seen him, it is three months.” And then stop and think that it sounded a little odd in English to say it that way. And realize that I had just verbalized in the format that I was using in French every day. lol.

    I cringe over the way some author’s will throw in a few zees and leetles and assume they’ve sufficiently portrayed the French accent. so yeah, I’m definitely curious about this book.

  66. Barbara Bergin
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 23:12:44

    What a great review. I’m going to have to check it out. I read that Bourne loves to write during the Napoleonic wars. And I love to read in that period. Does anyone out there love Horatio Hornblower?

    Barbara Bergin
    author of “Endings”

  67. JHB
    Jan 07, 2008 @ 07:43:44

    Read this last night and loved it. Indeed, the cadence of the language for each character is ideally suites to portray that’s character’s personality. It rather reminded me of some of the Julie Garwood historicals with strong female characters, action, intrigue, and witty dialogue.

    As far as the violence another reader mentioned, I’d have never even thought to bring it up. Most of the story is about spies fleeing from other spies. Yes, there is a little fighting and few folks get knocked over the head. In my opinion, it was very lightly dealt with.

    I, too, am really looking forward to the sequel.

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    […] January 2008 by readingetc I read about this book originally at Dear Author and based on this review I bought the book as soon as it came out. The book is so polished it’s hard to believe it is […]

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  71. Rebecca
    Mar 15, 2008 @ 21:51:23

    I have read the book and loved it. For me it was more adventure-romance.

    That said, Bourne has written a great debut that, I think, she could easily broaden into adventure fiction in the tradition of the Cornwell’s Sharpe series or O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series.

    Her economy of phrase, lack of sentimentality, absolute lack of anachronism (in all things), and finely drawn characters make this book a joy to read. There are very few books written this well.

    Indeed, if romantic historical fiction had such things as lists of exemplars of best-practice, this book would rate extremely high on a very short list.

    ——- SPOILER ALERT ——–

    I liked the sensible nature of the characters and the fact that Bourne has them declare the depth of their regard for one another fairly early in the book. There was never a sense that sharing that feeling lessened either Grey or Annique.

    I really appreciated the way that Bourne has created characters that respect each other.

    Everyone in that book is an adult and acts like one. Everyone is a professional. Annique’s role is not ever diluted by her sex, age, or character. Grey does not use sex as a weapon against her (as it is so often used in other books) – neither does Annique use sex as a weapon against Grey.

    I really admire the creation of Annique. I can’t think of many other heroines who are as cool, as unsentimental, who have such a healthy sense of themselves, and who can still attend to the shape-shifting that a spy needs with such elan and self-possession.

    By placing the book so firmly in the present (that is the waning days of George III), we readers are freed from old and established habits of the telegraphed Freudian 20th century pre-occupation with psychology and its effect on people’s actions.


    The only quibble I have with it is Annique’s arrival in Dover (Chapter 17, specifically pages 172 – 190). It don’t wash with me (and is completely out of Annique’s character and her behavior to this point in the book) that a seasoned, clever, and preternaturally aware spy such as she would so drastically drop her guard.

    She acts like there is nothing to worry about — and I won’t buy the reason being that she has her sight back. If anything, I think that having the added information would make her more wary of her environment. She may be feeling inner joy, but she must first attend to the business of surviving and keeping several steps ahead of LeBlanc and Henri.

    In order to move the plot forward, something had to happen in Dover and Grey did have to find her again (his directive and personal quest). I can think of many other scenarios that could allow Grey and Annique to meet in Dover that would not have compromised Annique’s character so.

    ——- END OF SPOILER ——-

  72. REVIEW: The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne | Dear Author: Romance Book Reviews, Author Interviews, and Commentary
    May 19, 2008 @ 15:01:04

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  74. tmj sleep apnea
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 02:54:20

    Great article, I have book marked this website so with any luck , I’ll see more on this subject in the future!

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