The Spymaster's Lady
by Joanna Bourne
For a story filled with words so perfectly strung together, it's hard for this lowly reviewer to find her own. I have been staring at a blank screen for a while now, and the words that come to my head just don't express how perfect Joanna Bourne's The Spymaster's Lady is. "Good" is too shallow. "Amazing" is not strong enough. "Stupendous" is too loud. "Life altering" ... well maybe. As a long-time reader of romance I can say that it is a rare novel that leaves me speechless. Yet, this rather new author has done just that. This book may well be too good for words to adequately express, so I will apologize in advance for my humble attempt.
The Spymaster's Lady is a book about words, games, and secrets. I can't tell you much of the plot since, as I just said, this is a book about secrets. What I can disclose is that Annique Villiers, aka The Fox Cub, is a master spy and has been one since her childhood. We begin the book with her a captive preparing to be tortured for information about "The Albion" plans, which are plans for Napoleon to invade Britain. She shares her cell with two other captured spies, Grey, one of Britain's top master spies, and Adrian also known as "Hawker."
Against Annique's better judgment, she helps them escape, but since they too suspect she has information about the Albion plans, they repay her kindness by joining up with another spy named Doyle and taking her prisoner. Being held prisoner is not to Annique's liking and she doesn't make it easy on her three captors to keep her, but as she journey's with them she discovers that she likes these British spies - especially Grey who she finds attractive in mind, body, and professionalism.
Grey and Annique are perfectly matched. Both are smart and strong in their own right. Both respect the other's talent and wit. Both love each other, but as Annique says:
"I think you are the other half of me. It was a great mix-up in heaven. A scandal. For there was meant to be a pretty English schoolgirl in the city of Bath and for me some fine Italian pastry cook in Palermo. But the cradles were switched somehow, and it all ended up like this...of an impossibility beyond words."
What makes this book truly stunning is the beauty of the writing. Everything about the book is a revelation. Who the characters are. The mysteries unraveled as the plot progresses. The verbal and physical sparring. But it is the prose of the book that tells all and yet, unless you are paying attention, reveals nothing. As Annique says "Now pay attention and I will teach you secrets.” You can quickly read this book and enjoy a wonderful story. Or you can pay attention and let the analytical portion of your mind savor the banquet of writing craft before it.
The plot of this novel plays out on two levels. The first is that of the "Game." A term used to represent the games spies play with one another. The second is that of love. Both love and spies are a game in this book and the metaphor will not be lost on those who are savoring their read. In both love and spying no one plays fair and the rules are often guidelines (to steal a line from my favorite pirate). Brute force will not get you want you want, but the right word or deed might.
Even the sex is made up of words. At one point Annique admits that Grey loves to talk during sex. He liked to talk in bed. She, herself, was not in the mood for talking at such times. This is part of the foreplay for our two characters because their sex isn't just of the body, but of the mind. They find each other mentally arousing as well as physically, which made their encounters all the more satisfying.
The ebb and flow of each character's voice is unique and solely theirs. At one point I had to double check to make sure this wasn't being told in the first person because I was so immersed in Annique's thoughts. It isn't, but because each person has a voice and speaking pattern that makes complete sense for how their minds express thoughts, it seems as if it is in places. The book is quickly paced and made faster by a lack of any extraneous dialogue markers (ie he says, she said, etc). The characters discussions flow as quickly as a real discussion would which is perfect for a group of spies who use words as weapons.
Bottom Line: This is no ordinary romance novel. Give yourself time to savor this read. It took me nearly two sleepless nights to finish it - and then I wanted to start reading it all over again.
“One of the most amazing books I have ever read.”
January 2008, 384 pages
She's braved battlefields. She's stolen dispatches from under the noses of heads of state. She's played the worldly courtesan, the naive virgin, the refined British lady, even a Gypsy boy. But Annique Villiers, the elusive spy known as the Fox Cub, has finally met the one man she can't outwit.