The Spymaster's Lady by Joanna Bourne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A battle of wits and wills ensues when French spy Annique Villiers is forced to flee France with British spymaster Robert Greyson Fordham in the tumultuous days of Napoleon's imperial ambition.
Confession: I read this book by accident.
How exactly does that happen? Well....I'm trying to get better acquainted with high-quality romance, an often-maligned genre I'm not familiar with - but which so many Smart Bitches love. I wasn't even planning on reading The Spymaster's Lady at until I got bored one night and saw it available as an ebook from my local library. And then I zoomed through 150 pages in one sitting.
It's an impressive novel by any standards. Bourne is remarkably good at getting the cadence of another language down without it sounding stilted or odd - the dialogue is by far the best I've seen in my limited experience of romances. Bourne masters the rhythms of not only French but also German, all without resorting to dialect or broken English.
What really drew me along was the strong-willed Annique, a woman raised to be a spy from a young age. She reminded me of many of Heyer's French heroines, particularly Leonie in These Old Shades. Annique is charmingly French, bloody-minded, and quick as a whip. She can keep trained spies on their toes even when she's physically disabled. (Think House of Flying Daggers.) She meets her match in Grey, himself a master spy, and they both must team up to escape a villainous enemy. Of course, love and lust follow, though Annique knows it's in her best interest to keep Grey at an arm's length.
If you're a true historical romance lover, you've probably already read this. If you discount all romance as dumb, cliched, and badly written, give The Spymaster's Lady a chance to change your mind. Also, check out Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels for literary criticism of the genre by a pair of true fangirls.
The web review by Smart Bitches, Trashy Books gave it an A-, knocking it down for an unconvincing villain (who doesn't get much opportunity to be really scary or clever). Also yes, this cover is the perfect example of everything that's wrong with generic romance covers.