“Glomming is that particular affliction that affects romance readers and sends us looking all over the place for an author’s backlist.” – All About Romance.
Let’s talk about what happens when you read a book which happens to be the fifth book in a series, a series you have not read before. Low and behold, you discover that you love this book. Well, of course you must read the rest in the series, in Romanceland this is called Glomming an author. And, that is exactly what happened to me when I picked up Joanna Bourne‘s Rogue Spy. That book was sooooo good I had to read the others in the series, and before I begin to tell you about them let me be perfectly clear — read this series!
If you decide to read this series this is the order they should be read in: The Forbidden Rose, The Spymaster’s Lady, Rogue Spy, My Lord and Spymaster, and The Black Hawk. These books were not written and published in chronological order. So, even though The Forbidden Rose was the third book released, it is actually the first book in the series, etc.
The Forbidden Rose
Time/Place: England/France 1794
Glomming is great!
The time period in The Forbidden Rose is 1794, and is one of those underutilized time periods for romance. Maybe that’s because it was such an alarming time to have been born in that it doesn’t make for a good romance, especially if one were living in France. Just the moniker “Reign of Terror” says it all. In this book we don’t have Napoleon; we have an even more threatening villain, Robespierre. This may not be a good time period for romance (although I think it is,) but it’s perfect for daring-do, spies, intrigue, thrills, chills, and chases down dark alleys.
The Forbidden Rose has spymaster William Doyle, who is looking for a list. By the way, he’s one of those big, big, big heroes who comes awfully close to buffoonery, but not quite. Then we have Marguerite de Fleurignac, who runs an underground organization called LaFleche. She has organized a number of people to help aristocrats in escaping France and the ever-present guillotine. Why she’s doing this isn’t made perfectly clear since she doesn’t seem to have a particular fondness for any of the people she’s helped. Nonetheless, she’s helping them flee, or she was until her cover was blown and now she’s the one fleeing. Unbeknownst to her, Doyle is looking for her father because of some crime her father committed (or at least the British think he did). Doyle and Marguerite join forces. He knows who she is, she hides things from him, she knows he knows who she is, he knows she knows he knows. Their relationship was very interesting to watch because even though they are keeping secrets from each other there is a level of trust that binds them together. The dialogue between the two of them was wonderful.
I promise you, when you read this book you will become absorbed in the exciting and colorful storyline. The secondary characters are a superb bunch of people, especially Hawker who in this book is 12 or 13. He is wise to the ways of the dark streets way beyond his chronological age. The dialogue that comes out of his mouth is both amusing and poignant. He is a boy who never had a childhood, and I’m looking forward to his story, which is the last in the series.
The Forbidden Rose is a well-developed story that is much more than just a romance. It is a deeply beautiful, thrilling narrative and it was a pleasure to read. I highly recommend this book.
The Spymaster’s Lady
Time/Place: England/France 1802
Too bad Romanceland has been inundated with spies. I try to stay away from Spy stories, mainly because at one time everybody and their brother was a spy; we were swamped with them. Besides that, some of them were just downright silly. I know I’m not the only reader who tries to navigate around the profusion of secret agents. However, as I am finding out, I almost missed out on some wonderful storytelling in the form of Joanna Bourne’s Spymaster series.
The Spymaster’s Lady is the third book in the series I’ve read and the second book in the series’ timeline. Even reading them one right after another, I’ve not grown tired of them. A lot of that is due to the dark secret gritty world Ms. Bourne has created. This book is an adventure to read, exciting to follow all the twists and turns down the paths that we are led. Yes, sometimes we get lost and confused, but it’s all great fun.
Even though this has some vividly drawn background and an extraordinary sense of place, it is mainly a character-driven story. And, not just the main characters of Annique and Grey but the secondary ones as well. In fact, alllllll the supporting characters in this book are colorful, well-developed inhabitants of the pages. It was wonderful being immersed for just a few hours in the many-faceted universe of Annique and Grey.
Since I’ve been glomming Ms. Bourne’s work, I have become aware of a pattern. It seems to me that most of her characters have been in the underworld/spy/secret business since they were young. And, that is the case with Annique. Her parents were spies, and she was trained as a young child to follow in their footsteps. As a child, she had no idea the extent to which she was used by those around her or even what she was actually involved in. She was an innocent in the world of spies, at least when she was young. This also leads to some pretty poignant revelations later in the book when she finds out the depth of her parents’ exploitation. Annique’s age in this book is 19; however, she has the feel of someone who is more mature — she is a very old 19. She’s devious, smart and pretty stubborn, which comes in handy when dealing with Grey.
Grey is quite a lot older than Annique (another pattern in Ms. Bourne’s work) and he falls in love almost instantly. However, because he and Annique are playing cat and mouse, this isn’t a normal romance. There is an abundance of tension, all kinds of tension — tension caused by secret plans, invasions, other spies, hiding, running, hiding, running and lust. Yes there is lust; however we do not have scene after scene of bedroom antics. What we have are two people who want each other very much and they talk about that desire. That desire is always simmering right below the surface. So, yes there are all kinds of wonderful tensions bombarding us from all sides, until the end when all that tension comes together in one big explosion.
I have noticed another pattern in Ms. Bourne’s heroes: they all seem to know right away that the heroine is the woman for them and they don’t seem to fight that knowledge. They are what I would call stealth seducers. They won’t let up until they have the heroine enthralled — which might be really close to being possessive. Now, if I hadn’t been glomming these books I may not have noticed these silent possessive seducers, but I have. However, at this point that doesn’t bother me. I think that may be due to the fact that just when the hero becomes too quietly domineering, he backs off and allows breathing space for our heroine.
Overall, The Spymaster’s Lady is another rip-roaring thrilling, story. I really don’t like to gush — I’m really not the type of person who gushes, but I’m really enjoying these books.
Time/Place: France/England 1802
This is the book that made me read the rest in the Spymaster’s series by Joanna Bourne. As I’ve said before I’m not a big fan of spy romance books; I consider most of them to be filled with some of the most incompetent, stupid, undercover spy-secret-agents ever to fight against Napoleon. Based on most of these books, I often wonder just how Napoleon lost. However, it appears that Ms. Bourne’s Spymaster series is a cut above other plodding, absurd spy tales. In fact, Rogue Spy was so exciting that by the end of the story I knew I had to go back and read the rest of the books in the series.
Rogue Spy is more than just a historical romance story. It is a story with a capital S. It is a thrilling narrative of two people falling in love, and along the way they weave their way through some pretty exciting intrigue.
Paxton is a spy who, when the narrative begins, is on his way to headquarters with his written confession of betrayal in hand. Evidently in a previous story it was discovered that he had been deceiving the English spy agency he worked for. It seems that he was a Cache’, which is a group of orphaned French children who are trained by the Police Secrete of France and then implanted into strategic British families and used as spies. Another Cache’ whose cover is about to be revealed is Camille Leyland, an English code breaker. Of course she is not English, she is also an abandoned child of the French Revolution and when she was young she was trained along with Pax, so Paxton and Camille have a history. Now they are thrown together to untangle the lies of a really bad guy. Let me say this about the bad guy — he’s really bad. I was thrilled with his plotline because I had no idea where the “thriller” plot was headed. Ms. Bourne lead me down some pretty well-written alleys before the thrilling-nail-biting conclusion was revealed.
I loved Rogue Spy. I loved Pax and Camille, loved the secondary characters — they were all great! But what I loved the most was the great all-encompassing storytelling. I was sucked into a world of dark secrets, incredible intrigue, and thrilling action which I didn’t want to end. I highly recommend this book.
My Lord and Spymaster
Time/Place: 1811 England
It had to happen eventually. After an amazing run on Ms. Bourne’s Spymaster series, I have finally come up against one story that wasn’t quite as good as the rest. My Lord and Spymaster is an excellent book and I do recommend it; however, it’s just a tad bit off. By itself it is a good read, but when standing with the rest of the books in the series it is the black sheep of the family.
Let’s take a look at My Lord and Spymaster. We have Jess Whitby, who doesn’t seem to be part of the continuing spy system. She’s just a pretty smart cookie and on top of that she is a mathematical genius. She has also managed to build up her father’s shipping company without any help from him. In fact, her father seems to be a loser and has managed to get himself arrested.
Jess’s connection with the spymasters circle is through the mysterious underworld boss Lazarus — he was there when she was young to play a surrogate father, sort of. Lazarus taught her the tricks of the trade, like pick-pocketing, picking locks, stealing, breaking and entering, murdering — those kind of things. You know I’m really undecided about the reoccurring character of Lazarus. At this point he seems to be a scary, nasty, thug who may have an occasional glimmer of humanity show through. So, I’m not sure about him, but I’m finding myself becoming more and more fascinated with him. But at this point he really isn’t hero material — he is really a scary guy.
Now on to our hero Sebastian Kennett, a ship’s captain and the man mainly responsible for the incarceration of Jess’s father. It will come as no surprise that there is a trust issue between Jess and Sebastian, but that doesn’t stop this pair from falling in love with each other. As with all of Ms. Bourne’s heroes, Sebastian is almost instantly smitten with Jess. Protecting her from herself and the people who are trying to kill her is his top priory. Also like Ms. Bourne’s other heroes, Sebastian is an a-number one Alpha kind of guy — he uses passive aggressive gentleness to control his woman. Grunt.
There is a lot going on in this story and that may be some of the problem. There are just too many twists and turns going on — too many convoluted side plots to keep track of, and that tended to be a bit of a distraction.
By the way, Jess has a pet ferret, Kedger, whom Sebastian refers to as a rat. There are some humorous moments between Sebastian and Kedger that had me smiling. It is Kedger who comes to the rescue of his beloved Jess in the end. Cute animal.
I have to say I wish allll of Ms. Bourne’s books didn’t end quite so abruptly. I think they need just a little bit more added. Maybe an itty bitty paragraph at the end would be helpful.
Bottom line: this was a good book, which I enjoyed reading. Jess and Sebastian make a delightful couple. I do recommend this story only with a codicil — it loses a little when compared to the others in the series. However, don’t let that stop you from enjoying My Lord and Spymaster.
The Black Hawk
Time/Place: 1794-1818 England/France
If I could write words that rhyme, I’d write an ode to Joanna Bourne. Lucky for you I can’t.
What a great adventure this has been. Wow! I’ve just finished the last book in the Joanna Bourne’s Spymasters series, The Black Hawk. I cannot express my opinion in this matter strongly enough — if you haven’t read this series yet, what are you waiting for? Pick this series up and read, read, read! I don’t know if the Spymasters are done running around stopping those nefarious villains, but, I did check Ms. Bourne’s website and I suspect she has more tales up her sleeves.
On to The Black Hawk. We are dealing with characters who are not pleasant people. Adrian Hawkhurst and Justine don’t fit into our standard conception of a romantic couple. There are times when our couple is quite unsavory and do some very distasteful stuff. Hawkhurst and Justine have been continuing secondary characters in the previous books and now it’s time for their story to be told — along the way some loose threads from the other books are tied.
Even though this was a fairly dark book, the characters have a chance to exhibit an occasional glimpse of humor. We need that glimpse of fun because these people have to do some pretty unspeakable things to survive.
For those of you who are not fond of flashbacks, don’t let that prevent you from picking this up. The flashbacks play an integral part in the compelling voice of the work. This story is a real gem. The Black Hawk was an epic of sorts. It covers the time period of 1794 to 1818, but don’t groan too loud; this story wasn’t close to the boredom of War and Peace. This was an exciting story, both in its romantic storyline and in the exploration of a couple of horrifying times in European history — the Reign of Terror in France and the Napoleonic War.
Justine and Hawk’s relationship was fully developed and lush in its beauty. As you can imagine, considering there was a span of 25 years covered in this story, there was a great deal of change in our couple. I can’t tell you too much about what happened in this story — I don’t want to spoil it. However, there are murders to be solved, plots to be uncovered and villains to be caught. Through the flashbacks we watch two very complex characters grow, love, betray each other, and finally find their happy ending.
This is/was a wonderful book and the fantastic news for us is that it is part of one of the best series’ I’ve read in a long time!