It seems to me that it has been a long time since I came across a new historical romance series that really caught my attention. It’s always wonderful to find an author who can tell a story, knows the historical period, and writes beautifully.
Jo Bourne‘s Spymaster series starts with The Spymaster’s Lady, a novel set in Napoleonic France and England.
The story centers on a young French woman (Annique) who has grown up as part of a small community of elite spies. Both her parents, all the adults in her life, live the Game (as they call what they do). Her own career began at the tender age of ten, when her mother sent her into dangerous situations dressed as a boy. Annique is very good at what she does. Her character is intelligent and witty and contemplative; she is also deeply insecure and frightened when the story opens, and with good cause. She has recently lost her mother and she’s been captured by another French spy, senior to her, who has reason to wish her ill.
Annique is immediately intriguing, for her personal history and the terrible burden of secrets she carries, secrets that will cost (or save) many innocent lives. Napoleon is planning on invading England, and she has seen the document that outlines that plan in detail. When the novel opens Annique has already begun to doubt her commitment to Napoleon’s cause. She says of him: “It is Napoleon’s passion to conquer, not to rule. There will be no peace.”
So we meet Annique when she has been locked away in the cellar of the senior spy who wishes her dead. Also there are two British spies, one of whom is badly injured. The three of them join forces to escape and then to evade capture as they flee toward England.
I don’t want to give more away, because the plot is complex and quite cleverly put together. I will say that all of the secondary characters are carefully drawn and many of them just as interesting as the primary couple. I found myself hoping that there would be novels dedicated to a number of them.
Bourne writes beautifully. Her style is clean and still prosaic, and her dialog is pitch perfect. I am just about to start the second novel in the series; in fact, it will be what distracts me on the trip home, later today.