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.
I love Jo’s books! She is an impeccable writer. I was immersed in them immediately. So glad to see you enjoyed them, too!
Betty — and I’ve got her whole backlist to read. That’s what I call good homework.
I read this one too and enjoyed it (though the cover art made me cringe!). What are the other books in the series? I tried to figure that out but was stymied. I would read more about these characters. And I have to ask… does she also use another name to write under? I noted some similarities to another set of books by another romance author… but maybe that is a trade secret that can’t be spilled! ;)
Kim — I should have been clearer. The second novel in the series is My Lord and Spymaster. The third hasn’t been published yet, but I’m looking forward to it.
I do wish publishers would give up on that kind of cover.
You could always email her and ask if she writes anything else under a different name: http://www.joannabourne.com/contact.html
I will certainly add these to my to-be-read pile :)
i always look forward to reading the books you reccomend. i haven’t been disappointed yet. i look for this one the next time. thanks.
I was just reading her blog. You two seem like long lost sisters. Too bad ya’ll live on opposite ends of the country.
Added to my-to-read list! Thanks for the recommendation.
I read this one and loved it–now need to find the next in the series!
I just came across her last week and added this book to my “Save for later” list on my Kindle. I am happy to see that you recommend it too!
After reading your review and the other comments people have left, I’ve ordered this through the bookstore. (really, they are just putting the copy that is coming in this week on hold for me)
When I was double-checking authors and titles on Amazon, I ran into one of those “suggested books” called A Catch of Consequence by Diana Norman. Have you heard of her or read anything by her? Or has anyone else? I’m always a little chicken to buy a book without a recommendation since I grew up using the library where there was no risk.
Oh boy, can I tell you about Diana Norman. I posted a long interview with her here, and all posts that mention her are tagged and can be found here.
You should note that Diana also writes under the name Ariana Franklin.
There are many enthusiastic Diana Norman fans who drop by here, as you will see.
Thanks for the links! I actually read Mistress in the Art of Death as Ariana Franklin because of your recommendation, but I didn’t know that Franklin is a pseudonym for Diana Norman. How wonderful to find a “new” author for my book list.
As an aside, I often miss whole sets of books, because of this practice that authors change their name when writing in a different style. Have you written a post about this practice? I know that there must be good reasons for it – the idea of battling a box that you are put in under a certain name and genre, I suppose – but as a reader, it is frustrating. I know that you do it. I’d be interested in hearing about if you feel that your readership of your contemporary books is smaller because of using your real name.
I haven’t posted about names and pennames in a long time — so I’ll do that soon. Good suggestion!
Love both her books! Can’t wait for more.