Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Spymaster's Lady -- Review

This book is jaw-droppingly good.

You should read it as soon as possible. You should buy, not borrow, because you're going to want to re-read it. Probably as soon as you turn the last page. Whatever 1-through-n scale you use to rate books, this is an n+1. It goes to eleven.

If Sydney Bristow were dropped into 18th century Napoleonic France, she'd be Annique Villiers... or at least, her best friend. Fans of contemporary urban fantasy/romance will instantly recognize Annique's ass-kicking, never-say-die, I've-been-in-tighter-spots-than-this style. In fact, this is probably a great gateway book for you if you think you don't like historical romances--the historical period is almost irrelevant. Other than the political situation, there are virtually no historical details in this book-- and you don't miss them. In a very real way, this is a timeless story of power, ethics, loyalty, and what happens when you drop love into the mix. Annique, Grey, and the supporting cast are characters that live larger than life-- they are prominent players on the world chessboard and it's not surprising that when love takes them, it takes them in a big way.

The pacing and complex character development makes the plotting feel intricate and exciting... but in actuality, the basic plot is a very simple -- not to say easy-- moral dilemma. I don't think I've ever read anything so good that consisted so much of the heroine mostly thinking about how to do the right thing-- and about what exactly that thing is.

It's the voicing and the characters that make it a must-read and have Bourne's fans clamoring for more. Within Annique's point of view, the diction and thought processes are thoroughly French, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. A snip:

context: she regains consciousness after being knocked off a horse

It was entirely typical she should have a view of stubby pine trees to look at for her last minutes of life. Typical she should be stretched flat in soggy, cold mud. She tried to compose her mind to a nobility suitable for such a serious moment. What she thought upon, however, was her stupidity in trusting Henri's horse and how uncomfortable she was and how hungry her belly felt and how radiant were those tiny drips that quivered down the needles of the pines... the drips that slid along the pine needles and fell one by one onto her face.

She waited. Minutes passed. Nothing happened, except that she became more wet.

It came to her that she was not going to die. Or at least, not just immediately.

Another favorite snip, full of Annique's wry and fatalistic personality:

Context: she tried and failed to escape

She could feel savage satisfaction coursing through his body. He was positively gleeful to trap her like this. She became very afraid of him.

An hour ago, she had set her hand against his heart and wanted nothing more than to stay beside him. She would now do exactly that. The universe had been treating her with great sarcasm lately.

I'm an instant fan. I am clamoring for more. In particular, I can't wait to get more of the delicious Adrian (a secondary character who travels with Grey and Annique) and hopefully a few glimpses of how Annique and Grey are adjusting to their happily-ever-after.... Sadly I guess I will have to keep waiting; the next book is not about Adrian. Neither is the one after that. Bourne's blogpost on upcoming releases.

Ah well. Something to look forward to.


Anonymous said...

I am sooo glad you liked it! (How could anyone not???) I loved Adrian too. I really really hope Bourne writes his story soon, and that she doesn't change his personality when he gets his own book. (Have you ever noticed that authors sometimes change delightful secondary characters into brooding alpha males when they become main characters? Bowen MacRieve?) Bourne's writing style is amazing. Beautiful. Genius. I can't say enough good things. Can't wait till July!!!

Ana said...

This is on my top list of best 2008 reads. I loved Anique and the writing style but to be honest Grey wasn't the most fantastic of heroes.

Nicola O. said...

I like Grey just fine, but I would agree that it was Annique's show, all the way. :)

Betsy O'Donovan said...

OK, I have a copy that I've been carrying around, but it got bottom-of-the-satcheled by a long-awaited Anne Gracie (The Perfect Rake) and something else that was recommended here but has been bookstore-door-effected out of my head just this second.

Anyway, I'm excited to read it; your recs are always so solid.

Betsy O'Donovan said...

Just finished it and I am blown away by the skill ith which Bourne maintained Annique's point of view. I love writers who can convey a thought process and a pattern of perspective with a minimum of noise between the reader and the thought.

And I thought Grey and Annique were a uniquely well-matched couple, and I appreciated how (relatively) unpredictably the plot unfolded without breaking trust with the reader.

In fact, I think one of the things that made it possible to unwrap the plot like a gift is that the book is so completely in Annique's perspective. One trusts her perspective (and competence) so completely that the things that surprise her ended up surprising me, too.

Also, there is nothing funnier than French pragmatism and fatalism set against a backdrop of can-do British optimism.


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