Wednesday, November 21, 2012

TBR Challenge 2012: Spy Vs. Spy

The BookThe Spymaster's Lady by Joanna Bourne

The Particulars: Historical romance, Berkley, 2008, In Print, First book in a series

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: It got raves when it first came out, and while I cannot distinctly recall, I'm pretty sure I bought this new (most likely at Borders ::sob::).  Also, I've met Bourne in "real life" and she's a lovely, lovely woman.  Hopefully she's still talk to me when we run into each other at conferences.

The Review:  Here I go again, showing my philistine underpants.

Annique Villiers was raised by revolutionary parents and spent her entire life spying for the French.  She now finds herself sharing a dungeon with some British spies, having all been ensnared by the odious Leblanc.  Leblanc wants some super-sekrit plans he thinks Annique has, and she's not about to stick around while he concocts ways to extract that information from her.  So she comes up with an escape plan, and in the process rescues two British spies, one of whom is Robert Grey.  When she finds out exactly who she rescued?  Yeah, she regrets the decision.

Robert also thinks that Annique has these plans that Leblanc is so hot for, and he also thinks she's responsible for a British mission that went horribly wrong.  So he wants to bring her back to England, along with her secrets, to aid their cause.  Of course he doesn't quite realize how difficult that's going to be, considering there are men after Annique who want her dead, but also Annique herself, who earned her reputation the old fashioned way - she's a damn good spy and keeps trying to escape.

It's going to be hard to talk about my issues with this story while remaining spoiler-free but I'm going to endeavor to do so.  Annique is at somewhat of a disadvantage early in the book, yet she is still somehow capable of being Badass Ninja Super Spy.  This was hard enough for me to swallow, but then later in the story, when there isn't that disadvantage anymore?  Yeah, it's then that she finds herself easily duped by Grey.  Suuuuuure.  In  other words?  I didn't believe any of it.

The other problem is the same one I have with all romances featuring spy characters.  They're spies and relationships, in order to work, need a modicum of trust.  I'm not exactly sure how, when or why Grey and Annique fall in love, but once they do I have a hard time picturing them settling into happy-ever-bliss before one of them guts the other while they sleep.  They're professional liars and connivers.  It's hard to imagine that as a solid relationship foundation.  But that's my bugaboo, not so much any fault of this particular story.

So if I had these issues, why do so many other readers love this book?  Well, I think I know.  For one, Bourne can write and the prose is very, very good.  Also, the history is really very good.  It's been ages since I've read a Regency with a continental flavor that actually developed the "continent stuff" so well.  Most notably, the fall-out of the French Revolution and Napoleon's rise to power.

Then there is the fact that Annique and Grey are essentially two sides of the same coin.  They're mostly equals, although this is where I had more issues.  Namely, Annique may be a spy but she's 1) a virgin and 2) doesn't kill people.  It smacks of the double-standard in some romance circles where the hero can be despicable and readers will still luuuuurve him, while the heroine can't be "too bad" or else readers will hate her and find her "unsympathetic."  So yeah, she's a spy but it's OK - she doesn't kill people and Grey is her first lover!  It's totally kosher - you're allowed to like her!

Bah humbug.

But I'm probably reading too much into all that - so chalk it up to Wendy needing to get a life.

So where does that leave us?  Well, I'm glad I read it, but it didn't exactly light my world on fire.  It also didn't make me want to drop everything and read the other books in this series - although I'm not weeding them out of my TBR pile either.  The very definition of an "OK" read for me.

Final Grade = C


Tracy S said...

You hit on the reason why I don't read "spy" romance novels--the trust issue. I imagine the movie "Mr and Mrs Smith" where they spend half the movie trying to kill each other. Not romantic to me.

Brie said...

I reviewed this one last week, and I had the same issues. Annique bothered me. Everyone kept telling us how smart and awesome she was, yet her actions were not smart at all. She uses her body to seduce people, but she's a virgin? The world is supposed to be gritty but she's never killed anyone? I wasn't sold on her, even if she was very charming.

I do see the appeal, though, and Ms. Bourne has a beautiful voice.

Great review!

Hilcia said...

I enjoyed this book a long time ago and thought The Forbidden Rose was a great read. I think you hit the nail on the head though, I love Bourne's prose and the way she blends history and romance -- can't call this (or the other books) "wallpaper" historicals, that's for sure.

Helena said...

I'm sad you didn't like this book. It's one of my favourites, and I enjoy re-reading Joanna Bourne's books because, as you say, "Bourne can write and the prose is very, very good".

I would urge you to read her other books, but I think that the very things which you don't like are somewhat inevitable in "spy books" which are also romances. I felt that JB dealt with them well, and made Anique a troubled yet credible heroine.

Christine said...

Oh no! Sorry to hear this one didn't rock your socks off. I read it years ago when it first came out and loved it. Re-read it within the last year or so and loved it even more! I understand the points you bring up, but I didn't think that deeply about the plausibility of a virgin, non-violent spy. I guess it doesn't sound realistic.. but I found the storyline so unique and the writing just brilliant. I have the next couple of books on my TBR. I can't wait to get to them because I've heard people say how much they love those even more.

Amber said...

I have this one in my TBR somewhere. I really should read it, since I have a high tolerance for spy "stuff." Maybe I should dig it out for the 2013 challenge. :)

Wendy said...

Tracy: Yeah, it's my own personal bugaboo. I will say that Bourne handles it as well as any author can, I just wasn't entirely sure WHEN they started falling in love.

Brie: I probably spent too much time obsessing over the double-standard, but I just couldn't help it. In that line of work? It just didn't feel right.

Hils: I really loved the historical aspects of this book, especially since so many Regency-era romances seem stuck in England. It was nice to have that continental flavor, and to have the "continent stuff" actually addressed.

Helena: I really liked many of the secondary characters in this book so I'm glad I have the other books in the series in my TBR!

Christine: I loved the writing, and I did find Annique very charming. Good dialogue too - which I didn't mention in my review! It didn't wow me, but I totally "get" why so many readers loved this book.

Amber: You should read it! I did think the writing was very good, and while I had my issues I certainly did not feel like reading this was time wasted.....