Joanna Bourne – “The Spymaster’s Lady”

12 Dec

GENRE: Romance / Historical
PUBLISHED: Berkley Sensation, 2008

SERIES: “Spymasters” series, book 1

WHY THIS NOVEL: My quest to read some of the often talked about books published in 2008 before it’s 2009. (I actually bought it back in January when all the good reviews of it appeared.)

The back blurb:
“She’s braved battlefields. She’s stolen dispatches from under the noses of heads of state. She’s played the worldly courtesan, the naive virgin, the refined British lady, even a Gypsy boy. But Annique Villiers, the elusive spy known as the Fox Cub, has finally met the one man she can’t outwit…
British spymaster Robert Grey must enter France and bring back the brilliant, beautiful–and dangerous–Fox Cub. His duty is to capture her and her secrets for England. When the two natural enemies are thrown into prison, they forge an uneasy alliance to break free. But their pact is temporary and betrayal seems inevitable. They flee, pursued every step of the way by ruthless authorities, caught in a net of secrets and lies. As the fates of nations hang in the balance, Grey and Annique fight the passion that flares between them–forbidden, impossible, and completely irresistible…”


  • I was reluctant to read it because I’m rather sick of spies in historical. Too often, it seems just a device to make the noble hero appear more dangerous and/or clever. Then back in May, I read a review that wasn’t wholly positive of the novel and mentioned several things that tend to bother me with stories rather easily.
  • I knew beforehand of Annique’s “problem” so I don’t know how well the revelation would have worked for me but so I can say that all the clues to her “problem” are there.

What I liked:

  • the writing
    There are so many reviews and comments that mention this so I’ll just say: it was such a joy to read the words.
  • Annique’s thoughts
    I very much enjoyed Annique’s view on things and the language used to convey her thoughts. No fake dialect there. It’s the sentence itself that suggest Annique is not a native speaker of English.
  • the spy part (!)
    I really liked the small details about spying, how you take note of everything, or how you judge other people on small physical reactions and so on. I was just really happy that these spies didn’t turn out to be fake spies like the ones I dreaded initially.
  • Grey’s and Annique’s awareness of the strong attraction between them despite being enemies.

My problems with this story:

  • Annique’s character
    I couldn’t make her whole in my mind. Annique’s character seemed like two persons to me. On the one hand, she was that super spy and perfect in all and everything: she has a eidetic memory, she speaks several languages flawlessly, she’s even formidable despite her “problem” and managed to become so in just a few months time, she’s clever. On top of that, she’s also drop-dead gorgeous.
    On the other hand, despite some horrible things she saw in her past at a young age, she somehow managed to preserve a child-like innocence and joy at living. She’s also afraid rather often, and let’s not forget her “problem.” This gets the “poor child” vibe going. She’s also young (19), a virgin, and she never murdered someone. In fact, she avoids doing that at all cost.
    All this makes her bordering on Mary-Sue status in my eyes (the behavior of some of the English spies ties in here: they seemed more like protective male relatives or dotting enemies – charmed despite their better knowledge.) It’s just because of the strong writing that this didn’t completely annoy me.
    I had trouble with Annique’s status as a super spy. The most obvious incident is when she tells a complete stranger a lot about herself (there are some mitigating reasons but still, men were after her to get her secrets and kill her, so no). In fact, this story development seemed like the reason for her “problem” earlier in the story. Without that “problem,” this telling-a-stranger wouldn’t have worked. It left me with mixed feelings about her “problem.”
  • romance novel strategies/”politics”
    Part of the problem I had with making Annique’s character come together had, for me, to do with romance conventions. I had the impression a lot of care was taken to make Annique likable to counter her being 1) a spy 2) for the “enemy.”
    – The second set of character traits more or less seemed to be there for that reason. It’s a more conventional set of characteristics for women in romance novels.
    – Despite Annique being this super spy, Grey always manages to best her. Probably because the hero always has to be able to be better than the heroine in a romance novel, I guess.
    Saying again and again how good a spy Annique is doesn’t make me see her like that when there are several factors working against that impression because of romance conventions.
  • repeated references to Annique’s childlike-ness
    There are frequent references throughout the story to make Annique appear like a child. She’s often called a “girl” or a “child.” She’s also often afraid and only feels safe with Grey. It made for a strange disconnect to her thoughts which then seemed to belong to someone several years older. But even more, this contributed to a slight unease about Grey’s and Annique’s relationship because they frequently seemed like adult and child.


  • It probably doesn’t look like it, but the problem part doesn’t outweigh the enjoyment part.
  • I don’t think I was still influenced by some of the more unenthusiastic comments I read back in May. In fact, halfway through the book, Annique’s too-much-ness and the constant reminders how good she is from all and everybody didn’t bother me (much.) It was only later, around the point when I got an idea how the conflict of enemies-in-love would be resolved, that all the small things finally just seemed too much, altering some of my impressions.
  • It was a coincidence that I read this novel right after Sarah Gabriel’s Keeping Kate which features a similar premise. I didn’t plan it that way but it was interesting.
  • I don’t know why with some stories, story and romance strategies and “politics” jump out at me, and with some, I only notice them when I really put my mind to it. It’s not because it’s more obvious in these stories. It also hasn’t to do with my emotional investment in the story. One of my favorite re-reads has an aspect to its man-woman dynamic that makes me feel slightly uneasy every time I read it.
  • This novel is hard to grade and a good example why I sometimes wish I wouldn’t have decided to do grades. One thing is sure, the grade would have been lower if not for the strong writing.

Would I recommend this novel? Probably yes.

Would I read this novel again? Maybe.

Grade: 4 – / 5


2 Responses to “Joanna Bourne – “The Spymaster’s Lady””

  1. Christine Monday, December 22, 2008 at 5:36 am #

    I liked this book a lot and bought the second book set in the world right around release day, but still haven’t picked it up. I think I enjoyed the spy plot a lot more than I expected and I liked the way the spy plot was interwoven with the romance throughout the story.

  2. Taja Monday, December 22, 2008 at 10:15 am #

    Reading this novel was somewhat strange for me. Without the strong writing…no. But at the same time, with just a few less references to her badass-ness as a spy and less images making me think of her as a child…I would have been all over it. LOL

    I liked the spy plot, too, and I think it has to do with what you said: that it was interwoven with the romance. And: I actually think about getting the next one. 🙂

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