Monday, August 30, 2010

The Spymaster's Lady & My Lord and Spymaster by Joanna Bourne

Titles: The Spymaster's Lady
            My Lord and Spymaster
Author: Joanna Bourne
Publisher: Berkley Sensation (2008)

The Spymaster's Lady is one of my top books read this year. I heart this book with the biggest, mushiest, lurviest heart there is and can't say enough good things about it. As one might expect, I then went into My Lord and Spymaster with some pretty high expectations. Why don't I give a little blurb for each and then some details on my thoughts.

In The Spymaster's Lady, Annique Villiers and Robert Grey find themselves imprisoned in the same French jail cell. Annique, a French spy, because it is thought she will betray her country and Robert because he is an English spy. A Very Bad Man threw them in jail and Annique plans to get them out of there as fast as possible. What she does not know is that Robert has come to France specifically to find her and then dabble in a little absconding. There's a lot more to this plot than the little I'm sharing here but it unfolds so beautifully - with some very nice surprises - that I don't want to share more than a brief introduction. I'll help myself to an old stand-by and reassure you that it'll "keep you guessing until the end."

Let me just get the unfortunate flaw out of the way now so I can focus on all the awesome: the villain is pretty sucky. I don't just mean that he sucks because he's bad but that his character is not so very well done. I called him a Very Bad Man because that's about all there is to him. His Badness is even expressed in not very creative ways. Thankfully his bits are separated into short chapters that I skimmed the first time and skip altogether in subsequent reads (and I've probably read this book 4 times in the last few months). Otherwise this book is one shining gem of book greatness. I honestly can't say enough about how awesome this book is. The plot is exciting and nerve-wracking, the characters (both main and secondary - excepting villain, see above) are fantastic and perfectly depicted, the romance is beset with believable impediments (a must in sgwordy's world) but the h and h are also very authentic as a pair, and did I mention the awesome plot? the awesome characterization? and the awesome hero and heroine? Oh, I did? Then don't let me skimp on the writing which is just gorgeous! I mean, just a total joy-to-experience lovely with very impressive depictions of languages and dialect.

Ok, so maybe now you can see with what expectations I went into my second Bourne novel. In My Lord and Spymaster Jess Whitby's father has been accused of treason. To prove his innocence she'll have to employ her considerable intelligence and all her cunning from her old life on the streets. As she attempts to gather steal some information from Captain Sebastian Kennet there is an attack on her life. He helps her to escape and, as a favor to a friend of hers, takes her into his protection (don't worry - it makes sense with the plot even though my brief description sounds weird). What she doesn't know is that he is the one who gathered the evidence against her father.

I'm going to start with what I liked and then make a few comments as to why I didn't enjoy this one as much as the other. First off, AND ALL SERIES WRITERS PLEASE TAKE NOTE, a couple characters from TSL show up in MLaS and I was not subjected to the recap/character outline that just screams (while beating you over the head) that a book is part of a series. And what blissful heaven it was. When the first familiar character showed up, I literally cringed as I waited for the laundry list of what is currently in the cannon, as it were, about the character. And, oh joy, it never happened. In what can only be described as a breath of fresh air, the familiar characters showed up, did their jobs, were as awesome as they were before, and acted just as I would expect from previous time spent with them. Thank you, Ms. Bourne!!!!! Thank you so very much for letting your characters speak for themselves! Thank you, thank you, thank you! (As you can see the "laundry list" technique is a huge pet peeve of mine.) The writing is as lovely as in TSL and the characters are, once again, very well done. Where MLaS lost me (and this should be viewed as a relative term because I still liked the book and it's on my Keeper shelf) was its lack of follow-through with plot. The plot is quite good with lots of what-ifs and various characters that might be "whodunit" but it still fell rather flat for me. I didn't feel like I was following its twists and turns but, instead, I was just hanging out with the characters as they moved from one dangerous situation to another while I waited for the end. Also, it's a romance, we know certain things about the romance formula that make several endings impossible. Since the impediment to our h and h being together relied very heavily on what I thought was one of the impossible endings I didn't believe there was anything really standing in the way of them being together.

So, to get the maximum enjoyment possible from these two novels I suggest starting with MLaS so you don't have the crazy high expectations going into it. I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more had I not read TSL first. However, no matter what, you really must read The Spymaster's Lady. It's just too damn good to miss! 

TSL -  4 of 5 stars
MLaS - 3 of 5 stars

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