The Spymaster’s Lady
Author: Joanna Bourne
Copyright: 2008 (Berkley Sensation); pgs. 373
Who: Annique Villiers and Robert Grey
Summary: She’s braved battlefield. She’s stolen dispatches from under the noses of heads of states. 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…
Comments: I chose this book based on the review at All About Romance and on several other personal/review blogs. Like many of the reviewers, I would have passed it by, just on the cover and title alone. And I would have missed out on a book that will surely be on my Top 10 this year. It is not easy to review, however. There are plot twists that are best discovered unspoiled.
Annique is very good at what she does. As a spy for France, she has acted as a courier most of her 19 years. Over the years, she’s hidden in enemy camps — never in English ones though — disguised as a boy, gathering intelligence. Thanks to one of her mentors, she’s been drawn into a situation involving France’s plans to invade England. As the book opens, she is being held by Leblanc of the Secret Police. He thinks she has the plans and he wants them for his own shady reasons.
Also imprisoned by Leblanc is Robert Grey and one of his spies, the wounded Adrian. Grey is a head of section — a spymaster — though Leblanc is unaware of his identity. Grey is also interested in the plans. He has come to France specifically to hunt down Annique and take her back to England. Annique helps him and Adrian escape, unaware of who he really is.
I loved Annique. At the risk of repeating what others have said, Annique is very French. Her observations and commentary had me chuckling. She’s not happy about the invasion plans. She loves her country, but she knows that Napoleon’s ambition is doing more harm than good. Annique has seen war, and invading England would mean more unnecessary deaths. However, letting the British get hold of the the plans isn’t an option either. Telling Grey would halt the invasion, but there is no guarantee the British won’t use the information to invade France instead. Even when Galba — Grey’s boss — gives Annique what seems to be an easy way out of her dilemma, she refuses to take it. Annique sticks to her convictions, though she knows she’s running out of time.
I also loved Grey. He’s protective of Annique — after all, Leblanc and half the spies in Europe are after her because of what she knows. And yet he has no qualms arming her so she can defend herself and protect others when the situation requires it. He knows she’s fully capable of taking care of herself. He also understands and respects the situation she’s in. He wishes they could have met under different circumstances.
Their romance is pretty low-key, secondary to the story. Most of the book involves the four of them — Grey, Annique, Adrian, and Doyle — fleeing France. Which prompts the following exchange, later in the book, between Grey and Annique:
“Have I told you I love you, Annique. It started about the fourth time you tried to maim me. I never did find time to say the words”
“It is the right time now. We are at leisure, and I am not armed.”
He’s not exaggerating about the maiming part. Annique was desperate to escape Grey and the others, but she has no animosity toward them. In fact, there seems to be professional respect between Annique, Adrian, and Doyle — all three are “career” field agents (Grey was recruited from the army). They know each other by reputation, if not by sight. And when the situation demands it, they can act as a team. I thought the part where Grey is pretending to be a stuffy, pompous German professor — traveling with his young wife (Annique), brother-in-law (Adrian), and servant (Doyle) — was priceless.
Speaking of priceless…Adrian. Nearly every time he spoke, it was to make a quip. There just wasn’t enough scenes with him in them. He needs his own book.
By the way, this is not a debut. The author wrote Her Ladyship’s Companion back in 1983. Her next book, My Lord and Spymaster, is due this summer.
“Walk in. Steal someone. Walk out. I love this work.”
— Adrian (one of his many quips)
Started: 24 February 2008
Finished: 5 March 2008