Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The many pleasures of My Lord and Spymaster

Joanna Bourne wrote one of my top two favorite novels this year: The Spymaster’s Lady. So it was enormously exciting to get an ARC of My Lord and Spymaster from a certain ravishing redhead. Thank you Katie(babs)!

Dipping into this, I felt like I was laying into something rich and exquisite, and I wanted to gobble it up, but also take my time and enjoy it. I’d say, in a nutshell, that I loved this almost as much as I loved The Spymaster’s Lady.

A bit from the back:
Raised as a poor but cunning pickpocket, Jess Whitby may have grown into a wealthy young woman, but now she must once again rely on her guile. Her father’s been wrongly accused of selling secrets to Napoleon, and he’s going to hang—unless Jess finds the real traitor…
Jess focuses on one Captain Sebastian Kennett. He’s the target of her investigation, she’s the target of his infatuation. Is he the French spy, Cinq? It’s an excellent ‘In the arms of the maybe-enemy' tale. The conflict here is the hero and heroine’s reluctance to fully trust each other without proof vs. their attraction to one another.

And then of course there is Cinq. We get one chilling glimpse into his head, and he’s nasty! And we know he’s in the thick of things…possibly their social circle, business circle, neighborhood…but who is he? Will they unmask him in time?

As is my way, this will not be a proper review. However, my esteemed colleagues Katie(babs) at Ramblings on Romance and Ana at Booksmugglers have done excellent ones. And for a thoughtful dissenting opinion, see Jennie’s from Dear Author.

Onto the many pleasures
Pleasure #1: Jess Whitby: another kickass Bourne heroine. I want to second (third?) the excellent points that Katie(babs) at Ramblings on Romance and Ana at Booksmugglers made about this being a heroine’s book rather than a hero’s book. Jess is colorful, brave and delightful, and I enjoyed her shady history, and the way it resonates with Sebastian’s past. I know people complain about the power imbalance here between Jess and the men. I do indeed see why that charge is leveled, but it doesn’t bother me for a number of reasons having to do with the reality of the times and frankly, Bourne makes it sexy in places.

Somewhere in an interview on TSL…oh, let me find it—here at Romancebandits, Joanna Bourne discussed different kinds of power, and how Grey had brute power, but it’s not “ultimately useful—none of it will get him what he desperately needs.” That’s also the case here, in my mind. While Sebastian and Adrian help her get out of scrapes and so forth, Jess is using her street contacts combined with her bookkeeping and recordkeeping savvy to crack a case all these spies just couldn’t crack.
Random fun facts: On her blog, Bourne says she pictures Jess as looking like Robin Wright (pictured). And FYI, Annique from TSL looks like Natassja Kinski. Also, her goal as a writer is a sane 1000 words a day. No wonder her quality is so high.
Pleasure #2: Being in the head of a Bourne character—so satisfying! It always feels so intimate, like when you go to somebody’s home and find yourself surrounded by their favorite furniture and little treasures and signs of everyday life, and you get them on a visceral level.

I sometimes muse about what it is about the way she writes that creates this intimacy—I think it’s a mixture of the music of the language, the closeness of the thought process, the personality that shines through in the specific things her different characters dwell on—and the specific things that don’t occur to them. Just so satisfying to me as a reader. I especially relished this effect in the first few chapters.

Pleasure #3: Kedger the ferret! I have to say, I get very nervous about pets in books—I always worry some harm will come to them. Luckily, Kedger is just as streetsmart as Jess, with an equally shady past, being that he was her accomplice back in the day. And little Kedger helps out at the thrilling conclusion—in a totally believable way. On her blog, Joanna Bourne reveals that she’s into ferrets—before they were cool. I enjoyed learning all what a ferret can do. (She also has some nice writing tips on there.)

Pleasure #4: Adrian Hawke. Ah, Adrian, the young, brilliant and talented spy trying to do the right thing, but caught in the bureaucracy. Smidge of a dark side. Adrian is just such a pleasure to read about. A number of reviewers talk about Grey from TSL and Sebastian from this book as being unexciting and even two-dimensional. I had a bit of this sense, though not as strongly as others. But Adrian just sings on the page. I can’t wait for his book.

Pleasure #5: Lazarus. Lazarus is this crazy underworld crime boss with a labyrinthine organization of renegade children and hardened criminals. He reminded me a bit of Brando in Apocalypse Now, except he’s not insane. The thing that got me most was when one Lazarus dies, another guy takes his place. Is there a historical basis for this character?

Anyway, as a youth, Jess was The Hand, Lazarus’ ultimate inner circle helper. Jess goes to Lazarus for help at one point, quite a perilous thing to do, because with Lazarus, you’re not supposed to be able to leave.

Pleasure #6: The shipping backdrop. Both Jess and Sebastian are immersed in the business of shipping, and I enjoyed learning about it. The details were interesting in and of themselves, and deeply intrinsic to the novel. There were times where their opinions on the various import-export issues sort of characterized them.

This book will be released on July 1.


Tracy said...

What a great post CJ!! I can hardly wait to read this book! :)

Sarai said...

Okay so I'm guessing i need to get my butt in gear and read the first one right? Hum... that might help. B/c I seriously would like to read this one now.

Katie(babs) said...

So glas you like it!
Joana is writing Doyle and Maggie's story of when they first met and a young pre-teen Adrian will show up.
So glad you mentioned my ravishing looks! :D

Carolyn Jean said...

Tracy: I think you'll really enjoy it!

Sarai: I would say it's good to read the first one first, but you don't have to.

KB: Oh, that will be fun, to see Adrian as a youth.

Marg said...

A bit like Sarai, I really should read the first book! I own it. Just haven't read it yet.

Carolyn Jean said...

I am so jealous of all of you who haven't read that first book. Marg! You own it! I am going to haunt your blog until I see a review.

Dev said...

I haven't read JC yet but the more I hear about her, the more I think I need to find these books.

Christine said...

Girl, you are seriously the queen of improper book reviews! TEH QUEEN!

(can I just point out that I'm so excited that I finally got to use the 'teh'. So excited. And I'm a dork).

Anyway, I love your thoughts on this book and have a feeling that when I finally get to read it and when I want to post my thoughts.... all I'll have to do is post a link to here. :o)

I'm so glad that Adrian is as colorful on the pages of MLAS as much as he is in TSL and in my head! Can't wait for this!

Carolyn Jean said...

Dev: apparently from this comment section, YOU are not alone. For a while there it seemed like everybody read TSL.

Christine: Thanks so much! Yes, Adrian is colorful. And in my hut!

Ana said...

Hey CJ, I never told you that, but I love how you organise your reviews - they are more like thoughts you have while you read and it is both creative and unique to blogland.

Therefore, ahem, be prepared to be DARED.

Having said that, I love your thoughts on this particular book. I loved Jess, Bourne's heroines are the best. : )

Tumperkin said...

I can't wait to read this. I loved the Spymaster's Lady. I thought Annique was resourceful and brave and Jennie's review on DA seems to be describing a different book than the one I read.

As for Lazarus, there is precedent of sorts - the Dread Pirate Roberts.

So we've got a DPR figure and Jess played by Robin Wright. Any other Princess Bride analogies?

MaryKate said...

I seem to be spending all day today wandering from blog to blog "Humphing" over the fact that everyone has books I don't!

This is another one that I can't wait to read!

I'm glad to hear Adrian is in it again. I'm desperate for his story.

Ana said...

Oh yes!

Bastian can be Inigo Montoya trying to avenge the death of his friend.

Carolyn Jean said...

Ana: Dared? gulp. A blog dare? Thanks so much for saying that about the reviews, though! So sweet! The mother of this particular invention is actually laziness, though!!

T: I think you'd enjoy this one. And apparently I need to see Princess Bride.

MK: Don't fret, it will be July soon. I can't wait for Adrian's story either.

Ana said...

*stares horrified at screen*

You haven't watched the Princess Bride???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????


Carolyn Jean said...

ana; OOps! You know what? The husband is out of town for an extended time, and I have ordered N & S on Netflix and I was contemplating Grease, but from your reaction, consider me putting in for PB! I didn't realize!! Is this a gaping hole in my education???

Ciara said...

I LOVE Joanna Bourne and Can't WAIT to read this one. I'm so glad you liked it. I was nervous after reading that bad review at Dear Author. Heartbroken was more like it. But I don't think that author liked her first one either. Crazy!!!

Marg said...

I've never read The Princess Bride either!

Carolyn Jean said...

Ciara, I think opinions were mixed over there. I think 3 of the Janes weighed in. I'll be interested in what you say!!

Marg: Will you read it before you watch it? I'm going to watch it I think, now that I finally have control of the TV for a while.

Or, do I read it. Ana???

Brie said...

I'm really excited for this book, and your thoughts on it have me even more hyped. Excellent review, CJ!

Katie Reus said...

Great review!! Thanks for letting us know we don't have to read the first one :)

Aymless said...

Oh man! The PRINCESS BRIDE is a see/read. Both are outrageously funny. I must add this book to be TBB.

Ana said...

Watch if first CJ! It is such a classic, one of my favorite movies of all times. Full of wonderful quotes, wonderful characters. I only read the book about 15 years after I watched the movie (or something like that).
You will not regret it. So romantic, so funny, so so GOOD.

Let me know when you watch it? You must post about it! : )