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.