Title: My Lord and Spymaster
Author: Joanna Bourne
Review number: 59
Genre: Historical romance
Stand Alone/ Series: It is a stand alone novel but with secondary characters that first appeared in The Spymaster’s Lady.
Summary: After her father is wrongly accused of selling secrets to Napoleon, lovely Jess Whitby infiltrates the London underworld for the real traitor—only to end up naked in the bed of a rude merchant captain. Not only is she falling in love with him, but he may be the scoundrel she’s looking for.
Why did I read the book: Because I loved Joanna Bourne’s The Spymaster’s Lady which was released early 2008. I thought it was one of the best romance novels I read lately and I wanted to see what Joanna Bourne would come up with next.
Jess Whitby is a respectable young lady. At the moment. It wasn’t always like that. At the age of 8, when her father disappeared and her mother was sick, she had to sell herself to Lazarus, the man that rules the streets of London, in order to survive. Jess was always smart, cunning and quick and for that soon became a great pickpocket and a very important member of the gang – she was Jess The Hand and everybody respected her including Lazarus himself ( think Artful Dodger and Fagin. ). Until one day, when she was eleven and her father came back and took her away – she then had to endure lessons on how to become a lady. But she also used all of her intelligence and expertise in helping her father to build their shipping empire – he was the dealer, Jess was the brains behind the operations.
And it’s now that all of her savoir faire, her past as a street urchin and her new money will be very useful: she is all alone again, as her father has been arrested by the secret service as a traitor to the country accused of being the spy known as Cinq, selling out secrets to France. And she must prove his innocence by any means necessary: she bribes, she hires, she searches until she comes up with a system to devise how and when Cinq would have taken the secrets out of the country and this his how she has a list of possible suspects. Unbeknownst to her, she is also being used by the secret service to do so – there are many factions trying to figure out who Cinq is and the plot is even thicker than we first think, because all of them are on to each other , spies spying all over and Jess is the one who is free enough do get away in the underworld and get to the truth.
Our story begins and Jess is about to have an encounter with Captain Sebastian Kennett, one of her suspects. She is to pretend to be a lady in distress and run into him and while he is protecting her, she will pick his pockets to see if he is carrying anything secret. Sebastian who is no fool, realises it is all a plan but thinks she is just a whore trying to rob him, a whore he would very much like to hire for the evening. But before they can do much, they are attacked by a bunch of Irish and Jess gets hit in the head. Bastian takes her to his ship to tend to her wounds and it’s there and then that instinct hits and he is certain that Jess is HIS. It doesn’t matter who she is or who she belongs to – the point is moot, she is to belong to him and him alone, possibly forever. At first he is really tender and careful to her but unfortunately for both of them, Sebastian is the very person who, in a personal vendetta against Cinq, found the proof that eventually condemned her father. Upon realising she is the daughter of his enemy, he soon goes from tender to cruel but that nagging feeling, that instinct that tells him that she is his to take, to protect, to seduce won’t let go. And he decides to help her prove her father’s innocence if it’s what it takes to make her trust him.
As with the The Spymaster’s Lady, the book belongs entirely to the heroine – it is her story, her path that we must follow. If in The Spymaster’s Lady, Annique had to make a possibly life changing decision about French plans to invade England, here we must follow Jess and her struggle to prove her father’s innocence and later, Bastian’s. It is her struggle, her fight and its on her side that I fell – it is impossible for us not to love her as it is impossible for Bastian either.
Joanna Bourne writes great heroines –some of the best I have seen. They are cunning, resourceful and I loved to follow Jess’ antics. She is a woman that will rely in no one to save her – she will go ahead and get everything done. She is very sarcastic and with a keen eye for everything around her and a quick tongue. I loved how she could be deceitful in front of others and kept using what another character called barnyard metaphors such as when she says:
“ Prosaic as a hen’s egg, that’s me”
But prosaic she most certainly is not. And even if she does stupid things she is always aware that she is probably putting herself in danger. She doesn’t think herself invulnerable; she just thinks she doesn’t have a choice – even though Sebastian would do anything for her, it is later rather than sooner that she will actually trust him. Even if she knows and it’s again, aware, of the sexual tension – there is not denial here that they both feel for each other: “They both knew what was going on. There wasn’t enough ignorance in this room to cover the palm of her hand”. But we feel that she will not let herself be all that she can be around him until she is 100% certain that he is not Cinq. Jess is one of those heroines I respect – because she has everything going for her. Not only brains, looks and courage but also self-respect combined with self-conscious fragility and vulnerability.
Now, for the hero. Unfortunately this is where my one problem with the book lies and where I had the same problem with The Spymaster’s Lady. We have a couple of heroines that are greater than life and when compared to the heroes , the latter fall flat and much less fleshed-out. Even though Sebastian is clearly a good man, heroic, possessive and obviously in love with Jess I still needed to know more about him. Not only that: he has a facet that I do not find appealing in romance heroes which is to use the sexual tension with the heroine to gain ground, being overbearing and much self-confident in his sexual power. I was especially frustrated at how he keep repeating that he would do this, do that and that she WOULD fall in bed with him soon muwahahaha. Stop threatening and do it already Sebastian, let’s see if you can get away with it, big boy.
Even if the hero is not all that, the book is still very good. Joanna Bourne has a very distinctive style of narrative that I find very alluring: the way she constructs sentences or how the inner dialogues of each character flows which was present in the Spymaster’s Lady and it ‘s present here. On top of that she had built an interesting and believable world of espionage with a very complex plot.
And speaking of espionage , this review would not be complete without mentioning Adrian Hawke. The young spy who was friends with Annique and Grey back in The Spymaster’s Lady and how has captured the attention of many readers. In My Lord and Spymaster he is a few years old and now is Head of the British Service and we learn a few more tidbits about his past that has left me wanting even more: he was also in the service of Lazarus when a child; he has loved or loves, a French woman and he spent some time in Russia where he became close to Jess. His role in the book is quite big as he is friends with both hero and heroine and is somewhat the master that put things in motion. His hands are tied as Head of the Service and he has to rely on Jess to bring the real Cinq to justice.
And talking about secondary characters: there is a ferret named Kedger who is not only a pet but accessory to Jess’ actions!
I wouldn’t say this is better or au pair with The Spymaster’s Lady but Joanna Bourne is definitely one to watch and read.
Notable quotes/ Parts: There is a whole sequence of events that lead Jess to go back to Lazarus and ask for his help. It is a potentially deadly situation since the gang thinks Jess has betrayed them. Plus she still belongs to him. Sebastian, of course, as the Hero thinks he is the only one that can save her. It is very sweet of him, really. Anyways, it ends with Lazarus selling Jess to Bastian for one shilling (oh, the ignominy). I have to give him credit though as he does not use it to his own satisfaction and when Jess wanted to buy herself back this is how it went:
“He cupped the back of her head, into that hair all gold and brown, and fitted her close to him and held her string and comfortable till her body stopped quivering. The whole noisy world stretched out on every side, and he had the most important part of it right in his hands.
“Who do you belong to, Jess?”
He asked, real quiet.
“I belong to myself”
“Good. That’s a start. Do you have a shilling on you?”
She looked up at him. “Yes”
“Hand it over”
She fumbled in a pocket among the farthings and pence and picked one out. Not as new and shinny as the one he’d given out for her, but a perfectly workable shilling.
“There,” he said. “You’ve bought your soul back. Take better care of it next time.” He tucked the shilling away safe in his watch pocket.
She said, “Don’t spend it all on sausages”.
Additional Thoughts: The fantabulous Katie(babs) also has an ARC review coming up today.
Check it out : Ramblings on Romance
Verdict: Well writen, with fantastic inner dialogues. I adore the heroine. Recommended.
My Lord and Spymaster is out in July.