The Spymaster's Lady—Joanna Bourne
Tonight, in the long quiet hours, he would put his hands upon her and confuse her until she made the answers he wished, softly, in the intimacy of the covers. In the end he might make her want what he did to her. She was not strong and sensible when it came to this man. (58)
As with Storm Winds, I read this book a while ago for Vaginal Fantasy, but am just now getting around to reviewing it. Actually a draft of it with notes has been sitting in my blog for over a month now. Le sigh.
Anyway, this was the main during the month of July for Vaginal Fantasy. I have to say, I enjoyed it more than Storm Winds, but that's not really saying much because I abhorred Storm Winds. (To read more about that, click here.)
In this first book in a non-continuous series—by which I mean there are different characters within the same universe who are featured in the different books in the series—we meet Annique Villiers, aka Fox Cub, an infamous French spy. She starts out really badass and interesting, as we learn that—SPOILER—she is blind. What?! How could she possibly be an effective spy if she is blind? We'll get to that. Unfortunately, Annique has recently been captured by the British, and she escapes, but only with assistance from a set of British spies, Adrian and Grey. Reluctantly, they work together to try and prevent even worse spies from obtaining Napoleon's plans to invade England. Set primarily in Napoleonic France, the story ends in London, so it's got that international flavour that all spies love. Speaking of love, you'll never guess it, but Annique falls in love with Grey. Oh and also she gets her sight back. Because why maintain a unique character trait when it's just easier for her to regain her sight?
Let's start off with the first thing you see: the cover. This cover, guys. I can't even. Why? Wouldn't it make sense, with a title like The Spymaster's Lady to have, I don't know, a lady somewhere on the cover? Even a cheesy, typical romance novel cover here, with a scantily clad bombshell embracing a studly gentleman would be better in my mind.
And on that subject, WHY IS THIS BOOK CALLED THE SPYMASTER'S LADY?! If you read the book, you would understand that this is not an accurate title at all. Annique is just as important, if not more so, than Grey? I understand that, to some extent, it was to accommodate the series name, but come on. It relegates her to such an inferior role when that is not the reality.
Getting past that, this book started out with such promise. You don't know until a bit into the book that Annique is blind. She just seems super competent and an amazing spy, until you find out that she hasn't been able to see for the last several months following an accident. It just makes you like her and admire her more. She also has this amazing photographic memory, which is incredibly useful for a spy. You find out that she's been spying for the French since she was a child because of this particular gift and it makes her incredibly effective. There's even an amazing scene where she does surgery to remove a bullet from Adrian's torso because she's served on many battlefields and even blind is better equipped than either of the men. That scene was five star worthy. Espionage is always sexy and exciting, so that was a good start, too. And Adrian, Grey's friend and fellow spy is by far one of my favourite sidekicks and characters in any historical fiction. Really, Annique should've been with him. He understands her better, he's not a complete asshole, and he's charming. Grey is surly and possessive and grumpy; I found absolutely nothing compelling about him.
Then about halfway through the book, something incredible happened. IT WENT ENTIRELY DOWNHILL! Before the book jumped the shark, if it had continued in the same standard as before, I probably would've given it 4.5 stars. As it was at the end, I BARELY could muster three stars, and that was being generous.
Here's what happened: Annique separates from Grey and Adrian and their cohort Doyle and travels to London to give the invasion plans to someone there, and as she's traveling by herself, her horse goes by a tree, a tree branch clotheslines her and she falls from her horse. She's been told that her blindness is caused by some nerve impingement or something, and that any jostling will basically end her life. So she lays on the ground, awaiting what she is sure is her impending death, only to realize that her eyesight is returning. What a miracle! Or, if you're a discerning reader, what a cop out. I actually would've found her a bit Mary Sue in the first half if she hadn't been blind, because she was touted as being so phenomenal and amazing. But then the second half of the book happened. Like, what? It actually felt like two completely different books. After she got her eyesight back, she seemed to lose every modicum of skill she ever had.
For example, she runs into Grey and, after months of honing her recognition skills as a blind person, doesn't realize that this is a man she's been spending a lot of time with and reveals her entire background and plan to him, this British spy that she should really be against now that she doesn't need his assistance. I made this note: "For someone who is supposed to be such a skilled spy, she's a stupid fucking idiot." She even says it herself, TO GREY, several times as they travel from the coast to London: "If I would keep my mouth closed, I would not get in these situations." (192) Actually, though. Or when she tells Grey—as the alter-ego he's told her he is now that she's seeing, Robert—that he's just said something remarkably similar to a man she knows (remarkably similar because SHE'S TALKING ABOUT HIM!): "That is what he said to me. Almost exactly that. The man in France who was unkind to me and whom I loved in a way—he said that. You are a bit like him, did you know?" (209) To which I noted: BECAUSE IT IS HIM, YOU WORTHLESS EXCUSE FOR A SPY!
Not only that, once they get to London, Annique is essentially held captive in the London offices of the British spies, as they scheme how to get the information they need from her. Part of this strategy is Grey taking her virginity in a bathtub. Because that's sexy. Also, turns out the head of the British spies is her grandfather, and actually both her mother AND her father were British spies, and actually she's been a British spy her entire life. No big deal, just her entire identity brought to its knees.
Oh, it's been weeks since I read this book, and my ire is still high. At least it's over now.