TBR Challenge Review: Does It Live Up to the Hype?

This month’s suggested theme is “All About The Hype (a book that created such chatter that it was inescapable).” I have to admit that I don’t have many titles like that TBR, because if there’s enough hype for me to buy it, I usually read it while the conversations are still going on.

This book, however, has been sitting unread for a couple of years now, and it definitely fits the bill. It was a RITA nominee in 2009; the author winning in a different category with a different book the same year. Everyone said it was beautifully written, and there was a lot of talk about how amazing it was — there were a few dissenting opinions, but mostly I heard raves. The problem was that I was burned out on spy books, and on the Napoleonic conflict. I had O.D.’ed on the first few books of Lauren Willig’s series, helping my son with a paper on The Scarlet Pimpernel, and a failed attempt at Georgette Heyer’s An Infamous Army, not to mention numerous historical romances with spy characters. So the book languished; I didn’t want to read a book that so many people loved when I was in a bad place for it.

When I did read a Joanna Bourne book, I immediately understood what the raves were about — she writes beautiful prose, and I love how she depicts character, attraction and conflict. I read My Lord and Spymaster in 2010, Forbidden Rose in 2011, and Black Hawk earlier this year, and I enjoyed them all. Reading this one wasn’t really a challenge, except that it required paging FAR back in my Kindle.

The Spymaster’s Lady is a great example of how a talented author can take elements I normally dislike and make them work for me. Instant attraction often doesn’t work for me, but with Annique and Grey, the circumstances of heightened risk made sense, and their reactions to their mutual attraction were great for illuminating their characters. I liked how they both acknowledged their feelings and tried to contain the damage that could result from acting on them; I liked how honest they were with themselves, and how they learned to be that way with each other. I enjoyed watching them go from allies to lovers all while they “should” have been enemies; the way that the best French and English operatives respected each other rang true to me. I thoroughly enjoyed many of the secondary characters, who were written with wit and nuance. I actually found myself caring about the espionage outcome, which is hard for me in this era because so much has been written and so many avenues explored/done to death. I especially enjoyed that the resolution and the HEA came about through action by both the main characters. There were circumstances that had to work out as well, but that made it better, in my eyes; it wasn’t a case of the characters’ stubbornness being the only thing keeping them apart.

Since Bourne is one of those authors who doesn’t rush out her books, I’m glad I have savored them. Realizing that I had this one squirreled away was like finding hidden treasure, and it was well worth the wait to read this book. Unlike most series, Bourne’s are not written or published chronologically; in face, the first three are in reverse chronological order, while the most recent book really spans the whole period, in a clever way. If you haven’t read these books, and you like smart, witty characters and beautiful prose, then I highly recommend Joanna Bourne.