by Joanna Bourne, historical (2008)
Berkley, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22246-1
My Lord And Spymaster has a pretty tortuous plot full of people with second and sometimes third identities, so I think I will just give a bare outline of the plot here. Meet Jess Whitby. I won't go into her past because you won't believe me unless you're a big fan of soap operas, so let me just say that the author claims that Jess is a good thief. When Jess' father is arrested because the brave spies of England believe that her father is the big bad spy known as Cinq, Jess decides to go to his rescue. She will pick the pocket of the man she suspects to be the Cinq, our hero Sebastian Kennett. Since there will be no story otherwise, our master thief bungles up the plot and ends up injured - and naked, because it's sexy to be naked, don't forget that - in Sebastian's manly arms. Sebastian believes that Jess' father is the Cinq, but that won't stop him from claiming the traitor's daughter as his woman. If you look under Sebastian's bed, I suspect that you will find a stash of much-thumbed Christine Feehan novels, with the pages containing the spiciest love scenes bookmarked with a stale cracker.
Maybe it's because I'm listening to Queen as I read this novel - These Are The Days Of Our Lives never fails to get me into a sentimental and even drippy mood - but I find myself enjoying this story despite the fact that I think the two main characters are total freaks. The pacing of good, and the mystery has me turning the pages (and blanking out on Jess' pathetic "My father is innocent because I know!" rambling), and the quality of the prose is good.
It's just that, if you ask me about the romance, I'll stick a finger down my throat and make gagging sounds. Jess is always in a position of weakness in this story, so much so that I can't help thinking that the author must be joking every time she has the hero or a secondary character remark on what a strong-willed, resourceful, et cetera heroine Jess is. The things that she manages to pull off successfully on her own - the operative words here being pull off successfully on her own - are arguably of little to zero consequence to the advancement of the storyline. Sebastian always have the upper hand, he always comes in to take over, and he also steps up to rescue Jess far too many times for my liking.
By the late third of the story, we have two scenes where men argue over whom Jess "belongs" to (the author uses that word herself), with Jess present in one of those scenes, giving her best impersonation of a simultaneously aroused, confused, and asphyxiated goldfish as the two men argue over her as if she's too stupid to make her own decision as to which guy will get to own her. And sadly, she is unable to make that decision. Also, by this point, it is also very clear that Jess has completely no power over her situation. Sebastian, her father, and other big brave men all hold her cards close to their chests. All Jess can do is to let Sebastian masterfully shag her as she poses like a vulnerable delicate lily or something while wailing that the men she loves (her father, Sebastian, all the orphans in the world) couldn't - couldn't, just couldn't! - be the bad guy.
My favorite scene in this story is this one, on page 247, because this scene tells the complete truth:
She said, "Look, I think - "
"Just... bloody... stop... thinking."
Truthfully, this story will be so much more enjoyable if Jess is a magical blow-up doll who can talk but can't move. That way, when Sebastian growls that he owns her, at least I can say, "Yeah, good for you! The cabin boy will be so relieved!" Jess being a helpless magical blow-up doll will also make her various demonstrations of romance heroine ineptitude more reasonable. Life can be unfair to poor Jess in that I tend to expect a greater degree of expertise in subterfuge from a so-called expert thief and therefore when poor Jess can't deliver, I am not amused even a little. If Joanna Bourne is a worse writer, I'd suspect that she's the pseudonym for Samantha Saxon, that darling author who attempted to write spy romances only to throw into my face some of the most emotional, inept, and gruesomely stupid "spies" and "assassins" I have ever come across. Jess is that bad.
The romance is... well, one thing I can say about the romance is that at least Jess and Sebastian belong together. She can't think or do much that is right while he believes that he can do all the doing and thinking on her behalf, so in a way, this is indeed a match made in heaven. Even if "love" seems more like possession of a pretty thing to add to his collection on his part and a desire to have a daddy to protect her on her part, perhaps they do belong together.
My Lord And Spymaster is well-written story that manages to be enjoyable despite the fact that the romantic component of the story is an utter, complete, and total dud where I am concerned. It is quite the pity that the author seems enamored of heroines who end up one way or another being hopelessly powerless and very dependent on their big strong men to protect them from the need to think or face the cruel world.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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