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Book Cover Lawson’s review of My Lord and Spymaster (The Spymaster Series, Book 2) by Joanna Bourne
Historical romance released by Berkley Sensation 1 Jul 08

With many words of praise for The Spymaster’s Lady, Bourne’s second book this year, My Lord and Spymaster, matches Lady in terms of characterization, style and use of dialogue. What’s different is the setting and issues the spies need to deal with. There are some appearances by some characters from Lady as well, in Doyle and Adrian, which leads me attempt to say the time of this book sometime after 1808, as there’s mention of Doyle’s daughter causing trouble in Spain for Napoleon.

Ok, so after some surfing around the author’s blog I found that it’s set in 1811. Some other surfing lead to finding pictures of people (famous and not so) that look like the characters. Adrian’s looks a bit like David Tennant to me. . . but I think that’s a pondering for another day.

The story opens with Jess Whitby and Doyle hiding in an alley waiting for Sebastian Kennett so that Jess can pick his pockets and find out if he is the traitor called Cinq. She’s hoping to incriminate someone else, as her father is currently being held as a suspected Cinq by British Intelligence on Meeks Street. Jess hopes the scheme will work, as Sebastian comes down the street drunk. Instead a gang comes out of the woodwork and tries to kidnap Jess, and though rather inebriated, Sebastian is able to fend them off and takes Jess back to his ship.

Though incoherent due to a head injury, Sebastian falls quick and hard for Jess, until Adrian, who had been with Sebastian during the attack, lets Jess’ last name out. Sebastian had been the one to turn over the majority of the evidence against her father. Since people are after Jess, most likely hired by Cinq (as Jess and Adrian both believe her father is innocent) she is ensconced in Sebastian’s house for protection.

As Jess tries to clear her father’s name, she starts to fall for Sebastian one day at a time as he wears down her resolve with a well planned seduction. Jess stumbles her way through London gathering all sorts of evidence and doing her best to avoid being caught, all while using her tricks of the trade (picking pockets, locks, burgling and jumping off roofs) she learned as a young poor urchin in East London.

The characterizations of Jess, Sebastian, Adrian and even Cinq’s motivations are so well layered, it took my breath away. I spent as much time thinking about these characters, their motivations and their actions I think I could probably write a dissertation on everything that came out of it. Well, maybe not that long, but tackling some analysis may make this review a bit long, so dear reader, you have been warned.

Sebastian is first, because he’s a bit less complex than Jess. Sebastian had not the best childhood, as he’s the bastard son of an earl, who made enough money in shipping to buy his father’s house from him. He was saved at the age of eight by his aunt Eunice, who lives with him, and given the chance to make something of himself. Though he’s a master trader, over time he’s become an agent for British Intelligence. Though Sebastian does tend to see the world in black and white, with Jess he easily accepts the shades of grey and pursues her even though he’s trying to put away her father for treason. As Adrian slowly convinces him of Josiah Whitby’s innocence, he falls harder for Jess and takes her foibles in stride to make her his woman.

Jess is far more complex. Though she’s 21, she’s experienced the world’s harsh realities, she is still a bit of an idealist and seems to walk through life with blinders on. She’d had to sell herself to the leader of London’s underworld at the age of eight, she’d killed a few men, had her sweetheart taken from her and redesigned her father’s company accounting system by the age of sixteen. Talented in the ways of the underworld, but raised by her father to try to be some semblance of a lady.

What Jess is though, is a woman with a child’s heart. She doesn’t see the world through rose colored glasses but she has a very defined view of what is black and white, which is different from Sebastian’s. How she behaves in trying to clear her father’s name and getting evidence shows she really doesn’t think, or that she’s afraid to think. Though she is brilliant, with the accounting system, fluency in multiple languages and the running of her father’s shipping business, she has a huge lack of common sense and perception of her personal safety. There are instances of her risking herself because she just does things without thinking of the possible consequences.

Though this is well founded as a character trait of hers from when she was a child, one would think that she had learned to take greater care with her well being. The realization is though, she’s always really had to fend for herself. She’s loyal to a great fault, as evidenced in the things she’ll do to try to clear her father’s name, but really no one has been there to care for her. They always seem to leave, her father (when she’s a child and later in conducting his shipping business before she’s involved), Adrian (he was with Jess and her father in Russia for a few years), her mother’s death, her sweetheart and probably countless other important or not important people in her life.

She inspires loyalty in caring in others though, which leads to Sebastian’s infatuation with her, Adrian’s fear of the loss of her good opinion, and her protection by Lazarus, king of the underworld, even though she has a reckless abandon with her own life in trying to fulfill her goals to complete her ends. I understood Jess, but I can’t particularly say that I liked or really respected her. Bourne’s characterization of Jess though, slowly filling in the backstory and peeling away the layers of her bravado and showing the vulnerability underneath everything is what made the story extraordinary.

So Jess I understood, Sebastian I loved and Adrian I adore to no end and I can’t wait for his story. I’d like to see what happens to Lazarus in the end, for he’s got something in store for him as well, but Adrian was wonderful and he will make a spectacular hero when his time comes. Though, if Adrian and the Intelligence Service are trying to convict or acquit Jess’ father, with the amazing amount of sources that Jess is able to help gather, some questions are never asked. If Josiah is Cinq, is he in England when those packets of information go missing? Who is his connection in those higher circles that could give him access to that sensitive information? Two things that are never brought up, unless they have already been asked and answered off the pages of the book.

The nuances of plot and story that takes these characters to the end of this story show Bourne’s writing is going to greater heights, and though I didn’t enjoy some parts, I can’t give this book any lower grade than I have due to the exceptional writing style, characterization, and historical feeling. I love a book that really makes me think and use those analytical skills in many different ways.

lawson-icon.jpgGrade: A-

Read more at the Spymasters series tag.

A daring beauty, she was infamous for taking chances. . .

Raised as a poor but cunning pickpocket, Jess Whitby may have grown into a wealthy young woman, but now she must once aga 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 in the London underworld. She never dreamed her search would begin by waking up naked in a rude captain’s bed. Or how little she’d mind. . .

Now she’ll risk everything for love.

When Captain Sebastian Kennett prevents a kidnapping on the London docks, he takes the headstrong would-be victim home. He’s infatuated with her courageous spirit. Shes enthralled by his commanding strength and the sexy spark in his eyes. Then she discovers something else about the spellbinding seaman: he could be the traitor she’s hunting, the man whose next move could determine her father’s fate-and her future as well.

Other books in this series:
Book Cover