July 2008, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Berkley Sensation, $7.99, 324 pages, Amazon ASIN 0425222462
Let’s start off with the good news: Joanna Bourne clearly isn’t a Oneder. (Insert sigh of relief here.) The slightly less good news? My Lord and Spymaster isn’t quite as blow-me-totally-out-of-the-water terrific as The Spymaster’s Lady, but it’s a very, very good historical romance featuring complex and flawed characters far out of the typical wallpaper mode.
Jess Whitby is out to prove that her father is wrongfully accused of being an infamous French spy. The intrepid young woman devises a complicated plan to pick the pocket of shipping company owner and captain Sebastian Kennett, her father’s main accuser, in an attempt to locate evidence. Her plan goes awry when she is suddenly attacked and her intended target rescues her from the consequences of her head injury and takes her to his berthed ship. And, yes, the requisite scene in which the unconscious heroine is stripped naked by the lusty sea captain follows.
Soon enough Jess finds herself ensconced in Sebastian’s Mayfair mansion along with his family after the two arrive at a sort of a truce. Sebastian seeks to protect Jess from whoever is attacking while Jess continues to look for evidence that will prove her father's innocence.
The plot here is complex – perhaps too much so, quite honestly. Jess and Sebastian seem to view each other with distrust at various points in the story and, to be honest, their shifting feelings sometimes made sense to me and sometimes they didn’t. But while I wasn’t overly enamored with all the ins and outs of the author’s plot, I did love the characters of Jess and Sebastian who constitute the reason to come to this party.
When Jess found herself orphaned on the streets of London as a child for reasons that are really too complicated to explain here (that twist-y plot again), she was taken in by the king of the city’s underworld where she developed allegiances and talents that are still a part of the adult woman she is in this story. As if that weren’t enough, she is also a gifted businesswoman and mathematician largely responsible for the enormous success of her father’s shipping business.
Sebastian is a truly wonderful character with many classic heroic attributes, but he possesses one quality I found especially endearing: He admires and respects everything about Jess just as much as he lusts after her. (And how cool is that?) As a bastard child of the aristocracy raised initially on the streets of London and later by a loving aunt and uncle, Sebastian comes along with his own complicated past and he is more than a match for Jess.
On the downside, I have a quibble that bothered me enough in the book’s early pages that it bears mentioning. The author employs some rather odd syntax. For example, on the book’s very first page there’s this: “The afternoon faded in around her, drizzling.” Okay, strange sentence structure aside, but since when did an afternoon drizzle? And on page 11: “Almost, he could hear them breathing.” I’ve never been an English teacher, but I was an English major and I longed to write “awk” in the margin with every fiber of my being. All told, I marked six passages (the cat “picking his way, finicky, across the cobbles”) in the book’s first 13 pages. These instances seemed to diminish into virtual nonexistence in the remainder of the book, so their prevalence in the book’s early pages is puzzling. And undeniably distracting.
Quibbles and too many plot twists aside, the characters are more than enough reason for those who enjoy meaty historical romance to read My Lord and Spymaster. Joanna Bourne is an undeniably powerful new voice in historical romance and I look forward to reading her books for many years to come.
-- Sandy Coleman
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