Yep, here it is a new year and a new reading challenge, and I'm starting out with one of the cheesiest, chest-baring, cape-wearing ridiculousnesses of a book cover that I could imagine. Sure, he's sexy, but is that really necessary? Fortunately I have a kindle, but I'd really rather not take out a book with that cover and read it in public. I guess the cover does its job in announcing that the book is a "romance," but it looks and feels embarrassing and old fashioned. And it's still a novel, not a Playgirl magazine. The cover doesn't do anything but limit how the reader might imagine the hero.
And the thing is that The Black Hawk (2011) by Joanna Bourne was a much better read than the cover would suggest. Yes, it's still a typical, formulaic romance novel, but it was also interesting and well-written. The heroine, especially, was honest, independent, smart, and resourceful.
So, the novel takes place in the, um, past, in the turbulent period of the French Revolution, Napoleon, and some warring between France and England. Justine DeCabrillac has been a spy for France ever since she was a child and her parents were killed in the Revolution. She met Adrian Hawker when they were both teenagers, and he was working for England. The novel begins after the war is over, Adrian is head of British Intelligence, and Justine falls at his feet at British Intelligence Quarters, almost dead from a stab wound. The story is told in a combination of flashbacks and scenes from the present, a technique that worked better than most times I've seen it in romance novels.
This novel had many comfort food romance features such as the incredibly loyal, protective, and loving hero and the certain knowledge that they're going to end up together. But it also managed to avoid some of the more annoying and outmoded romance tropes. There was no bodice ripping. Adrian did not have to 'convince Justine of her overwhelming passion despite her innocent protestations.' There were no pointless jealousies or stupid misunderstandings. The details of the spies, their techniques, and the war all helped give the feel of something more than just a romance novel. This was a quick, engrossing, and entertaining book. I think it was a commenter on Cannonball 4 that recommended Joanna Bourne, and it was good enough that I already know I'll be reading the rest of her books.