I had actually just started reading Cloud Atlas, but work was stressing me out and I really needed to read about a world where men were unbelievably handsome, gallant, and perfect. So, I picked up my second book from Joanna Bourne, The Spymaster's Lady (2008)--cheesy cover and all. I'd been pleasantly surprised by The Black Hawk, and I'd already enjoyed the first chapter of The Spymaster's Lady (there was a preview at the end of The Black Hawk), so I had some expectations coming into it. And now that I've read it: meh.
This is another spy novel where the English and French spies clash and fall in love. Annique Villiers is the French spy and Robert Grey is the English spymaster. Annique holds the key to Napoleon's plans to invade England. She runs into Grey and Hawker in a jail cell and they begin a trek towards England where Annique will have to decide what she wants to do with plans that might help to avert another war. The first chapter shows the two heroes meeting and working together to escape their demise, which I really liked. But then the story moves on and all they do is fight. Annique tries to escape and Grey continually stops her.
It wasn't a great dynamic for me. I liked it much better when they worked together. Grey was too controlling (he drugged her for days to keep her from running away, which is oh so sexy for a romantic partner) and Annique kept trying to run away in the face of absurd adversity. As much as I praised The Black Hawk for staying away from romantic tropes and having strong characters, this one felt old fashioned. Annique is a virgin who refuses to kill anyone. Her repressed sexuality is brought out when she's all drugged up--again, charming. Grey is the powerful man who holds Annique captive, but since he's a nicer captor than the one she ran from, it's okay. He blames Annique for some murders (a misunderstanding, of course), thinks she's a little slutty, and treats her accordingly.
Now, there were a few interesting twists and some good parts, but on the whole I was disappointed. I definitely preferred The Black Hawk. In fact, I even preferred The Black Hawk hero's character (Hawker) in his side part in The Spymaster's Lady to the actual hero in The Spymaster's Lady. Hawker is funny, witty, kind, sexy, and insightful while Grey is controlling and manipulative. It's too bad Hawker can't be the romantic interest in all of these novels. It was still a quick, entertaining read, but it felt more like a typical romance novel than the more charming one by Bourne I had read before.