Why I read it: I received a copy of the audiobook as a gift.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads) A glittering French aristocrat is on the run, disguised as a British governess. England’s top spy has a score to settle with her family. But as they’re drawn inexorably into the intrigue and madness of Revolutionary Paris, they gamble on a love to which neither of them will admit.
What worked for me (and what didn’t): I briefly reviewed the print version of this book back in March 2011.
I said then:
I’ve had this one on my TBR for ages and I really don’t know what took me so long to read it. However, inspired by the DABWAHA tournament, I decided to pick it up. I’m very glad I did. This is kind of a prequel to Bourne’s first book, The Spymaster’s Lady. Set shortly after the revolution in France, it follows the story of English spy Doyle and French aristocrat Marguerite. Bourne has such a wonderful touch with prose. You can tell when the point of view is from an Englishman or a Frenchwoman – there’s just something in the way the words are placed which make it obvious. And her phrasing, the pictures painted with words are just beautiful. Here’s a couple I particularly noted:
She could become lost in this man, in territories of amazement, countries of sensation.
She did not rush to fill the silence up, in case LeBreton might have a use for it.
The connection between the characters, how they related to one another and saw through one another and did not jump to misplaced conclusions about one another was refreshing and much appreciated. At the start of the book, both the hero and heroine are pretending to be someone else – but rather than making it the obvious “Big Mis” story, Ms. Bourne told another (and much more satisfying) tale. I was so inspired, afterwards, I went and read The Spymaster’s Lady again and then I ordered My Lord & Spymaster too. When I checked the author’s website, I was happy to see that Adrian’s story is coming out later this year. I’m very much looking forward to his story – we meet Justine (his lady) in The Forbidden Rose.
I gave it a B+. I don’t know what possessed me not to give it an A. It is definitely an A book. On reacquaintance, it is just such a beautiful and clever book. I love the prose. I love William and Marguerite. I love how intelligent and skilled Marguerite was and how she saves Will in more than one way and he does the same for her. They are different but equal. I love the way Ms. Bourne writes dialect in her narrative. It is clear when the POV character is French just from the syntax of the words. It is equally clear when it is a British character. The parts I quoted above stood out to me again when I listened, as well as many other phrases and passages. It is a rich and wonderful book.
The narration is both wonderful and… not so wonderful. Ms. Potter’s French accent is, as they say, magnifique. When I reviewed The SpyMaster’s Lady on audio (with the same narrator) I said I thought it was a bit odd to have the narrative parts spoken with an American accent, given that all the characters are either French or English. There are no American characters at all and it was strange to hear an American accent in such a book. That still holds true. I got used to it then and I was expecting it now but I still wish it wasn’t there.
Here, what was less than wonderful was another narrative choice Ms. Potter made. For most of the book, Will Doyle (Guillaume de Breton) and Adrian “Hawker” Hawke are speaking French. They are pretending to be from regional France. Will is, as his name suggest, from Brittany and Adrian has a Gascon accent. I don’t know what they actually sound like but I understand they French accent is quite different to the Parisian accent – I suppose it is the French equivalent to the difference between say, a Liverpool accent, a posh British accent and a Welsh accent (or something along those lines – same language, different sound). Ms. Potter consistently used a British accent – a lower class one for the most part, with slight differences each for Will and Adrian but not at all French. I knew the story but it made it difficult to understand why Marguerite thought they were French – they didn’t sound remotely French.
Part of that decision could be that Ms. Potter only has 1 French accent – most of the French characters sounded very similar and there were times when Marguerite was speaking to her cousin Victor when I couldn’t tell them apart. She doesn’t have a deep voice for the male characters. The main way you know Doyle is Doyle is from the British accent used for him (which gets a bit posher once she knows who he really is). Ms. Potter does have a broader ability to perform English accents and Hawker, Carruthers and the other British spies were all fairly easy to tell apart.
What else? The characterisations are excellent too. The “vibe” of the story is delivered splendidly. It makes it very difficult to grade the narration because the two things I didn’t love are fairly big things but the other aspects of the performance were stellar. Ms. Potter is one of those (welcome) narrators who can indicate vocally when something is an internal thought as opposed to spoken dialogue. The pacing, the building tension – sexual and otherwise are all superb.
I suppose if I were going to give a separate grade for the narration, I would give it a B.
The story and the combination of Potter and Bourne are excellent however and in the end the good outweighed the disappointing by leagues.
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