What it’s about: (from Goodreads) For years he’d lived a lie. It was time to tell the truth…even if it cost him the woman he loved.
Ten years ago he was a boy, given the name Thomas Paxton and sent by Revolutionary France to infiltrate the British Intelligence Service. Now his sense of honor brings him back to London, alone and unarmed, to confess. But instead of facing the gallows, he’s given one last impossible assignment to prove his loyalty.
Lovely, lying, former French spy Camille Leyland is dragged from her safe rural obscurity by threats and blackmail. Dusting off her spy skills, she sets out to track down a ruthless French fanatic and rescue the innocent victim he’s holding—only to find an old colleague already on the case. Pax.
Old friendship turns to new love, and as Pax and Camille’s dark secrets loom up from the past, Pax is left with a choice—go rogue from the Service or lose Camille forever…
Warning: Series spoilers follow.
What worked for me (and what didn’t): Joanna Bourne writes such beautiful prose. I get lost in it from time to time. Fortunately, she uses the beautiful language to tell a good story as well. It would be a great pity for it to be otherwise.
Rogue Spy takes place in about 1802. There is a rather complicated timeline for the Spymaster’s series. The first book, The Spymaster’s Lady, begins shortly before Rogue Spy and overlaps part way in. The Forbidden Rose, where we meet Pax for the first time*, predates The Spymaster’s Lady, and The Black Hawk starts off in 1818 and backtracks to highlight the complicated relationship Hawker has had with Justine. My Lord and Spymaster sits mostly outside of the rest of the series but it too overlaps Rogue Spy and The Spymaster’s Lady a little in terms of the timeline. I do think, for us romance lovers, it is a good idea to read them in publication order – particularly The Black Hawk. While they don’t really spoil each other, it is in The Black Hawk that we found out that Pax was a cache and that Hawk gets his HEA with Justine. In Rogue Spy, Hawker has returned from France having been shot and seriously wounded at the Louvre by the love of his life. Those events were covered in The Black Hawk, but what wasn’t there was his later despair and betrayal.. The poor guy is heartbroken and for me, it was only bearable because I knew he would get his HEA (having already read it). (Are you confused yet? ) Even though this was Pax’s and Cami’s book, those little Hawker bits were like Easter Eggs and highlighted the richly woven threads of the series.
Anywho, getting back to Pax and Cami… They met when they were both caches at the Coach House in France. Enduring a brutal training regimen, they were forged into weapons as children and then planted among unsuspecting English families to spy for France and the Revolution. They were both planted with the British Service – Pax as the “son of deceased agent, James Paxton” and Cami as the “niece” of the Leylands, a family of codebreakers. Both Pax and Cami found home and family among the Service and neither of them are actually French spies. However, being outed as caches casts the spectre of doubt over them and brings all of their prior work under suspicion. The story begins when Pax returns to London to confess to Galba that he is cache. At the same time, Cami is at home with the two “Fluffy Aunts” (who were awesome by the way:
“It can’t be much of an attack if he was in any state to be seduced afterward,” Violet observed.
– sharp and witty and also some light relief), in the village of Brodemere. She receives a letter from an anonymous blackmailer who informs her he has, in his keeping the real Camille, but will keep her secret in exchange for Britain’s “Mandarin Code”. Their paths cross in Braddy Square. It turns out that the blackmailer is someone known to Pax – someone whom Pax dearly wishes to kill. Under suspicion from the British Service and trying to stay one step ahead of the blackmailer and come out of it all alive, Pax and Cami recall their childhood bonds and make newer, more adult connections. Because that isn’t complicated enough, Cami also reconnects with long lost extended family who are basically thieves and con artists but very powerful in their own right and have their own spanners to throw in the works and their own aid to give.
As is usually the case with Joanna Bourne books, there are some simply beautiful word pictures created, which so aptly capture the emotion and tone of the characters and action. I found myself poring over them as I read, little gems to savour.
The thought of leaving England—and Pax —was a squirming bundle of worries and hopes and fears. She didn’t even try to sort it out. She just carried it around with her and took it out now and then to shake her head over it.
I found the book initially a little slow, but by about 50 pages in I was hooked and things were getting really interesting. After that I was engrossed and waiting with bated breath to see what would happen next. There was much to like and sigh over but there were some things which niggled. I found the ending too abrupt and I was left with some questions. I know what the status is some 16 years later because I’ve read The Black Hawk but how Pax and Cami obtain such status was a mystery – it certainly wasn’t spelled out in Rogue Spy. For much of the book, the narrative was strongly of the view that it would be impossible for Cami and Pax to stay in England and/or stay working for the Service. There was also something with the Baldonis which was a dangling thread to me and left me curious.
What else? I thoroughly enjoyed the book once it got going and once I’d oriented myself into the timeline of the series. I think another short chapter at the end by way of epilogue would have rounded things off nicely and answered most of my questions but as it was, the ending was so sudden I seriously questioned whether there were pages missing from my file (there were not). I could say that Cami’s and Pax’s attraction was sudden and there was not much actual time for them to explore a relationship. Much of their connection was based on time spent together as children and ten years and many adventures had passed since then. But in the end, I was sold that they belonged together so I suppose that tells you something about the calibre of the writing.
With the exception of The Forbidden Rose which was stellar from first reading, I have found that Bourne’s books tend to grow on me with time and re-reading. I’m not a big re-reader but I have read all of the series more than once (with the exception of My Lord and Spymaster – something I plan to rectify soon) and I expect it to be the case here. There is something about the way she fits a story together that tends to need time to ripen and fully bloom in my mind. For now, Rogue Spy gets a B+.
AMAZON KOBO BOOK DEPOSITORY
*I read a fabulous interview with the author where she said that Pax actually appears in The Spymaster’s Lady but he doesn’t appear by name.