Rogue Spy by Joanna Bourne

Rogue SpyWhy I read it:  I received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

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+.

Grade: B+



 *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.

18 comments on “Rogue Spy by Joanna Bourne

  1. Janet W

    When you say to read the books in publication order, do you mean you don’t think the first book the reader should read is The Forbidden Rose? And I wonder where Pax is in The Spymaster’s Lady. ..

  2. Kaetrin

    @Janet W: I think the first two books can be read in either order but reading them in publication order gives that little jolt when you realise who “Maggie” from the first book is. It’s a small pleasure I admit. Definitely Spymaster’s Lady, then Black Hawk then Rogue Spy – I don’t think those 3 in particular ought to be read out of order. JMO.

    Jo Bourne says in the interview at AAR – Pax is the one who looks like a “librarian” in the room during the confrontation at Meeks Street with Col Rheims.

  3. Miss Bates

    You are spot on about Bourne’s books: they’re a little slow, a little laboured, but then I’m captivated and cannot forget them. THE FORBIDDEN ROSE, on the other hand, is my favourite: I read it with great joy and enjoyment. And still love it to pieces.

  4. Kaetrin

    @Miss Bates: I love Doyle and Maggie. I got a little miffed in Rogue Spy when Cami kept describing Doyle as “ugly”. He is SWOONY Cami!! LOL

  5. willaful

    I agree — love at first read with The Forbidden Rose, the others had to grow on me. I should probably reread Black Hawk before Rogue Spy, but I want to be sure to read RS before writing my best of the year posts… argh.

  6. Kaetrin

    @willaful: Are you an audio listener? I recently listened to The Black Hawk and I found it really helpful for orienting myself in Rogue Spy.

    I find with audio and print/digital, I get to do double the reading and it means I can sneak some extras in I wouldn’t otherwise get to.

    You know what’s weird? Rogue Spy is out in ebook in Australia but The Spymaster’s Lady and The Forbidden Rose aren’t out until December 4 and My Lord and Spymaster and The Black Hawk aren’t out until 8 Jan. They have beautiful covers (I believe they are the UK covers) but it’s weird that they’re released out of order here. I’m sure it has something to do with weird Australian copyright laws and/or publishing rights/geo restrictions. I think Rogue Spy is definitely the wrong place to start the series.

  7. willaful

    Oh, great idea, I’ll see if the library has it. I absolutely loved the audiobook of TSL and I’m bored with my current audiobook.

  8. Shaheen

    @Kaetrin: I love the fact that Doyle is ugly! I picture someone like Philip Glenister … technically very un-pretty, yet at the same time with a real animal magnetism. Ugly but sexy. I always like it when writers feature characters who aren’t good-looking, but are attractive. It’s so rare. Handsome dukes are the standard in historical romance, so it’s really refreshing in Forbidden Rose to have this scarred, unshaven, frankly scary looking brute, who you just know could seduce every maid between London and Paris.

    In fact the only flaw on Doyle is that he’s gentry – that doesn’t work for me.

  9. willaful

    That’s my one big complaint about Bourne’s books, that everyone turns out to be an artistocrat.

  10. Kaetrin

    @Shaheen: LOL – I only meant that once I’d read The Forbidden Rose Doyle was handsome to me. I know he’s not “traditionally handsome” but once I “loved” him he could never be “ugly”, if that makes sense. 🙂 (I kind of imagine him like a slightly better looking version of Gene Reno).

    Of course at that point, Cami didn’t love Doyle so it made sense she would see him that way – I expect that she did come to love Doyle in later years (although not in the romantic sense). I wonder if her opinion changed? People we love and respect always become better looking I think.

    @willaful: At least they’re not all dukes!

  11. Shaheen

    @willaful: especially since it never rings true! Justine and Doyle, in particular, just don’t come across as having been born in privilege. And it’s unnecessary to the story. Pax, for example, would work just as well if he wasn’t a Secret Earl.
    One of the things that makes Hawker (‘Awker) such a great character is that he’s genuinely a street-kid, and we get to see him make good (even if that includes passing himself off as a toff).

  12. Kaetrin

    I have a vague memory that Doyle was born on the wrong side of the blanket – but I might have just made that up.

  13. Amara

    Actually, near the end of BLACK HAWK, we see that Doyle is a Viscount (Lord Markham). He just hides his title well.

  14. Janet W

    Willaful, when you said: “That’s my one big complaint about Bourne’s books, that everyone turns out to be an aristocrat,” it could be a lot worse — no dukes or marquesses so far (although there’s a young French duc who stayed with Maggie and Doyle…that’s all I remember).

    Have you read My Lord and Spymaster? Hero captain Sebastian Kennett is born on the wrong side of the aristocratic blanket and I’m pretty sure that although Jess Whitby turns out to be a wealthy ship captain’s daughter, for years she was one of Lazarus’s pickpockets.

    Shaheen, I remember Justine walking through the Louvre (was she trying to save Napoleon?) and she spotted a painting that was on her bedroom wall growing up. Interesting. And Doyle knows how to use his damn-their-eyes aristocratic background to throw his weight around–plus his country house seems like both a refuge and a place where spies get brought up to speed (learning shooting and all that…would have helped ‘Awker along the way).

  15. Kaetrin

    @Amara: There was some discord with his father… I’ll have to look up the books so see where I got that from. Maybe it was just that they didn’t get on. I have (another vague) memory of him not particularly wanting to take up his title.

    At the beginning of The Black Hawk, Adrian is Sir Adrian Hawkhurst – that was a title he received for his services to the Crown so he wasn’t an aristocrat by birth. It made sense to me he’s receive a knighthood for his service.

  16. Janet W

    “Discord”–his dad beat the *$%( out of him as I recall. Until Doyle was bigger than the father. And he had older brothers so no one expected him to inherit. I had the feeling Doyle was not going to reject something that was his by birth but why wouldn’t he *ahem* do both?

    Pretty soon everyone will be able to read Ladyship’s Companion–think it will be a treat to see Sir Adrian before he was reunited with Justine.

  17. Kaetrin

    @Janet W: I have that one on my TBR *excited* 😀

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