I read somewhere that Joanna Bourne wrote feministish historical romances. I grew up on Georgette Heyer, on the Grand Sophy and Devil’s Cub, so I do have high standards for my strong women and men who let them be.
I took a break of a day between those first lines: what has changed? I think my boyfriend may be breaking up with me. So this review may be a bit disjointed, bear with me.
I had planned to talk about the problem areas in the book and the instances where I felt a little triggered. Like, sadly enough (and triggerring for me), there are a couple of “you- know-you-want-it” conversations between the guy and the girl that I though were awful. The heroine, for all that she is strong and powerful and skilled, still needs to be rescued by her man. There is only one other woman in the book, and they never have a conversation with each other. It would definitely fail the Bechdel test, if it were a movie.
Things like these are part of the norm for most romance novels, but that I found them in a book that was supposed to reflect a certain feminist ethos shook me.
There are parts of it I enjoyed. The man recognizes her skill; even celebrates it. The women in the book have agency, and it shows. At no point did I wonder if she would even survive the plot twists if the man hadn’t been there. There is a certain wry humor to everything that appealed to me. And yet, the woman has splendorous magical virgin sex on her first go, and that screwed up the good.
The book is about a brilliant French Spy with an eidetic memory who runs to England when she realizes her superior officers are out for her blood. She wants to get to her old spymaster who serves as some version of today’s “cultural attache” in England, but ends up being taken in by British spies, who just want her to betray her country. They promise to keep her safe in return. Romance and daggers later, she finds her way to liberty and true love.
If not for the problem areas, I would have liked this book a lot. Because of the problem areas, my opinion is coloured with a faint tinge of disappointment. A solid 3 stars for effort, but seriously Ms Bourne, you can do better.