The Spymasters series, by Joanna Bourne

It’s hard for me to believe that these books flew under my radar for so long. I see that I had checked The Black Hawk out of the library, even, but not read it (which is good, because really, of all the books in the series, that one is the one that benefits most from the build-up! Definitely not a standalone candidate).

I guess that we read the books we’re meant to read, at the time we’re meant to read them. And for me, that time was now. I started on this series this spring, and binge-read my way through all five of the currently available books. I was late getting back from lunch, at work, because I was busy reading. I stayed up way past bedtime more than once. Now I’m sad because the sixth (and probably final) book, Severine’s book, Beauty Like the Night, isn’t out until August. For now, have some capsule reviews of the rest!

I read them in chronological/event timeline order rather than publication order, because my brain works that way.

The Forbidden Rose: Doyle’s story! I love me some Doyle, and not just because he reminds me of my husband (cleans up nicely but is a working man). Doyle and Maggie are utterly charming together, and Marguerite is pretty incredible on her own too. This is our introduction to Adrian and Justine, and really the setup for the rest of the series. The scenes of the chaos in Paris were gripping, heartbreaking, but none so much as Justine leaving her sister in the care of Doyle and Maggie. 4 stars at time of reading and 5 stars on further reflection.

The Spymaster’s Lady: I put this on my “multiple rereads, it’s that awesome” shelf in Goodreads. That’s the first thing you should know. The second is that the heroine has a secret that even we don’t know, at first, and when you realize it, you’ll be as flabbergasted as I was that she managed the things she did. It starts with a daring escape and the adventure continues at a breakneck pace from there. Annique and Grey are delightful together, both a little bit curmudgeonly and with reason, and the secondary characters, particularly Doyle, are fantastic. Let’s not forget — no, we’d never forget — Adrian. *swoon* — 4 stars

Rogue Spy: The action in this happens somewhat in parallel with The Spymaster’s Lady. Pax’s story is pretty heart-wrenching, and watching him find some measure of happiness by the end of the book was great. He and Camille have a shared history as child spies of the French Secret Police, and their relationship is as tangled as can be. That they come to any sort of denouement is amazing. I shelved this one as ‘multiple rereads’ but also as ‘dark’ and ‘damaged hero/heroine’. 5 stars.

My Lord and Spymaster: Oh, another ships-and-kidnappings story. Except it did turn out to have plenty of surprises! I think my favorite thing about Bourne’s writing is that her H and h generally start off as enemies, or at least at odds/on opposite sides, and watching them work around to love is pretty neat. Especially when there are a lot of complications, as there were in this story. I found some of this particular novel a little unbelievable – that Jess could have ‘belonged’ to the crime lord and then simply gone on to have a whole other life – but it worked fine for the plot. As always, our favorite secondary characters are here, waiting their turns for their stories. — 4 stars

The Black Hawk: The book everyone was waiting for – Adrian Hawkhurst and Justine de Cabrillac. So, is it just me or did anyone else miss some bits, like when and where Adrian changed his name and became a Sir? Anyhow, in this story, we find him mature and rather terrifyingly in charge of the British Intelligence Service. Justine drops back into his life when someone attempts to kill her nearly on his doorstep. We learn, through many flashbacks, of their complicated history. I think one of my favorite things about this book is that both of them are older – mid-thirties or more, if my math is right – and there’s no expectation that they will have an epilogue with babies and idyllic country house parties. There’s a lot of accumulated damage and a lot of work on both sides to reach a happy ending. But they do, oh, they do. 5 I’m-not-crying-you’re-crying stars.

Now for the countdown to August 1……………….