Tag Archives: effective story telling

Book Review: The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne

In January, this mermaid was fins deep in both reading and writing.  This was due to that fabulous Savvy Author’s workshop, Editpalooza, I haven’t stopped raving about.  Today, three months later, I’m still benefitting from its lessons and its where my book review has sprouted from.


But backstroking to the first week’s assignment, we had just been tasked to open our manuscripts and read from title page to the end–The Full Read.  The rule for this lesson was to make short notes whenever our eyes would start to skip a paragraph, glaze from the page or get confused and then report these issues to our group and editor.  My notes mostly consisted of too much back story in the opening.  I had done this unknowingly trying to show the emotional connection between my two estranged friends who had just been reunited.  My group’s editor,  Kerri-Leigh Grady’s, feedback was spot on.  She ascertained this was happening because I probably wasn’t sure how much of the characters’ pasts needed to be shown.  Not only did she give me great advice on why chunks  of back story aren’t necessary, she also recommended a book that was a superb example of how “back story can be built with the same efficiency of effective world building.”  That book was Joanna Bourne’s The Spymaster’s Lady, published in 2008.


Eager to learn, I checked this book out from the library (and later purchased it digitally) with no idea how I was going to read my own 70,000 word manuscript, continue to keep up with my daily Editpalooza lessons, critique my group members on their work and at the same time read this 375 pages by Joanna Bourne!  Well, it was easy because The Spymaster’s Lady is a brilliant book with NO INNER WANGSTING to bog down the pace.  And that was the lesson Kerri-Leigh wanted us to grasp.


To quote KLG, she said, “Characters absolutely need to ponder and consider their feelings in romance—after all, this is an important element of building a romance—but unless those feelings are changing, they don’t need to be addressed.”  She wanted us to know that we could and should let go of focusing too heavily on internal monologue because that kills the pace and cheapens the depth of emotions.    This was her recommendation: “A really good example of a novel that was emotionally engaging without relying on long swathes of he-loves-me-not internal angsting is Joanna Bourne’s  The Spymaster’s Lady….Read the story to get a feel for dialogue, sexual tension, and body language that build the emotional elements of the relationship.”


What a gem!  The opening sentence both thrilled and terrified me when Annique Villiers, a young French spy contemplates her situation: “She was willing to die, of course, but she had not planned to do it so soon, or in such a prolonged and uncomfortable fashion, or at the hands of her own countrymen.”  I was in awe of Ms. Bourne’s style.


While the story of Annique kept me fascinated and up late nights, I also appreciated her hero and the secondary cast of characters.  In fact, my favorite line of the book is by one of those supporting men.  His name is Adrian and he is the hero’s good friend and fellow English spy.  Annique is wanted by both the French and English at this point and the men are having a rather inventive brainstorming session about how to keep her safe in London.  Adrian comes up with the idea of thwarting Annique’s captors with venomous snakes.  One of their men replies, “You can’t get cobras in England, for God’s sake.”  And then Adrian says, “I know where to get cobras.”   That line might not have you rolling on the floor yet, but read this book and you will know who that young man Adrian is, feel who he is, because with a precise and delicious use of words, Ms. Bourne makes you care about every detail of the story.