Jul 16 2017 10:00am

The Only Way You Can Reread Joanna Bourne’s Spymaster Series: In Order

Beauty Like the Night by Joanna Bourne

Anticipation is building for the last book in Joanna Bourne’s Spymaster series, Beauty Like the Night. (Amazon | B&N | Kobo) It’s the perfect excuse to re-read the entire series, in order of publication, right? But hold on, the author has proposed a different approach. Bourne’s simple advice, read in order of discovery—that is, when the characters first appear on the scene. A word of warning, there are spoilers ahead.

"If you read the books in the order in which they were written, you're going to see the characters develop as they did in my own mind. You'll find out about them in the way I found out about them.

If you read the books in chronological order, everything is going to fit together neatly with the ongoing historical events. And you should — I hope — get some sense of the growth and developing relationships between my folks.

—From Joanna Bourne on reading in chronological order.

Who would argue with Joanna Bourne?  Using her method, the characters reveal themselves and their relationships with others in a pattern of concentric yet overlapping circles. Here’s the chronological reading order.

1. The Forbidden Rose

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Heroine Marguerite de Fleurignac, “once a glittering aristocrat in a world of privilege” is now “on the run, disguised as Maggie Duncan, British governess.” Hero William Doyle, “England’s top spy,” is a man on a mission with “a score to settle with the de Fleurignacs.”

Marguerite is indomitable and brave, a spirited woman who gives as good as she gets to William Doyle, a seemingly placid, preternaturally observant man. They are the backbone of Joanna Bourne’s “Spymaster series.” Their first conversation inexorably draws in the reader. Marguerite hides from two strangers who are striding around the ruins of her family’s ruined châteaux. When the older of the two finds and attempts to restrain her, she asks him to stand back.

“That is somewhat better.” Her voice shook. “Nonetheless, I would prefer more space between us. The space of an entire stable perhaps.”

Oh yes, he could like her very much. “Sit up and talk to me. Who are you? Why were you spying on me?”

She pushed herself upward and began tucking her fichu in at her neckline, covering up. “I was not spying. I was avoiding you. There is a significant difference.”

Her accent was the Paris of coffeehouses and boulevards and salons. No trace of the Normandy patois. This wasn’t a fancy lady’s maid or the bailiff’s wife. He’d netted himself the daughter of the house. De Fleurignac’s daughter.

They spar and banter, and Doyle marvels at her courage—with his hideous scar (“his masterpiece of a scar” is a marvelous disguise)—he would scare any woman. Marguerite assures Doyle that she hid from him before catching sight of his cheek.

“That’s putting me in my place.” He leaned back on his heels. “I don’t look like much, but I’m respectable, back at home.”

“When you are at home, perhaps you do not chase women and fling them to the ground like so much sacks of meal.” She pulled her knees up and twitched at her skirt to cover her ankles. A graceful, lovely little gesture. The muddy dress could have been silk brocade at Versailles. “At home, perhaps, you introduce yourself before you assault women.”

“I don’t assault women at all, generally speaking. I’m Guillaume LeBreton, once of Brittany, living in Paris now. I’m not the one sneaking around, spying and biting all and sundry, now am I? Who are you?

That simple question is at the core of all of Joanna Bourne’s stories: “Who are you?” Where do you come from? Why are you in disguise? Who are you spying on? To whom or what are you loyal? It’s the thread that connects each Spymaster book.      

For future notice, Doyle’s companion goes by the name of Hawker. He’s a work in progress, angry, curious, and intelligent. Doyle asks Hawker if he knows why lead has been melted off the roof of the châteaux.

“Right. Lead. That’s about the third most important thing here, so I’m taking an interest in it. Why?”

Hawker didn’t know. He hated not knowing. “Reminds you of the lead soldiers you played with as a nipper?”

Very funny. “There’s a shortage of lead in France. That’s three—maybe three and a half—tons of it. They’ll hack that down to make bullets for the Republic. We’ll be dodging that lead, one of these days, on some battlefield.”

Cold eyes looked out of an unlined face. “You, maybe. Not me. It’s stupid men who die on battlefields.”

Not an ounce of patriot in you, boy. Considering the hellhole you come from back in London, I can’t think of any reason there should be. “I’d be careful, saying that. The gods have a sense of humor. Not a nice one. We’ll camp here tonight.”

The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne

2. The Spymaster’s Lady

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Does it take a spy to catch a spy? Meet Annique Villiers and Robert Grey. Like The Forbidden Rose, trust is in short supply when a wily Frenchwoman meets a quietly determined Englishman…commence road-trip romance and let the intricate head fakes begin.

She's braved battlefields, stolen dispatches, played roles from worldly to naive, lady to boy. But Annique Villiers, elusive spy Fox Cub, is thrown in prison with British spymaster Robert Grey, ordered to enter France and bring her back. Their uneasy alliance holds, but passion builds as they flee.

3. Rogue Spy

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Rogue Spy is a friends-to-lovers story: “Thomas Paxton and Camille Leyland were starving Caché orphans, trained to be assassins for the Revolution.” Years later, after they both admit to “infiltrating the British Secret Service,” they mutually decide to go after a common enemy.  

I reviewed Rogue Spy at Heroes and Heartbreakers concluding that,

Rogue Spy is so many things: puzzles within puzzles, a race-against-time to prevent a disaster that will leave many people dead in its wake, an exploration of friendships, the meaning of family, and personal trials, but at its heart it explores a love that did not and will not fade over time.”

Her Ladyship’s Companion by Joanna Bourne

3.5. Her Ladyship’s Companion

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This is a classic Regency gothic. Melissa Rivenwood accepts a job in the wilds of Cornwall as companion to the intimidating Lady Dorothy: “Giles Tarsin, her haughty employer, is maddeningly aloof—and irresistibly handsome.”  It is not necessary to read Her Ladyship’s Companion to keep up with the chronological plot of the Spymaster series, but there’s one thing: the appearance of a dark-haired gentleman. Melissa finds him hard to ignore.

Darkly handsome, Sir Adrian Hawkhurst admires her undisguisedly with, Melissa suspects, the most impure intentions.

Wait, what? Hawker, Hawkhurst—is there a connection? How could they possibly be the same person who was William Doyle’s caustic, adolescent companion in The Forbidden Rose? You’ll be forgiven if you succumb to Hawker fever, much like Jo Beverley’s readers spent years “waiting for Rothgar.”           

4. My Lord and Spymaster

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This story is set in London and the protagonists are English. Jess Whitby was “raised as a poor but cunning pickpocket” but she’s wealthy now, because of her father’s status. When her father is “wrongly accused of selling secrets to Napoleon,” Jess falls back on the criminal habits of her youth—with guile and courage, she hopes to save her father from the hangman’s noose. She’ll find the traitor herself. Unfortunately, her plans go somewhat awry.

When Captain Sebastian Kennett prevents a kidnapping on the London docks, he takes the headstrong would-be victim home. He’s infatuated with her courageous spirit. She’s enthralled by his commanding strength and the sexy spark in his eyes.

My Lord and Spymaster has a slightly different tone from the other books in the series: it’s an adventurous romp, albeit one where a father’s fate lies in the balance.

The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne

5. The Black Hawk

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At last, Hawker’s story. His heroine, spy turned agent Justine DeCabrillac, is his equal in every way. Here’s a glimpse of the story’s exciting opening.

Someone is stalking agent Justine DeCabrillac through London’s gray streets. Under the cover of the rain, the assassin strikes—and Justine staggers to the door of the one man who can save her. The man she once loved. The man she hated. Adrian Hawkhurst.

What are you waiting for—start reading, because #6 in the Spymasters series, Beauty Like the Night, drops August 1st, less than a month away. Not to give anything away about the plot, just know the heroine, French orphan Severine de Cabrillac is Justine de Cabrillac’s sister and the adopted daughter of William and Maggie Doyle. Methinks spycraft is in her blood.

There are not enough superlatives to describe the pleasures of immersion in Joanna Bourne’s unforgettable world—readers, enjoy!

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Janet Webb aka @JanetETennessee moved from the San Francisco Bay to eastern Tennessee. Baseball is my passion: I follow the Chattanooga Lookouts and the Nashville Sounds (farm team of my beloved Oakland Athletics). Social media devotee. Stories on royals and politics catch my eye. Ottawa born. Grew up on Georgette Heyer and Helen MacInnes. I also review at Criminal Element.

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1. Kareni
Count me in as one who is eager to read Joanna Bourne's forthcoming book. The Spymaster series is addictive!
Nikki Hilton
2. nikkiphilton
I was so glad to see this! I knew I needed to reread, but I wasn't sure the order in which to do that. Perfect! Thank you so much. And adding that I seldom read historical romance anymore, but this is one series that absolutely must be read. She is an incredible author.
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