A glittering French aristocrat is on the run, disguised as a British governess. England’s top spy has a score to settle with her family. But as they’re drawn inexorably into the intrigue and madness of Revolutionary Paris, they gamble on a love to which neither of them will admit.
One of the best romances I've read in a long time is The Spymaster's Lady by Joanna Bourne. Her follow up to that big success was My Lord and Spymaster which was good, but not as good. The Forbidden Rose is somewhat of a prequel to Spymaster's Lady and unfortunately it left me less than thrilled and I can't say I ever really got into it as a romance. I was disappointed in it overall. It was okay but nothing great or compelling, I found it hard to get into the heroine's head and relate to her, though I really liked her hero, William Doyle.
Maggie is an aristocrat who is also the secret leader of an underground organization that spirits away aristos during "the terror" under Robespierre's revolutionary France a là The Scarlet Pimpernel. Maggie leads a vast network not unlike the later French Resistance during WWII. She is cunning and resourceful, but I just never really sympathized a whole lot with her. Her father is an eccentric who feels more comfortable hiding in disguise pondering his mathematical equations, letting his daughter run her network saving doomed aristocrats from Madame Guillotine.
Maggie meets Doyle who is a British spy bent on learning the whereabouts of Maggie's father who has a list of names that will mean the death of many innocent men. I was a bit sketchy about this part, but the gist of it is, Doyle needs to find out where her father is and so he befriends Maggie (who doesn't trust him at all at first) hoping she will inadvertently lead him to her father. The book plods along at first and is not very interesting for the reader is trying to figure out who is who for everyone is lying about who they really are. It made it hard to really get into their characters. They travel together making their way to Paris. With them is a young sidekick of Doyle, an English thief known as Hawker (Adrian in the Spymaster books), who is being groomed by Doyle to eventually be a spy for the government. Hawker has a long way to go. En route to Paris, Maggie and Doyle develop a mutual friendship which blossoms into passion - and eventually into love. Their love is oblique, mostly understood and assumed. We are to believe that it's just one of those inexplicable, once in a lifetime, kismet sort of things. I was a bit let down, for I didn't buy into this theory. It just sort of happened. One minute they are wary of each other, then they admire each other, then all of a sudden they sleep together in a friend's room and then she's marrying him and next - rescuing him from certain death in a French prison. All because he is her life and she can't live without him? Whah? How did this happen all of sudden? We get this one cryptic line from Maggie "I cannot have him. I shall want him every day of my life." Oh, I guess that explains everything!
Although some things are revealed to us about Maggie's past and her character and motivation, she's a mystery to me. Doyle too is a question mark - is he a bastard son of an English aristocrat? How did he wind up working for the British? How did he find the young apprentice Hawker who doesn't think twice about killing - and why did Doyle bring him with him to France? Why is Maggie 'the one' for Doyle? What is the glue that is holding Doyle and Maggie together? I feel like there were too many unanswered questions and a lot was left to the reader's imagination. Because of this, I was not bowled over by this book. Yes, Maggie is a strong woman and I admired the way she planned the rescue of Doyle and the rescue itself was exciting though improbable. Overall, I think this book fell flat in the development of the characters and the plot. She is supposed to be this clever leader of this underground network, yet I really haven't seen any sign of her cleverness, other than her rescue plan of Doyle's. If she's so clever, how come she let her cousin poison her so easily and didn't even figure it out until Doyle had to almost hit her over the head with it! William is a good guy, but not your standard hero. He's large and strong and forbidding, not overly handsome or anything, in fact at first he seems almost unattractive! He can also change personas easily, a master of disguises, passing himself off as a French peasant one moment and then as a ruthless cutthroat in the next. Yet, he also has a softer romantic side to him, he is an earthy, sensual man with Maggie. He recognizes that she is his soul mate, although we don't know why, unfortunately. We don't really get much inside his head either! Once he has made up his mind, he acts on his decision and I really did like the way he asked her to marry him - all rushed and passionate. Expecting - and accepting only one possible answer. For once Maggie has met her match.
If you are into spies and this historical period, the research is tops and the book definitely has its moments, but it was oddly unemotional for me most of the time. These spies can't really afford emotion, too much is at stake for them, one false move and it's all over. Perhaps that's why I got such a lukewarm feeling with it. I'm certainly not giving up on the series, I'm eager to read more about Adrian's story one day for he develops into an interesting character when he's older in the previous books, but Maggie and Doyle to me are like side characters to me, because that was how they were introduced to me in the earlier books. I appreciated reading their story and how they came to meet, but overall this book just had a lacklustre feeling to it.