Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne

Book Description:
When veteran spy, Justine DeCabrillac, is attacked on a rainy London street, she knows only one man can save her: Adrian Hawkhurst, her oldest friend . . . her oldest enemy.

London's crawling with hidden assassins and someone is out to frame Hawker for her murder. The two spies must work together to find out who wants to destroy them.

This was a terrific addition to the Spymaster's Lady series. Fourth in the series, this is Adrian's story - 'Awker.  The young guttersnipe we meet in Bourne's earlier books is now a grown gentleman and the Spymaster in London.  Rich and worldly, it is 1818, over 20 years since he first met Justine in France.  He looks back on his life with her as he struggles to keep her alive after an assassination attempt.  Adrian and Justine's story is a twist on the classic spy vs. spy story. The poignancy of the flashbacks help us see how much they both meant to each other, of how they grew up - together and apart - in the spy business, on opposite sides of the playing field.  These windows in time fill in the blanks of the events leading up to the present day when Justine fights for her life. I loved this book and was up half the night reading it.

Adrian (Hawker) and Justine's relationship is complex.  They first meet as young teenagers, both trying to outdo the other.  Justine, working as a spy for the French, carries the burden of her bitter childhood memories. Born a French aristocrat whose parents were killed in the revolution, she was forced to become a child whore in a brothel.  Rescued from that life and recruited as a spy for the French, she threw herself into the spy business, trying to forget her former life and the self loathing that went with it.  

It helps to have read Bourne's previous, The Forbidden Rose, for we first meet Justine there.  I went back and skimmed it and I must admit, I have a greater appreciation for the book now, after reading The Black Hawk.  I wasn't bowled over by The Forbidden Rose at the time I read it.  Now, in retrospect I like it more for it really sets the stage for Justine's story here in The Black Hawk.  I wonder if it would have been better to have read The Black Hawk first, for I would have appreciated some of the scenes in The Forbidden Rose more if I had.  It's ironic The Black Hawk's title suggests Adrian's story, but I really think of it more as Justine's, though much of it is seen through Adrian's eyes.  Justine's story is bittersweet, the life of a spy is not easy.  Although Justine finds a career that helps her overcome her past and regain her dignity - she pays a price.  She gives up her younger sister (to Doyle and Maggie, as seen in The Forbidden Rose) and she must give up the man she loves - Hawker.  Her life goes from one mission to another, sometimes she runs into Hawker, sometimes she manages to get away to see her sister in England, but often, she's on the run or in hiding and disguise in some other country.

I loved seeing how they both grew up throughout this book as the story unfolds.  Each flashback gives us another indication of how they grew and matured.   We see how they first become lovers and the way Hawker helps Justine overcome her tragic background.  He's such a smart and clever young man.  I applaud the way Bourne crafts her poignant tale as Adrian looks back over his memories with Justine and their complicated life together.  We glimpse what their life must have been like.  Stolen moments, climbing through windows, trysting - guarding their secret life as lovers - for their careers as opposing spies to one another could get them both killed if found out.  Their affair was also a friendship, a mutual admiration and respect for each others craft. We learn many things, including what ultimately happened that caused their separation and the permanent rift that ended their love affair.  Some parts were so exciting and riveting, I had a hard time putting this book down.  Very, very cleverly done, the author knows the ways of a good undercover operative.  I dreamed of Justine and Hawker.  In addition to the espionage portions of the book and their assignments, the events described were memorable and meaningful, especially when compared to the same events in The Forbidden Rose, all leading up to present day 1818 when Justine is close to dying.

Of course, there is also the additional story line of who tried to kill Justine and why are they trying to make it look like it was Hawker.  Who's behind all of it?  Lots of scheming and intrigue, but I found the ultimate show down a bit anti-climatic.  I really thought the villain was going to be someone else.   Oh well... kept me guessing.   Anyway, the best part of this book is the relationship between Justine and Hawker.  It's an understatement to say I was thrilled with their happy ending.

I highly recommend you give this series a try if you haven't already.  My favorite book to date is the first in the series, The Spymaster's Lady, but The Black Hawk is a close second!


P.S. I love the cover! It's just how I imagine Adrian to look!  Perfection!

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