My Lord and Spymaster
by Joanna Bourne    
(Berkley, $7.99, R)  ISBN 978-0-425-22246-1 
***
My Lord and Spymaster is intended to be a suspenseful love story, and it has a great beginning.

Jess Whitby is a woman caught between two worlds, comfortable in neither one.  She grew up motherless, a poor, streetwise pickpocket in a bad part of London.  She was later sent to live with relatives, and educated as a lady.  She found it hard to remember all of society’s rules and while she was able to keep up a ladylike veneer, underneath she felt conflicted.  Jess is honest, emotional, independent, and she stands up for her beliefs. 

Captain Sebastian Kennett is a rough-edged sailor.  He has a self-imposed rigid moral code, he feels the weight of responsibility for those he employs, he is loyal and handsome. He can be rude and tactless, but he is trustworthy and reliable to those in his tight-knit circle. However, he doesn’t hand out his confidences easily.

Jess’s dear father, Josiah, has been arrested and sentenced to hang for treason. Jess believes that there is no way her father could have committed this crime, and sets her course to prove his innocence, before his sentence is carried out.

Jess has a plan to rob Sebastian Kennett on the street, to see if he carries in his pocket a packet of papers that may save her father’s life. She hires an old acquaintance from the streets to chase her into Sebastian, so that she can play damsel in distress while picking his pocket. The plan begins to work, and Sebastian is unusually drunk and enchanted with Jess. He decides to forget his usual strict moral code; he thinks that Jess is a street whore picking his pocket, but he still wants to bring her back to the ship for a roll in the hay.  Suddenly, real trouble begins as they are confronted by a gang of thugs trying to kill them. Sebastian fights to protect himself and Jess, but she is wounded. They get back to Sebastian’s ship, and Jess’ memory is half lost due to her injuries. However Jess hasn’t completely lost her mind, and Sebastian is a big and intimidating man. Jess is tough and street smart enough to be wary of him.

Sebastian is convinced that Josiah is the notorious “Cinq”- a traitor to Napoleon - and has spent weeks gathering evidence to prove it.  Soon after bringing Jess back to the ship, he discovers that Jess is Josiah’s daughter and it sends him reeling. In short order, Jess learns of Sebastian’s involvement with her father’s capture and sets out to discredit him.  They are bound to work together because unknown enemies are hunting them, and they have few other people to trust. Vulnerable Jess, a lady from the streets, and tough, aggressive Sebastian are lying to one another while denying their attraction and trying to track down a traitor. Running through the maze of Jess’s checkered past and Sebastian’s connections, they are stuck in a maze of half-truths and villains, trying to get out.

My Lord and Spymaster has some of the elements of a great romantic suspense novel. Jess is refreshing, and superbly written. Unfortunately, Sebastian had all the character of a cardboard cutout. While he had a few intriguing moments, he was a very uninspiring character overall. 

I found the initial interaction between Jess and Sebastian fascinating. Their attraction is unsteady, and flares at unexpected moments. They are trying to read one another while hiding their own motivations.

After the first few chapters, their romance becomes awkward. It’s difficult to believe any type of romantic connection would survive their distrust and differences. In addition, I found the cast of background characters too extensive and confusing. 

The intrigue and romance present in the beginning of My Lord and Spymaster fizzle with inattention and betrayal. I was quite disappointed to see the promise of a great romance merely limp through to the end.

--Amy Wroblewsky


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