SQUEE! The New Joanna Bourne, The Forbidden Rose
Posted by Elisa Beatty Jun 9 2010, 12:01 am in Forbidden Rose, joanna bourne
The last couple weeks brought a bonanza of books by my absolute must-buy authors: Sherry Thomas’s His at Night, Meredith Duran’s Wicked Becomes You, Julia Quinn’s Ten Things I Love About You, Mary Balogh’s A Secret Affair. But all those got left on the TBR pile when I got my hands on an early copy of Joanna Bourne’s The Forbidden Rose. (Those of you who’ve already discovered Spymaster’s Lady and My Lord and Spymaster, please join me in a rousing chorus of SQUEEEEE!!!!)
For those of you who haven’t discovered Bourne yet: don’t let my “SQUEEEEE!”-ing put you off: this is no mere goofy enthusiasm. This is a pure SQUEEEEE of joy from the deepest, most language-besotted part of my brain, the part that first made me fall in love with words and stories and characters born out of other people’s imaginations.
The next few days will surely bring a flood of glowing reviews for The Forbidden Rose (over at All About Romance, no fewer than six different reviewers laid avid claim to it in their “eagerly awaited” list for June). So you don’t need the standard reader-centered book review from me.
What I want to do instead is give just a small taste of why writers will crazy-love this book, and why they should go plunge their writer-brains in it for awhile. (I’m going to draw examples from the opening chapters only—nothing past page 30—so no worries on spoilers here.)
1. Bourne does great intial set-ups: In Forbidden Rose, Marguerite de Fleurignac’s a French aristo burned out of her home by a Jacobin mob, and William Doyle’s a British spy sent to France to hunt down Marguerite’s father, a mad genius who semi-accidentally created a list of key Englishmen to assassinate. Marguerite tells Doyle she’s a British governess; he tells her he’s a French bookseller. Neither really believes the other, but they both want to get to Paris and need each other to get there, so they play along. (Sweetly, long after they’ve nailed one another’s true identities, she keeps thinking of him as Guillaume, and he keeps thinking of her as Maggie.)
No need for trumped-up Misunderstandings or Deep-and-Terrible Family Secrets. In the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, Bourne’s got herself a setting in which danger’s ambient, everyone’s got serious secrets to keep, and the daily stakes are life and death. You feel you’re being taken seriously when you read her work.
2. Bourne’s characters feel like people: smart, interesting, quirky people with depth and heft (no ditzes or cardboard secondary characters here), and we encounter them in beautifully-handled Deep POV. Here’s our introduction to Marguerite in the book’s opening lines, which immediately give you a sense of a distinct mind and personality:
“You have not been foolish,” she said. “But you have been unlucky. The results are indistinguishable.”
The rabbit said nothing. It lay on its side, panting. Terror poured from it in waves, like water going down the steps of a fountain.
Her snare circled its throat. She had caught it with a line of red silk, teased and spun from a torn strip of a dress. It could not escape. Even when it heard death coming toward it through the brush, it didn’t struggle. Being sensible, it had given up.
“The analogies to my own situation are clear. I do not like them.”
3. Bourne’s funny: You get little bits like this all the time:
The servant boy tied the donkeys to a post, swearing a staccato chain of annoyance. A trick of wind blew the words to her, “Donkey feet in butter. Donkey en croûte. Donkey soup. You just wait.”
4. Bourne’s great with dialogue: Here’s an exchange between Doyle and his twelve-year-old street-rat apprentice “Hawker” as they explore the smashed remains of the chateau’s orangerie:
Hawker followed him, crunching glass into the gravel. “The boys in that stinking little village waited years to do this.”
“They dreamed of it. They’d sit in those pig houses in the village with the shutters closed and the wind leaking in. They’d think about these fancy weeds in here, being coddled, all warm and happy behind glass. Down there, they were freezing in the dark. Up here, they were growing flowers.”
“That’s fixed, then. No more flowers.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Hawker stoop and pick up a rock, draw back and throw. Glass fell with a thin, silver discord. The heroic revolutionaries of Voisemont had missed one pane. Destruction was now complete.
“It would have bothered me all night knowing there was one window left,” Hawker said.
“Anything else you need to break to make it homey in here?”
5. Bourne’s got a serious lyrical gift, and her descriptions are worth savoring:
Here’s a bit more about the rabbit:
“A pulse rippled in the rabbit’s throat, under the fur. That fluttering beat, in a hollow the size of a copper sou, was the only sign of life.”
And here’s Marguerite’s internal response when Doyle captures her and brings her into the orangerie:
“A chill spread along her skin. The edges of her sight darkened. The shush of the makeshift broom and the scratch of the tumbling glass became distant. She felt as if she were falling into a dream. Not a good dream.”
6. Bourne knows this period inside and out, and uses that knowledge to enhance character:
In his bookseller guise, Doyle shows Marguerite books from “the approved instruction list from the Committee of Education. Some children’s books with proper sentiments in them…’C is for counter-revolutionary. May they all die. D is for duty to France. Let us all try.’ That sort of thing. I got packs of playing cards. Those have fine revolutionary pictures on them. The single pip is a guillotine, which is just going to liven up a game, ain’t it?”
7. Bourne creates wonderful sensual tension, without drawing on the cliché stockpile:
Now I’ve created a problem for myself by limiting my examples to the first 30 pages. But the moment when Doyle catches Marguerite will give you a sense of what Bourne can do with bodies:
By chance or planning, she’d picked a first-rate lookout post.
Even as he thought that, her hand went to the back of her neck. She could feel when eyes were on her, a skill that wasn’t as common as mice in a closet.
She turned. Saw him. The instant stretched tight.
He put himself between her and the back door. She hadn’t thought of keeping two lines of retreat. One for your enemy to block off. One so you can run like hell.
Skirt and apron whirled. She exploded into flight, down the stalls, long braid trailed out behind her. He caught her halfway to the door. Wrapped his arms around her and held on.
She twisted and tried to rake her nails at his face. When he caught her wrists, she curled like an eel and bit the hand that held her, digging her teeth deep.
Well, that hurt. “I’m not going to—” A sabot hit his shin. “God’s…tortoises. Will you hold still? I’m trying not to damage you.” He shifted his grip and she broke a hand free and pulled out a knife.
Enough. He kicked her legs out from under her. The knife bounced away. He flopped her down on her back into the piled straw.
8. She’s got ADRIAN, and now she’s got JUSTINE. Okay, that one will only make sense if you’ve already read Bourne’s earlier Spymaster books, and if you finish this one. But when you finish this one, your heart will be twisted in a big tender achy snarl, and you will join me in counting the days (no, months, damn it) until Adrian’s and Justine’s story hits the shelves.
Really, I’m just scratching the surface here. The truth is, it’s really hard to figure out just why Bourne’s books work as well as they do. She makes it all look easy, but the cumulative effect is terrific. Everything, everything, works together seamlessly: characterization, description, dialogue, historical and geographical detail, overall plot structure, humor…. And as carefully and thoughtfully crafted as her writing must actually be, it’s also totally accessible, a pure, easy pleasure to read (which is kind of painful in a way, because the book just whizzes by, no matter how much you want to make it last.)
Joanna Bourne is Dorothy-Dunnett good, Patrick-O’Brien good, Diana-Gabaldon good. When you open a Bourne book, you’re in the hands of a master.
Check it out for yourself!
To put (a little bit of) my money where my mouth is, I’m giving away a total of THREE copies of The Forbidden Rose to three lucky commenters today. One’s reserved for a non-Ruby commenter, but the other two can go to anyone. SQUEEEEEE!!! (Oh: and if you haven’t read any Bourne and don’t know what to talk about in your comment, tell me something about an author who makes you go SQUEEEE!!!)