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Spymasters #3

The Forbidden Rose

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Marguerite de Fleurignac, once privileged aristocrat, is on the run, disguised as penniless British governess Maggie Duncan. William Doyle, England's top spy, has a score to settle with her, recognized when he pulls her from her burned-out chateau. Drawn inexorably into mad revolutionary Paris, they gamble on an inadmissible love destined for betrayal.

368 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published May 26, 2010

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About the author

Joanna Bourne

21 books870 followers
Joanna lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge with her family, a medium-sized mutt and a faux Himalayan cat.

She writes Historical Romances set in England and France during the Napoleonic Wars. She's fascinated by that time and place - such passionate conviction and burning idealism ... and really sexy clothes.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 394 reviews
Profile Image for Bubu.
315 reviews328 followers
December 31, 2017
Let’s start with a negative detail, shall we? I do not like spy romances. There, I said it. Spy romances are, by definition, almost always plot driven, and I simply prefer my books to be character driven. It’s also the reason why Joanna Bourne’s Spymasters series was collecting dust on my Kindle, despite the rave reviews whenever one of my friends had read one of it. This, however, shall be my only negative comment, though. Well. Almost. But I’ll get to that later.

How to explain the beauty of The Forbidden Rose? How to describe this author’s unique voice?

I can’t say anything about the plot, obviously. Besides, the story itself is not that original either. It’s 1794, Robespierre’s guillotine is working day and night. Everybody knows the dangerous times they live in, and yet, nobody knows where the danger may come from. So many different factions; Robespierre’s fanatics, counter revolutionists, British spies.

As with any talented author, it’s the ’How’ that makes all the difference in the world. Joanna Bourne’s writing is not as eloquent as Meredith Duran’s, nor is her story as gut wrenching as some of Sherry Thomas’s stories. It has neither the scope nor the pathos of Iris Johansen’s Storm Winds, but then Storm Winds covers a period of 5-6 years and is 200 pages longer.

Ms. Bourne’s secret is her dry humour. It doesn’t sound like much, but believe me, it’s that dry humour that puts everything into perspective. For example, the fact that a chateau has been burned to the ground and Guillaume listens to Hawker’s reasoning:
Hawker followed him, crunching glass into the gravel. “The boys in that stinking little village waited years to do this.”
“Did they?”
“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.”
This is the tone for the majority of the book. All the filth of the terror regime, the atrocities, are filtered with this approach to maintain distance but not making light of it. I’ll get to Hawker later, by the way.

But let’s get back to the first chapter of the book which starts with a – one sided – conversation between Marguerite/Maggie de Fleurignac and a rabbit she caught and which she’s about to kill. She’s hungry, after all; hiding for days after the villagers, riled up by the book’s villains, burned her home, Chateau de Fleurignac, to the ground. But she can’t go through with it..
Terror terror terror.
It had been a mistake to look so closely at the rabbit. She should not have talked to it.
Shortly after letting the rabbit go, she hears a man and boy approach the ruins of her chateau. He calls himself Guillaume LeBreton, but Marguerite knows he’s lying. And indeed, Guillaume LeBreton is William Doyle, British spy, in search of Marguerite’s father, who may have been responsible for the deaths of British officers.

This is where I can only reveal fragments of the plot without spoilers.

Guillaume/William knows who Marguerite is but doesn’t say anything. It’s not the typical cat-and-mouse game one would expect at this stage. It’s rather a mutual understanding of the circumstances. He knows that she knows that he lies; she knows that he knows that she lies. They live in dangerous times, do they not?
He fed her and pretended to be harmless. He was subtly intelligent. He was a pillar of deception from the long, untidy hair he shook down to hide his face to the worn soles of his boots. Such a man did not wander to her chateau by accident.
Besides, Marguerite is also the head of La Flèche, a group of people, who get aristocrats out of the country into safety.

On their way to Paris, the main protagonists are eyeing each other suspiciously and with growing fascination. It’s a quiet and subtle form of observation both perform until they seem to tire of it.
“You know I am Marguerite de Fleurignac. You have always known.”
“From the first minute,” he said equably.
“You did not mention it.”
“Seemed impolite to contradict you. [….]


“I am not a virgin,” she said.
There was enough light to see him smile.
“That’s a coincidence. Neither am I.”
“What you are is a great treasure-house of sarcasm.”
It’s this dry humour paired with a certain subtlety that gives Marguerite’s and Guillaume’s growing feelings depth; their time is limited so each word counts doubly. But it’s without the aforementioned pathos. It’s tender as well as raw. Watching them together, being with them was precious.
I am drowning in this woman and I don’t want to swim free. This is the one. This is the one I’ll give up the Service for. Yesterday or the day before, or maybe the first time he’d seen her, he’d made the decision. While he wasn’t noticing, his mind thought it out and argued it through and settled it. His Maggie. It already sounded natural.
Natural. That’s what it is between them. Not once did the question pop up in my head ‘So, why are they in love?’

How many times did I mention dry humour so far? No idea. But I never mentioned witty banter. There’s no place for witty banter. That’s another accomplishment of Ms. Bourne. We never forget in what times our protagonists live in.
Paris had changed, even in the three months she’d been away. It was more shadowed. More afraid. Darker. Fear seeped from the mortar of the houses, from the cobbles of the streets. It was like coming again to the home of an old grandmother, with each visit finding her a little weaker, a little more mad.
I’ll never tire of repeating myself in pointing out how rare it is - in a genre where a HEA is a forgone conclusion - when an author can make me worry and wonder how the two main characters will come together. The secondary characters are very important here. Who is working for whom? What are their back stories? Hawker, in particular, Guillaume’s young ‘apprentice’, could have been easily portrayed as his sidekick. But he’s so much more.

Which leads me to the unique writing style. Quite a few passages are told from secondary characters. But Hawker is a perfect example of how – seemingly - effortlessly Ms. Bourne switches the tone. Born a London gutter rat, it’s not only his language that distinguishes his parts. It’s also being in his head that changes the tone. And it’s absolutely brilliantly done.

I think we all know how often it happens that an author sets up secondary characters who will have their own books, and too much time is wasted on setting them up without really adding to the story itself. Not in The Forbidden Rose. They may have their own books, but here and now they are a vital part to Marguerite’s and Guillaume’s story.

Simply put: It never, not once, gets boring. And a premise that obviously leads to a plot ridden novel, adds the character development in its centre as much as the spy plot. I loved every moment of it, glued to my Kindle, and still happy that I’ve been nudged to read this. Thanks to my friends who pointed out that I should read this.

Now, the other ‘negative’ aspect. Once finished, I checked the author’s backlist and to my utter shock and horror, I realised that Ms. Bourne writes and publishes rather slowly. Her first Spymasters book was published in 2008 (!), and her latest and sixth book in this series only a few months (!!!!!!!!!!!!!) ago, with a few novellas in between. I couldn’t possibly go and start reading them all in a short amount of time. Not binge reading, mind you. Simply picking one up and start reading. What am I to do when I finish the series? Dilemma, dilemma.


Wow! I need a few days to order my thoughts before writing a proper review.

This book deserves a proper review. Joanna Bourne deserves a proper review. What a unique voice; what a distinctive writing style.

I started 2017 with a DNF. I’m ending it with a 5-star book, and I can’t help but constantly hum and groove along the house with the opening of Shoop since finishing the book because I am that happy about The Forbidden Rose. None of it was planned, although I will freely admit that a full-length Alexa-Riley-novel was probably (most likely!) never going to end with a HEA for me.

The Forbidden Rose - however - pure beauty.
Profile Image for Woman Reading .
431 reviews270 followers
March 14, 2023
4 ☆
Why are all the best women French spies? Bad planning on somebody’s part.

Joanna Bourne's historical romantic suspense series--Spymasters-- was an unexpected pleasure. I normally avoid tales set during / after the French Revolution. As this was the time in which the guillotine had so many opportunities to develop a dull edge, how happy could these stories be?

But Bourne's novels centered around the British Intelligence Service were entertaining and packed with intrigue. Its whole exceeded the sum of its parts, because the author kept returning to some pivotal events to provide another character's perspective. Acts of espionage cast long shadows. I've read five of the six installments, and this review covers the entire series.

Although The Forbidden Rose was the third title to be published, it's the series' prequel and IMO should be read first. The plot transpired during the summer of 1794. Daughter of a marquis, Marguerite de Fleurignac has not only survived five years of the French Revolution but she leads an underground operation to whisk fellow aristocrats to the safety of England. She is extremely brave, but threats to her life have escalated. Assailants have burned down the family chateau and they're now hunting her.

"You have not been foolish," she said. "But you have been unlucky. The results are indistinguishable."

The rabbit said nothing... She had caught it.

"The analogies to my own situation are clear. I do not like them."

William Doyle of the British Intelligence Service and the adolescent Adrian Hawkhurst soon arrive at the chateau's ruins. Doyle's mission is to locate the Marquis de Fleurignac because he's the suspected mastermind of an assassination hit list which has targeted Britain’s finest.

The Forbidden Rose is my favorite in this series. France is seething with political fervor and fast-shifting loyalties, and the need to sharpen the guillotine is incessant. Danger stalks both the English spy and the young aristocrat. The mood is lightened, however, by the dry humor of William and Marguerite. She is an inspired heroine, and I really enjoyed her role in the story. The main characters will re-surface in the rest of the Spymasters installments as most of these novels are tightly interwoven.

The Spymaster's Lady was the first to be published. This was set in summer 1802 at the start of the Napoleonic Wars. The two protagonists are Robert Grey, who is Head of Section in London, and a 19-year old French spy named Annique Villiers. They meet in the prison of France's Secret Police. Grey has been on an obsessive hunt to find the killer of his three agents. The three agents had failed to buy Napoleon's war plans to attack England. Grey's prime suspect is Annique.

This novel was entertaining but not quite the same caliber as The Forbidden Rose. Annique's words sounded remarkably similar to what Marguerite would say (or rather vice versa given this had been published first) and the plot's denouement wasn't water-tight. The romantic pairing also had some holes in its plausibility and was occasionally problematic. While I could see that Bourne was setting up her historical context for the series, she didn't really hit her stride until The Forbidden Rose. Overall, it was still enjoyable -- 3.5 stars rounded up. I've been disappointed in that these two barely reappear in the subsequent installments.

My Lord and Spymaster #2 was the only novel I chose to skip. I had read a sample and coupled with the lackluster reviews, it appeared to be a conventional historical romance.

The Black Hawk #4 is the story of Adrian Hawkhurst and Justine DeCabrillac, daughter of a Comte and an agent of the French Secret Police. While the novel is set in 1818, it included the most flashbacks -- primarily intersecting with the key events from 1794 and 1802 mentioned in the earlier installments. This pairing was the most heavily tinged with the trauma associated with this tumultuous time -- almost 4 ☆.

Set in summer 1802 (thus overlapping with book #1's timeline), Rogue Spy #5 was about Thomas Paxton and new character Camille Leyland. Cami lives with the "Fluffy Aunts" who are both old hands with the British Intelligence Service. She is their very skilled coder. But Cami has a huge secret, one for which she's being blackmailed. While not as important to read the previous installments, doing so would enhance one's enjoyment -- 3.5 ☆

Beauty Like the Night #6 is set probably around March 1819. Of the five installments I've read, this could be a standalone novel. The main protagonists are Severine DeCabrillac and Raoul Deverney. Severine was introduced in The Forbidden Rose and her life has been shaped by her family members' occupations. Raoul's wife has died under questionable circumstances and his wife's 12-year old daughter Pilar has disappeared. Raoul suspects Severine, now a Sherlock Holmesian private investigator, had been involved in his wife's demise. This is more of a murder mystery than a tale of the French Revolutionary -- 3.5 ☆.

The series is better than the sum of its individual parts. These aren't typical historical romances because Bourne was very much into the political intrigue of the period.
Profile Image for Merry .
577 reviews54 followers
July 2, 2022
I had this book on my tbr list and it is a botm. Very glad I read it and it was very enjoyable. I am reading them in the order they were written but this is listed as book 1 in the chronological order. The book is written at the height of the reign of Robespierre when many Aristocrats were guillotined and there were spies on all sides. I so enjoyed the characters especially Adrian and his donkeys (actually Adrian and anything he does). The h/H are very good but it's the side characters that give the book the feeling of devotion, betrayal and at times eccentricity. I recommend this book.
Profile Image for new_user.
238 reviews190 followers
March 1, 2011
Sherry Thomas fans will like The Forbidden Rose. Probably. Succinct like Thomas, Joanna Bourne's prose nonetheless sings with flare, marrying original metaphors for timeless ideas (e.g. "she was a battlefield of possibilities") and a quintessentially French understatement perfect for a French setting and a French heroine. +1000 pts. for a unique setting and research.

William Doyle and Marguerite de Fleurignac meet in Revolutionary France. Aptly, principle drives Doyle and Marguerite and, in the service of those principles, supreme pragmatism. He, a spy, she, a resistance leader.

I want to carve Marguerite et Doyle into a tree. They may be my favorite couple yet: self-deprecating, competent, and selfless Marguerite and sly, devilish and frank Doyle, who pushes just enough, rough and brawny in a society of aesthetes-- and only unassuming to the undiscerning eye. So undramatic and earthy, he is the everyman and the ideal at the same time, the alpha without the overbearing. I loved his -believable and frank- point of view. I could go on about Marguerite too, so big-hearted and independent.

Let's not forget Adrian. I can't wait for The Black Hawk . Rose can be read as a standalone, but Adrian's point of view here should definitely precede Hawk. Fans will meet his future love interest here too.

Readers enjoying historical romance and weary of ballrooms will enjoy that Marguerite and Doyle's dilemmas actually, you know, matter. Revolutionary-era spies, lacking COMSATs, PCs and voice recorders, carried out intelligence grunt work more often than assassination, but Rose excites as the heroes look over their shoulders for tails or exchange passwords-- vintage spy chic. Bourne invests equal effort in her setting, suspense and spy elements, but as she says, she doesn't write romantic suspense, so the action/conflict always comes back to Marguerite and Doyle.

All told, Bourne's sophomore effort, with bold voice and superb atmosphere, impresses more than her debut, The Spymaster's Lady . She's pared her narrative to the core, made this more pointed, that more powerful. She still writes sexual tension better than full-on love scenes, but that is enough. @.@ I thought I was done with historical romance besides Sherry Thomas, but I think I have another favorite author! I'll wait between books, however, since some plot elements repeat themselves, like the road romance.
Profile Image for Mei.
1,881 reviews414 followers
November 27, 2017
I've decided to read this series in chronological order rather then published, so for me this is #1. :)

I loved this bookfor many reasons! For the place where the action is: French revolution and the Terror period! For the wonderful heroine. For the wonderful hero. For the non-stop action. For the intricate story. For the way it was written!

Just so very refreshing! There's no rake hero, OW, endless tea-drinking, balls and parties! But there's some serious spying and some tough situations! There's cruelty that was not directly shown, but you could feel. You could just feel the helplessness of the population, their fear and their desperation.

A small thing that I could do without (strangely) are the sex scenes. I know, I know: I love some good sex scenes in my historicals, but here I almost skipped them. If you're on the run you don't frolic. But, that's my personal opinion...

Apart that I loved everything else!
Profile Image for Laurie  (barksbooks).
1,724 reviews673 followers
August 12, 2010
I’m not going to write a long-winded review because I read most of this on vacation, didn’t take notes and I’m feeling rather lazy. I believe this is part of a series but it reads well on its own. The hero is a british spy, scarred terribly and not traditionally handsome, and the heroine is a beautiful aristocrat keeping secrets of her own. Both know they can’t have each other for any length of time but they are inexplicably drawn to each other and unable to resist the pull.

This book has an amazing sensual buildup. The author even uses the work cock and tits. Yay for her. The hero speaks like an actual guy instead of waxing poetic about the heroine’s bits and pieces like too many historical heroes. And this brings me to my biggest disappointment so far in the book: the lame-ass love scenes. Hugely disappointing. The sexual tension is through the roof but the love scenes were over before they even began. Blech. I don’t like being led on like that and I can’t figure out why the heroine didn’t complain! The hero, with all his sexy talk does a boom, boom, ahhh, boom, ahhh, and then there’s some spillage on her belly, and he’s all done. Wait, what? Did someone rip out the best pages of my book?

Despite that disappointment the characters were very interesting. The only thing niggling at me about the heroine was the fact that she was helping people whom she seemed to abhor. That bit didn't make sense to me but maybe it became clearer later on? At any rate it made it difficult to connect with her. I adored the young boy and his donkey companions. I hear the author is writing his book. I may give that one a go. But sadly, my complete disinterest in all things spy related has forced me to give up on this one. I’m sure it’s super fantastic but I completely lost interest at the midway mark and just can’t work up the energy to pick it up again. I know, I know I finished the slow moving book about the cat lady falling in love with her brother and yet I give up on this? What can I say? I’m a quitter. Looks like I’m going to have to add another book to the DNF pile.
Profile Image for Jan.
880 reviews169 followers
July 7, 2022
Original review 2017:
This is a very good read. I'd seen plenty of recs and good reviews, but had kept away because I'm not usually interested in the spy trope in my HRs. But now that I've finally given in and tried Joanna Bourne for myself, I can see what the fuss is about.

It's France during the Revolution. A time of fear and madness. Robespierre and his lists of those to go to the guillotine. Members of the French nobility being targeted simply because of the class they happened to be born into. Ancient buildings and art treasures wantonly destroyed. Families wrecked. People secretly escaping to places like England, hiding and being smuggled out in very inventive ways. (Remember The Scarlet Pimpernel?)

So, this is the backdrop to this interesting and involving story. Margeurite (or Maggie) is the daughter of a nobleman. She is in hiding after the destruction of her family home. Her father is missing. And someone is out to get both her and her father.

William Doyle is 'England's top spy'. He has been sent to France to find Maggie's father, who is under a shadow because of a secret list he has, of people who are gradually being executed. But instead, William (or 'Guillaume') chances on Maggie, the daughter, who is in disguise, although he secretly sees through her straight away. He is accompanied by a wonderful secondary character, boy-man Adrian, a young English Cockney and former thief, who is now a very talented spy-in-training.

A kind of road trip to Paris follows, with the three of them facing various dangers and close calls along the way. But once they reach Paris, the danger is far from over. And somehow, Maggie and Guillaume have fallen in love as well.

The secrets and disguises in this book add a layer of interest and depth to the story. The pace is fast-moving, and there are quite a few nail-biting moments. The bigger picture of real historical events frames the action, but there is a clear focus on the developing relationship between our two lovers. But a number of well-drawn secondary characters add interest and colour as well.

Despite my (former) disdain for spy-themed HRs, I found myself hooked into this one. I loved the depiction of the British secret service with its eccentric cast of clever spies. Guillaume's talents for 'The Game' (espionage), and those of his young protege Adrian, are very well-drawn. I also liked the depiction of the dramatic setting - a terrifying yet fascinating (from the distance of more than 200 years!) time and place. Bourne is clearly a talented writer and I now intend to read the whole series. It's GREAT to discover a good new (to me) author. I highly recommend this book.

Edit: This was a reread for July 2022 BOTM for HRBC, suspense/mystery theme.
Profile Image for Felicia.
Author 47 books128k followers
November 30, 2011
For a straight up romance novel, this was a REALLY good book. Spies during the French Revolution, yes please! Of course it's terribly unbelievable, the plot, but the extravagant nature of this authors writing, I mean it's SO OVER THE TOP, but it draws you in, it's like a really deep dark burgundy damask drape, it's old fashioned and stodgy and heavy but damn if it doesn't STAND for something and not apologize for it! I AM OVER THE TOP AND I REFUSE TO APOLOGIZE FOR IT!

Definitely recommend based on the excellent quality of writing, and fun adventure plot and a romance that I almost teared up over. Lady boner'd.
Profile Image for Karen.
805 reviews1,011 followers
February 27, 2018

"Do you know. . . in the city of Paris there are magic birds? You can see them in the trees sometimes, just for a moment, if you look quickly.... They are red as rubies and green as emeralds. Some are golden. The golden ones are the smallest. They are the bravest and most wise."

I absolutely loved this one. I really didn't expect Doyle's book to be quite this good. What an interesting and compelling time in history. I would not have liked living through it. I can't wait to start the next book.
Profile Image for steph .
1,212 reviews72 followers
February 10, 2022
February 2022: Am I ignoring my giant TBR pile and instead just re-reading this entire series and re-falling in love with these wonderful, complex and vivid characters?

Yes and yes.

Did I cry at the end when

Also kudos to the author for writing these books all out of order because in book 1 Hawkeye/Hawker/Hurst/Adrian is around 19/20, book 2 puts him closer to age 30 and in this one he's around 13 years old and has just met Doyle. It's interesting watching him grow and evolve in the different ways but still be himself. And I loved his first interactions with wise-beyond-her-age Justine!

August 2017:

WHAT WAS I THINKING 5 YEARS AGO?!??! This book was great, so great. I fell in love with Maggie and her heart and her brilliant mind and the way she captivated not just Doyle, but Hawker, Justine and little Séverine. She was a rock star who loved her family even her mad father and her cousin who everyone else wanted to kill (gosh, he was the WORST).

And Doyle. Doyle, Doyle, Doyle. He will never not be saving young 'uns (Hawker, Jess, Séverine, Pax). Not in this book, not in the two previous books, not in future books. I like his strength.

Working my way through this series again before I read book 6 (it just came out!). Bourne writes characters so well. I think I liked this book more than the previous two upon this re-read. It seemed more lighthearted which is crazy because it takes place in Paris during the French Revolution but the storyline felt much more brighter then in the previous two. Most of this took place in the countryside so that helped (not so dark).

April 2012: liked it. Not as much as the earlier two but I still enjoyed seeing Maggie and Doyle from the beginning. It was nice. :D
Profile Image for Verity.
278 reviews234 followers
June 3, 2010
William is a veteran British spy, 12 years in the service & 6 of ‘em as independent agent. His mission is to use Marguerite to flush out her dad, who’s responsible for the “Hit” list, the 1 containing the names of promising Brit officers that are marked for death. When H/H 1st meet, Marguerite is caught hiding in her ruined chateau & introduces herself as Margaret Duncan, a Scot governess living in France. William knows her real identity from the get-go, but Marguerite doesn’t know his. He feeds her an implausible story ‘bout him being Monsieur LeBreton, a bookseller, 1 who is strangely equipped w/ deadly self-defense chops, which he kindly shares w/ Marguerite after their near-death brush w/ soldiers carrying orders from the Committee of Public Safety. Marguerite decides to use William as her cloak of protection for her destination, Paris, where her weirdo daddy is conspicuously MIA. William goes along w/ her plan, under 1 condition (part of his ruse) : he’ll get monetary compensation for escorting her. The big bottomless bag of tricks that the characters utilize are a big magnet.

They gotta be alert & wary of everything & everyone @ every juncture. When they knock on a door, they dunno if it’s friends / foes / friendnemies on the other side. Throughout their perilous journey to HEA, H/H encounter peeps from all walks of life that may look like innocent lambs, but it’ll be more prudent to follow their instinct & 2nd guess by peering beneath the façade & trust noone. No spies are too old / young. It’s a dog eat dog world. 2 fiery, ironically-named donkeys (Dulce & Decorum) join the fun.

Marguerite is an active member of La Fleche, a hush-hush network dedicated to smuggling Aristos outta the country to escape Madame Guillotine’s clutches. Marguerite & fellow comrades are being hunted like wabbits, someone has been snitching ‘cuz the powers that be know the exact locations & names to arrest. Everyone’s motive becomes suspect & the culprit who can’t keep their trap shut must be w/in inner circle. Once in Paris, Marguerite also must deal w/ her slimy cousin, who guilt-trips her for the loss of the chateau & that her dad’s disappearance is jeopardizing their family’s (meaning : his) safety. Is daddy guilty as charged / is he being used as a pawn ?

Reading this book was a thrill, like getting a scholarship from a top-calibre espionage school, where the # 1 lesson is a fascinating character study, on how to change your posture, accent, act, walk, talk, react, use code names & passwords, utilize all resources, blend in to the background, chameleon-like, all in a blink of an eye. JB makes those campy gadget-galore Bond movies look like child’s play. To operate by “Hiding in plain sight” is an art & we’re shown, not just told. A big plus !

If I were an author (which I’m not, thank gawd), I’d feel humbled if blessed w/ just a drop of JB’s talent. TFR is the kinda book that’s worth the wait even if it takes an eternity. I dunno how any other espionage-tinged romance I’ll read in the next 6 months can ever top this, but never say never. She has the uncanny ability to make a reader capture every nuance of the characters’ feelings & thought process. Her elegant prose, w/out TMI, is divine. Brilliant dialogues, intricate plot & action-packed, I was torn between wanting to savor every line & wanting to speed up ‘cuz I couldn’t turn the pages fast enuff to see the next twist & turns. The protagonists & supporting cast are fleshed out. W/ palpable taste of fear & tautly-strung atmosphere, the French Revolution & political unrest are effective setting (like 1 of my all-time fav : Iris Johansen = Storm winds). The ending lacks an epilogue, but it’s appropriate & doesn’t diminish its value. We get many glimpses of Adrian Hawker honing his skills under William’s tutelage. The upcoming book will be to die for. If he’s already this slick & savvy as a young ‘un, the seasoned version of Adrian will most likely blow the competition outta the water.

JB really puts some major pop on this prequel to TSL. It’s 1 of the Gotta-read-B4-U-expire books, or U’d feel gypped if U didn’t read it. I drove to B & N when my local Borders ran outta stock (1st day of release !) LOL... The name of the heroine is just 1 of several cheeky winks @ the classic ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’, check out 1 of the methods used to smuggle out the Guillotine candidates. H/H have no business falling in luv when death permeates the air that they breathe. It’s so refreshing to read a gritty spy romance where the H/H are not in denial & duplicitous from cover to cover. Their unique luv story is quite angsty. The consummation of their ever-lasting luv & subsequent ones are sensual. Every stolen moment - while evading spiky obstacles @ every corner - is poignant. TFR gets my vote as 1 of 2010 best ;^2
Profile Image for Jultri.
1,078 reviews6 followers
March 27, 2018
Courtney Milan, Eloisa James and now Joanna Bourne. All highly popular and well-respected authors - but, alas, not for me. I generally like to keep my genres pure and separated. I love espionage and political intrigue as a genre. I have devoured books by Ludlum, Forsyth, Clancy, Higgins and their likes. However, if I pick up a HR, I prefer the romance not be distracted by side plots. Knowing that, I nevertheless picked up this book after such glorious praise from my fellow GRers, hoping that the romance and the writing would be enough to carry the book. I'm sorry to say, that was not the case.

Firstly, the romance was okay, but did not move me. It's strange, that it was not the spy part that detracted from the romance, but that the romance detracted from the spy part and in fact, made the latter component of the plot less convincing. For a master of his trade, Doyle was rather foolish around her and threw caution to the wind, taking no care to avoid detection and allowing himself to be easily captured by her cousin's minions. Then there was the matter of them procreating in the middle of the gaol, like they had all the time in the world, even though they risked exposure and worse and ought to have spent the precious time planning his escape. Furthermore, Doyle was never censored by the head of French spy branch for being unprofessional and cavorting with a potential enemy. In addition, Maggie managed to convince her fellow La Fleche members and their mates to aid Doyle in his escape. Why should they want to risk their lives to save an English spy? And what about Doyle dragging a good number of random gaol inmates with him when he escaped. Maggie and her motley crew risked themselves for him and in turn, he carelessly endangered their lives by complicating the rescue more. It made no sense. In their spy business, they should know that the good of the greater cause overrode everything. He had no emotional connection to these fellow escapees, since he was only there for a 2 days before his escape and he certainly had no way of trusting that they would not reveal the plot.

The writing, there were some lovely passages, but I'm sorry, I cannot help but feel that there was a great deal of... dare I say it...over-writing. She employed purple prose like it was a blanket of dense fog descending over the recesses of my mind. And that brings me to the next point - her strange and unexpected similes. As this reviewer pointed out:


similes such as "The moment (of mutual desire) fell between them like ripe fruit" - I can't even begin to comprehend that one!
or "Pleasure gripped her, as if it were a hand that closed around her and shook her" which sounds anything but pleasurable.
or "Being in love with you is shedding the skin of my soul, as a snake sheds its skin." What, her soul is the snake? Snakes shed their skin to grow, so does it mean her soul will grow fed by her love for him? Is she transforming herself in loving him? Is she stripping herself bare? What the hell does it mean??? The obscurity of her writing just did my head in. Maybe she exposed me to the painful truth, that I have the depth and comprehension of a frying pan.

There are other inconsistencies that bothered me. Like Maggie's repeated refusal to acknowledge or the fact that she was the brain and often executor of countless rescues, but she had to rely on Doyle's help to get her to Paris, or sagacious words from the mouth of a 4 year old: “The times are difficult. We must all be patient and clever”. Contrast that with the reality of my 12 year daughter speaking text language to me and my husband and son who just grunt!

I did rather enjoy Hawker and his interactions with Doyle. They had some nice banter between them. Both Hawker and Justine were uncomfortably smart and quick-witted for their age, but I can allow that times of unrest and war would expedite the maturation of young ones. It's definitely a matter of taste because the majority of readers thoroughly enjoy the author's writing. For me, a little bit less convolution would be preferred. She made my head ache. I am sorry...
Profile Image for Misfit.
1,637 reviews278 followers
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
July 16, 2014
*hangs head in shame*

Despite the rave reviews from so many readers here that I trust, I just could not get into the book. The metaphors drove me batty, as did all the spy stuff with everyone having a speshul code name. I lost interest about halfway through and other books kept grabbing my attention until the library said it was time to go home to Overdrive land and took it away.

Sorry guyz.
Profile Image for Sam (AMNReader).
1,259 reviews274 followers
Shelved as 'today-is-not-that-day'
August 31, 2019
I go back and forth, but can say for sure this isn't what I want to read.... So putting it on hold again, and I might never return to it. Maybe audio? Idk.

Around 25%
Profile Image for Jacob Proffitt.
2,937 reviews1,551 followers
October 24, 2017
This is part of a series, but ordering is problematic. They were written out of chronological order so technically this one is third. It's first chronologically, however, and it wasn't written "prequally" so personally, I recommend starting here. Of course, I've only read the "first" so I don't know the full effect of that choice, yet, but I intend to take the rest of this series chronologically because I wish I had known the characters in this one before having read the "first".

I really enjoyed this story. It's not quite the competence porn as the other I read was, but it's close. So you have both Doyle and Marguerite at the top of the spy game in revolutionary France and that's a setting rife with danger and intrigue. Indeed, if they were any less competent, this might have been hard for me to read (because I have a hard time when my heroes are in desperate danger—yes, I am an emotional wimp). Add some outstanding side characters and this became very engaging, indeed.

If I have one gripe, it'd be that the villains don't really measure up. I suppose that's just as well because they are in such positions of power that adding competence on top would make it hard to get a handle on them. Still, Bourne had to compromise at least once to prevent a too-early resolution and that hurt just a tad. Also, while having Doyle was very cool, it also felt like kind of much (as an expected thing).

The ending was so very perfect that I almost jumped this to a full five stars despite the flat villains and problematical steam (see below). Call it 4.5 without the oomph to round up. A very good read and I'm glad I decided to go with it.

A note about Steamy: There are three explicit sex scenes and they're a bit much. It's the middle of my steam tolerance. If there's a second weakness, this is it. That third scene in particular just bugged the crap out of me as an inappropriate time/place when both of them had much better things they should have been doing and "getting the steam out" came across as kind of silly.
Profile Image for Sandy Williams.
Author 30 books1,024 followers
June 19, 2010

I love Joanna Bourne. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed her first two books – The Spymaster’s Lady and My Lord and Spymaster – I didn’t expect to like this one quite as much. I’m happy to report I loved it just as much. Maybe more?

THE FORBIDDEN ROSE is set during the turmoil of the French Revolution. Marguerite de Fleurignac is a French aristocrat who smuggles people who would otherwise be sent to the guillotine out of the country. When her château is burned to the ground, Maggie flees to her home in Paris where she intends to warn the other people in her smuggling network that their identities have been compromised. The hero, William Doyle, arrives in time to help her get away. He pretends to be a traveling book seller, but he is in truth a British spy who is using Maggie to find her father, who he believes is linked to the assassinations of several British agents.

First off, I love the setting. The French Revolution? I’m intrigued. I’ve discovered over the last year that, in order for me to enjoy a historical romance, there must be some type of conflict other than the ups and downs of the romance. There is conflict aplenty in this book ��� in all of Bourne’s books actually. She does a great job of exploring the Revolution, making it seem real and horrible. I found myself wanting to learn more about the time period and about Robespierre. It’s been a long time since I had a history class, and honestly, the only thing I can remember from high school text books is that the French Revolution was a victory for the people. The monarchy was overthrown. That sounds good, right? Like when the American colonies overthrew King George? Well, there’s definitely an ugly, bloody side to the French Revolution that I, in my sunny little world, didn’t think much about. This book brought that to life. This is not to say the book is overly violent or anything, but it… well, it makes you think.

The second thing I love about this book: Maggie. It might seem odd to describe a woman in a historical romance as a “kick-ass heroine”, but that’s exactly the type of character Maggie is. No, she doesn’t go running around swinging swords, casting spells, or beating villains up like the women in urban fantasy do, but I love her just as much. She’s resourceful, brave, stoic, compassionate. She doesn’t let people boss her around. She doesn’t wait around for a man to come along and save her. She takes matters into her own hands and she does things. She is not helpless as so many other historical romance heroines are.

Thing number three: Justine and Adrian. Sidekicks for the win! Adrian is Doyle’s spy-in-training. Justine is… complicated. She works for the Secret Police, which I think is a French spy network? She’s also a member of Maggie’s smuggling network. She has an interesting past and an interesting future, I believe. I’ve read on Bourne’s blog about “Justine’s book”. I’m now extremely excited to read that story. I loved both her and Adrian, and I’m fairly certain these two will run into each other in the “Justine book”. If not, boo! These two need to be together!

Number four: the writing. I love the author’s voice. Love, love, love. What’s interesting to me, though, is I think she changed her writing style a little. Before I read her previous novel, I read this review over on Dear Author http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2008/... where it talks about the writing style grating on the reviewer’s nerves. In her previous books, Bourne reversed the typical order of sentences. Example: “Canny as a parliament of owls, the Captain” instead of “The Captain was as canny as a parliament of owls.” I don’t think the reversal would have bothered me in MY LORD AND SPYMASTER if I hadn’t read that review, but they did kind of stick out to me. That said, I really missed the sentence reversals in THE FORBIDDEN ROSE. (I know, I know. The author can’t win either way, can she? ) I wonder if Bourne consciously refrained from the reversal because of these reviews? I still loved the writing, though. There were times where I stopped and said, “Wow” because I truly appreciated the prose. A couple of examples:

He wasn’t worried about the donkeys. It takes dedication and ingenuity to kill a donkey, though Hawker was giving it a try. Any fool can founder a high-bred mare. A good horse will run her heart out and die under you.
That was Maggie. She’d keep on until she fell in her tracks.
(Yes, Doyle is comparing Maggie to a horse, but she’s tired and worn out and scared and this metaphor fit so well.)

Guillame looked Jean-Paul over, being meditative and calm about it. Guillame, being meditative, was like a mountain wondering if it should fall on someone.
(Perfect description!)

The cherry on top: the ending! Oh, how I loved it! I complain all the time about how historical romances have stupid, obligatory baby epilogues. You know, those last five or ten pages where the heroine just so happens to be pregnant or to have a dozen adorable mini-heroes running around her feet? Can’t stand that! I don’t want to give anything away here, but THERE IS NO BABY EPILOGUE! I’m ecstatic with the ending! I think this might be the Best Historical Romance Ending Ever.
Profile Image for Anna (Bobs Her Hair).
909 reviews194 followers
August 5, 2011
The Forbidden Rose is a delightful spy/suspense/historical romance set during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. It’s also prequel to Joanna Bourne’s Spymaster series, which includes The Spymaster’s Lady and My Lord and Spymaster. Bourne provides an involved plot, mature characters, and a descriptive setting. If you are looking for a historical romance that break away from predictable plot devices then I highly recommend this book.

The Plot
In 1794, Marguerite de Fleurignac (“Maggie”), an aristocrat, is a member in La Flèche, an underground network that smuggles to safety people marked as threats to national security and destined for the guillotine. Her greatest threats came from Jacobins and Maximilien Robespierre, who was the main implementer during the Reign of Terror.

La Flèche has been betrayed. Maggie needs to carefully warn the network members, find the traitor, and go to her father in Paris. She is discovered by Guillame LeBreton and young Adrian Hawker. She knows they are not what they seem, but they will take her to her destination.

Guillame LeBreton is not the book dealer he pretends to be. He is William Doyle, a British Secret Agent. He needs a specific list written by the Marquis de Fleurignac. Maggie will lead him to her father.

What Makes This Book a Delight
The characters are cleverly written. Maggie is brave, resourceful, and quick-witted. She has a whimsical personality, which she displays after snaring a rabbit at the beginning of the story. ”Do not expect pity, Citoyen Rabbit. I am without a heart. It was the first thing I ate when I became hungry.” (p. 15) Maggie believes in her cause. She goes to Paris accepting she will die for she will most likely be caught. The hero, William, is a seasoned spy. He is described as a big man with “impolitic muscle,” and his father once called him “that hairy bog jumper.” Even though Maggie sees that he is not handsome she finds admirable qualities in him.

What I especially liked about Maggie and William is that even though they feel they can trust each other they show restraint. Sensitive information involving their dangerous pursuits is not revealed. It always annoys me when characters betray confidences when they shouldn’t just because the author states they are the hero and heroine. I understand they’re the “good” guys but disclosing life-threatening secrets lessens character credibility and effectively throws me out of the book. Even though Maggie and William feel they have something they would pursue in a normal situation, they never set aside their goals.
”I have fallen in love. It does not change anything.” – Marguerite de Fleurignac
“I don’t have to like everything I do.” - William Doyle

Another positive about these characters is that they don’t have any Big Misunderstandings. They each know the other is not what he or she seems. Bourne avoids the “You lied to me!” along with all the internal dialogue on how the character realizes his or her feelings are irrational. Yay!

The setting is fairly rich in history for a historical romance. I learned something about the French Revolution. It’s as if Joanna Bourne assumes we all know about Jacobins and Robespierre. I didn’t know the clergy were persecuted having always assumed it was only the aristocrats that were beheaded. The setting is not a distraction. Bourne has a descriptive way of writing that puts the reader right into the story.

How This Book Could Have Earned One More Star
While The Forbidden Rose had an incredible plot the romance could have been stronger. I didn’t “feel the love” until halfway through the book. Maggie and William share a physical attraction and admire each other but all of a sudden Maggie declares in internal dialogue that she loves him. It was a BIG leap. The rest of the story made up for it with their actions and words. For a historical romance, the romance felt secondary.

This was my first Joanna Bourne novel. It felt deliciously different from all the other novels I’ve been reading lately. What a fun trip! I’m ready for another one and will be reading The Spymaster’s Lady. I can’t wait for Adrian’s book, The Black Hawk to release in November. His character was part of this story and from what I’ve read his love interest was in it too. Overall, I give The Forbidden Rose a B+.

Memorable Moments
page 283 - Marguerite and William

”I was waiting for you. I will always be waiting for you.”

“You…” he breathed out. “Damn.”

p. 292
Think of my enthusiasm, at night, when you are in dangerous places. You will know that I am waiting for you. I shall, of course, take lovers, but I will shove them swiftly out of the house when you arrive. You must pretend not to notice their coattails disappearing around the corner.”

“Right.” His hands were confident and amused, drawing her in. “Good thing I’m not a jealous man.”

Profile Image for Caz.
2,679 reviews1,015 followers
August 11, 2016
I've given this As for both content and narration at AAR. Audiobooks don't get much better than this!

There has been a long delay between the release of the audio version of Ms. Bourne’s début novel, The Spymaster's Lady, and audios of the other books in the series, but at last, we’re now able to enjoy this, the prequel to that book and can look forward to listening to the remaining books in the series as they are issued over the next few months.

The Forbidden Rose takes place several years before The Spymaster’s Lady and tells the story of William Doyle (who appears in a major secondary role in that book) and how he met his wife, Maggie, aka Marguerite de Fleurignac, daughter of an eccentric marquis.

The story opens shortly after Marguerite’s home, the Chateau de Fleurignac, has been looted and burned by radicals. Posing as a lady’s companion, she encounters two travellers – Guillaume LeBreton, a huge, mountain of a man, and his servant boy, Hawker. LeBreton – in reality William Doyle, a British spy – is well aware of Marguerite’s true identity, having travelled to Normandy in order to track down her father.

Marguerite, whom Doyle immediately nicknames Maggie, has important secrets of her own as well. She runs La Flèche, an organisation working across France to help ferry remaining aristocrats out of France and across the Channel to England. With the burning of her home, her network of contacts in disarray and threatened by the Secret Police, Maggie is anxious to get to Paris to find her father and discover whether her friends have been arrested or killed.

It’s difficult to say much more about the plot without spoilers, so suffice to say that the storyline is satisfyingly complex and Ms. Bourne vividly recreates the world of post-Revolutionary France in which danger lies around every corner. Her spies, operating without the benefit of modern technology, are people who live by their wits and cunning, much of their work being unglamorous and un-heroic. Yet they are heroic in their dedication – even Hawker, street-rat-turned-apprentice-spy, who never wavers in his loyalty towards his mentor.

Doyle is a delicious hero, completely at ease in his own skin and confident in his abilities. Not handsome in the conventional sense, he’s a man of quiet subtlety and strength, with a dry sense of humour whose sheer competence is so incredibly attractive, that it’s easy to understand why Marguerite, a level-headed and practical young woman, would lose her head (pardon the pun!) over him.

Marguerite is wonderfully “French” in her outlook and a worthy match for Doyle. Like him, she is not what she seems to be and has acquired many skills during her time as head of La Flèche. She is independent and clear-sighted, possessing a mind capable of both whimsy and great pragmatism.

We met Adrian Hawker in The Spymaster’s Lady too, and meeting him again here, as a twelve-year-old with a much older head on his shoulders, provides valuable insight into his character. Rescued from the street-gangs of London, he is a kind of apprentice to Doyle who is not only training him as a spy but more or less bringing him up, showing him what it is to be a man and a decent human being.

The romance between Doyle and Maggie is simply beautiful, full of yearning and wonder and imbued with the real sense that these are two people living on a knife-edge who know that life is precarious and could come to an end at any moment. The sexual tension between them is breathtaking:

She wanted this. It would be so easy, so natural, to take this pleasure. To let her body answer his. There was no one on earth to stop her. Except herself. Except herself.

She said, “I wish . . .” I wish I could lie with you. I am afraid and alone and I would be comforted by you. She picked one drop out of the sea of what she wished and put it into words. “I wish I were the miller’s daughter and you were the farmer’s son and we could play foolish games in the stable loft. I wish you were someone I could . . .”

“Be foolish with.”

“Yes.” She sighed. “But I am not the miller’s daughter. I have never owned such simplicity. I do not live one minute without calculation.”

“Pretend I’m someone you can kiss.” His lips came down softly over hers.

The book is beautifully written throughout, full of utterly gorgeous prose and wonderfully inventive descriptions.

Tantor Audio is to be applauded for the decision to engage Kirsten Potter to narrate this and the other books in the series. She did a splendid job with The Spymaster’s Lady and it would have been difficult to imagine anyone else bringing these stories to such vibrant life. I confess that having a narrator read in one accent while performing the characters using another is not my personal preference, but Ms. Potter quickly won me over with her superbly nuanced narration and her ability to employ a variety of accents, tone, and timbre to differentiate between the French and English characters in the story.

The differentiation between the characters is very good. Doyle and Adrian are easy to tell apart, Doyle being predominantly well-spoken, his voice pitched suitably low as one would expect of such a large man, while Adrian speaks in a jauntier, (mostly) cockney-like accent at a slightly higher pitch.

Ms. Potter’s French-accented English is very good indeed and she switches between numerous characters of both sexes with great ease and fluidity. Her portrayal of Marguerite was spot on, expertly capturing her world-weariness as well as her more playful side.

I did notice a handful of mispronunciations, usually in the English dialogue or internalisations. For example, “glad” was once oddly pronounced “glarhd”, and “quay” was pronounced as it is spelled rather than as “key”, as is usual. Also, Adrian’s dialogue is often peppered with an Antipodean twang, which is a little distracting at times, although not so much so as to dim my enthusiasm for Ms. Potter’s performance overall.

There are also a few very minor production issues with what I assume are “drop-in” edits, when the pitch and resonance of Ms. Potters voice would change suddenly for a few seconds and then return to the way it had been before. I mention this because I know that some listeners like to be warned about things like this in advance, but it in no way took me out of the story or detracted from my enjoyment of the book.

The Forbidden Rose combines two wonderful elements – a thrilling and superbly written story with a truly wonderful performance from a very talented narrator. Audiobooks don’t get much better than this.

Profile Image for Ashley.
430 reviews31 followers
March 10, 2021
“I am starving to death, you know. Not as one starves in stories, nobly and gracefully. [...] Do not expect pity, Citoyen Rabbit. I am without a heart. It was the first thing I ate when I became hungry.”

So begins this novel, with the heroine talking to a rabbit she's snared for the entirety of the first chapter. And what a badass first chapter it was! Not many authors could pull something like that off, and Bourne did so with serious style.

While this won't wind up a personal favorite the way The Spymaster's Lady did, it is without doubt one of the most gorgeous books I've ever read. I can say definitively that it has more highlighted passages than any book on my e-reader. Even in moments when the writing is more straightforward, the prose is laced with observations, dialogue, and musings that are fresh, specific, and help to paint the scene and characters with a deftness that makes me so envious and appreciative of Bourne's skill.

Okay, there was one metaphor "silent as an apple" that seemed really silly and over-the-top to me, but otherwise Bourne is golden.

I will be honest and say that the first half was pretty boring and full of insta-attraction not at all dissimilar from the first two books in this series. It was only the language and evocative writing that kept me going. But somehow the love story between Marguerite/Maggie and Guillaume/Doyle crept up on me and by the time I was about 60% in I really found myself rooting for them. The sex scenes between them were leagues ahead of the ones written in the other two books and they actually did a wonderful job of selling me on the growing intimacy between the characters. I'm still not sure I buy that they fell in love over the course of a week, but obviously danger and fear bind people together quite efficiently both in novels and in real life. Bourne did a convincing job of showing this.

This book is a prequel to the other novels, so I don't think it's a spoiler to say that Maggie and Doyle come to play a rather paternal role in the lives of the characters in the other books. I found myself quite emotional at the end of the novel when they first really begin to take to their roles as Mama and Papa Spy, so to speak. My eyes were welling up a little, no lie.

For all that I adore Maggie and Doyle, two genuinely strong, good, decent characters who deserved every kind of happiness, it's once again Adrian who stole the show for me. Dear lord that little kid is so incredibly fun to read about! I found myself looking forward to his POV scenes more than the hero and heroine's. In this book we are also introduced to Justine, the heroine of the next novel. She will be Adrian's love interest and she is fabulous and such a perfect mix of tortured and snotty as hell. She is thirteen, I think, a year older than Adrian, and is very condescending and rude to him (think Estella Havisham). Of course he can't stand her.

“They [the books] are lent to me by a friend. You will be careful with that.”

“My hands are clean.” For God’s sake, she acted like he wasn’t good enough to even touch one.

Sorry, sweet Adrian, but Justine was upstaging even you by the end of this book! Some examples:

“She is a better companion than you [Adrian], in fact, because she has been trained to keep her mouth closed and follow orders, which you have not.”

“You cannot pronounce French at all. You speak as if you came from the smallest hill village of Gascony. I think you are very stupid. And whoever sent you to France is even more stupid. Listen to me.”

Justine, standing on the ladder, propped her elbows on the floor of the loft. “This is a very expensive whorehouse, monsieur. If you like, I will see that you are entertained for the evening. Not the young boy, naturally. His innocence must be maintained at all costs.”

I know Adrian and Justine's book is set about twenty-five years after this one, so I'm really looking forward to a romance in this series with older characters who have known each other for decades. I find love stories that play out over a longer stretch of time (months or years vs. mere days) generally more satisfying.
Profile Image for Ursula.
586 reviews139 followers
December 8, 2017
This was a German audio version and I LOVED it.
The narrator was fabulous- just the right mix of smooth and sultry and poetic (because Bourne has such a poetic style).
The story is also gripping. The historical detail of the crazy times in France under Robespierre just come alive in this book. The hero is wonderful- strong, brutal, sensitive, passionate, protective and intelligent. Sounds too good to be true? And yet somehow he seemed incredibly real.
Marguerite was a phenomenal heroine, so courageous and clever, yet vulnerable and compassionate.

I am a bit of a fan of French Revolution stories, from fantasies like The Scarlet Pimpernel to moving classics like A Tale of Two Cities. This one did not disappoint :)

Great characters, ripping good yarn and an HEA. Perfect!

(Any excuse for a Richard Armitage pic)
Profile Image for Piper.
307 reviews75 followers
March 29, 2018
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ LOVED this one. Doyle and Maggie are fabulous characters. Now on to Hawk’s story. This series has not disappointed me yet.
Profile Image for Beth.
1,144 reviews114 followers
March 10, 2022
I read this as setup for the next two books. I think it’s because I skipped around when I first read this series (still haven’t gotten to all of them, and I’m not sure I want to), and I read book four first, and this book pales in comparison for me. I can’t help comparing them: English spy - check; titled Frenchwoman - check; very specific French-in-English dialogue - check.

And so while I like every central character here (no small feat, that), Justine and Hawker stole my heart first. This is their beginning, and it’s so good. Adrian’s character arc is so well done and so specific that I’ve never been able to write about it until now - I’d reread, and flail, and say, “maybe I’ll write about this some other day, when I’ve figured out what to say”.

I can’t say I’ve figured it out yet. But there’s something here that makes these characters live and breathe and keeps me rereading every few years. It’s mostly with Adrian and Justine - this really is their series; Doyle might get his own book here, but he personifies the solid supporting character to me - and I think it’s specificity in character. The series places these people in a carefully delineated era and lets them interact over years and through multiple conflicts, forward and backward in time. It develops characters from more than one perspective. It lets you see them grow up, maybe even grow old. And this gives the story historical heft, makes it about more than wish fulfillment. It might make the series about happily-ever-after, actually, where the ever-after doesn’t involve endings but family and friendship and professional competence.

It’s a cozy read, but not a lightweight one.

PS: books four and five are practically perfect.

PPS: is there a woman in this series who isn’t French? (I’m counting Cami; I mean, a Cache!)
Profile Image for Katie(babs).
1,810 reviews539 followers
May 12, 2010
The Forbidden Rose is where Joanna Bourne continues to amaze with her thought out, somewhat complex plots and characters who will take a beating and even after all the danger and life threatening action that comes their way, they refuse to be down for the count and live to fight another day. If there is such a thing as swashbuckling spies, I would say Joanna has placed her claim on it.

Marguerite de Fleurignac has been hiding in the French countryside where her family's chateau has burned to the ground. As a noblewoman, she must be careful because she is being hunted by those who want to kill her. These are important members responsible for the revolution who arrest anyone for any reason and send to the guillotine to die. Marguerite has just cause for concern, because she and her ex-lover, Jean-Paul, who is the son of the botanist of the Royal Gardens, are part of an underground network called la Fleche, where they help smuggle émigrés across the channel and into England. Marguerite's father is a mad genius hiding in Paris and is also being hunted by a select group of individuals because he maybe responsible for a group of assassinations in England.

Guillaume LeBreton, and his twelve-year old servant boy Adrian Hawker, come across Marguerite and basically hold her hostage for her own safe keeping. She lies and tells them she is Maggie Duran, a former governess. Guillaume is actually an English spy by the name of William Doyle who works for the British Service and has been sent on a mission to find Maggie's father. He knows who Maggie is as soon as they meet and will gain her trust and protect her from the men who work for her cousin Victor de Fleurignac, a very high ranking official and a close friend of the bloodthirsty and righteous Robespierre. Maggie is wary of this LeBreton, who is very large, hulking, and has a long wicked scar on his cheek. But in order to arrive safely in Paris, she needs the protection and looks to Guillaume to help her, although she acts as if she doesn't need his aid. He is more than willing to help because this way Maggie will lead him to her father.

As Maggie, Doyle and Hawker travel the dangerous roads to Paris, and then enter the city where one wrong move can get them kill, they are unaware that there are others watching them closely who may or may not want them dead. Maggie can't help but succumb to her passions for Gillaume, who is definitely not what he seems. They try their best to find a small piece of happiness in one another arms, but the horrors of the revolution may keep them apart forever.

Joanna Bourne has such an amazing skill at writing strong characters, descriptive settings, including a mature and passionate love story. She uses a great amount of historical research to have penned an amazing book such as The Forbidden Rose. Readers of Ms. Bourne's past books have met Maggie and Doyle before in The Spymaster's Lady. The Forbidden Rose is a prequel and the story of how Maggie and Doyle first met met. Not only do we see how France was full of unrest during the time of the revolution, but how no one can trust anyone, not even the children. This is especially shown with Doyle's young charge, Adrian Hawkins, who also has made quiet an impression in the two books that were released prior to The Forbidden Rose. As an adult first showcased in The Spymaster's Lady and briefly in My Lord and Spymaster, he made a big impression and does even more so in The Forbidden Rose. He is one such character that you can't help but be in awe of at such a young age, including his adversary, Justine, a young girl close to his age, who lives in a brothel and works in some capacity to lend aid to Maggie's cause.

Ms. Bourne's way with words, dialogue and deep devotion and love Maggie and Doyle have for one another will blow you away. Maggie and Doyle's passion for one another at times is rushed, but that doesn't take away from the bond and attachment they build, where they would die for one another if that ever came to pass.

The Forbidden Rose is a fiery and near all consuming tale filled with suspense and wonderful insights on the human psyche. This is one historical romance that is a must read and proves yet again how masterful of a writer Joanna Bourne has become.
Profile Image for willaful.
1,155 reviews370 followers
December 6, 2011
4.5 stars. Spies, political intrigue, French heroines -- these generally top my “oh hell no” list when it comes to choosing romance. But Bourne has made the combo work for me before, so I trusted her to make it work for me again. My reward was a totally swoonworthy hero, in a character who had seemed far from typical hero material in the previous books of the series. Is there anything sexier in a dude than competence... large, quiet, total, large competence?

Set some years before the previous books in the series, shortly after the French revolution, this is the story of how William Doyle met his wife. I can’t remember now if we actually met her in the other books, but I wasn’t expecting her to be a French (former) aristocrat named Marguerite. This doesn’t seem like a whitewash though, because when we saw her through Doyle’s eyes, he wouldn’t think of her that way, just as his loving Maggie. (Though it does bring up my one big quibble about the book and the series in general )

One of the fascinations of the story is seeing the character of Adrian as an old-before-his time adolescent, just beginning to learn to be a decent human being from Doyle. I think this would have less impact if I hadn’t read the previous books, so for that reason I’d recommend reading the series in publication order, rather than chronological.

But Adrian doesn’t steal the show here, because Doyle is simply so delicious. My favorite description of him (from Marguerite, who thinks of him as Guilluame): “ “Guilluame looked Jean-Paul over, being meditative and calm about it. Guillaume, being meditative, was like a mountain wondering if it should fall on someone.” I would take that over endless descriptions of pecs and boners any day, although naturally Doyle is by no means deficient in those areas either.

I love it, by the way, that Marguerite continues to think of William as Guilluame all through the book, just as she instantly became “Maggie” to him. It fits with how equal they are: Marguerite is brave, honorable, intelligent and, if not as adept in survival skills as Doyle, certainly willing and able to learn. They reminded me somewhat of my other favorite Mountain hero and his equally competent love, from Georgette Heyer’s The Masqueraders

The story is also exciting, funny, and beautifully written but of course if you’ve read Bourne before, you expected that. And if you’ve read Bourne before and liked it, you definitely won’t want to miss this.
170 reviews7 followers
January 24, 2016
4.5 I adore Bourne's lyrical writing and this book was no exception. Couldn't put it down.
Profile Image for Pamela Shropshire.
1,295 reviews55 followers
March 17, 2018
Book 3 of the Spymasters series. I complained in my review of the last book about the stupid heroine trope and I’m happy to say, this one was MUCH better.

This book is set some years before book 1. In The Spymaster’s Lady, we meet Doyle and Marguerite (Doyle calls her Maggie and The Forbidden Rose explains the origin of that nickname).

The heroine is Marguerite de Fleurignac, daughter of a marquise, lately - denobled? disennobled? Anyway, when the book opens, she is hiding from the men who burned their chateau and are now aiming to kill her. Our hero, William Doyle, alias Guillaume LeBreton, finds her there and helps her escape. He has an ulterior motive, though; he believes her father was responsible for some assassinations in England and believes Marguerite will lead him to her father.

Marguerite is the head of Le Fléche, an organization that smuggles out to England those who have been targeted for execution. Doyle, as we know from previous books, is an English spy. The thing I most liked about this book and the hero is that Doyle fully acknowledges Marguerite as his equal. He respects her intelligence and her abilities.

Again, Ms. Bourne gives us the feeling of being in France during the period. You feel yourself in the action.

In this book, we also see a lot of Adrian as a young teen and we hear a little about his origins. I can’t wait to read his story.

4 full stars for this one.
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Profile Image for Quinn.
738 reviews61 followers
August 29, 2015
Joanna Bourne is one very talented author. Her crisp, unfettered style is brilliantly lacking the over-wrought sentimentality that often prevails in historical romance, and results in moments of breath-taking poignancy. She is a striking talent bringing a fresh and unique voice to the genre. It’s no surprise that she has rocketed up the list of my favourite authors.

The Forbidden Rose is a prequel to the amazing The Spymaster's Lady and My Lord and Spymaster, and doesn’t disappoint on any level. Bourne again showcases her unique voice, seamlessly providing the reader with a sense of time and place, always ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’, with the dialogue providing the bulk of the flavour.

This is William Doyle’s story, who we originally came to know in The Spymasters Lady, and saw again in My Lord and Spymaster. Although I liked his character in those books, they didn’t quite prepare me for what a wonderful, amazing man he really was. Doyle is not a flashy character; he doesn’t need or want to be centre stage. He is a man of tremendous strength, substance and subtlety with a sly sense of humour – a combination that I found compelling and irresistible.

Luckily, the author gave him a worthy match with Marguerite de Fleurignac – intelligent, practical, daring and self-reliant, she is nonetheless rendered in a very believable way. Bourne writes some of the best couples going around, and although they generally start the book at ‘political’ odds, the progression of their relationship is deftly handled – nothing ever feels forced and the author has no need to rely on overused, clichéd devices.

I cannot possibly write this review without mentioning Adrian. While Doyle was too strong and impressive a character to allow someone else to steal the show, Adrian came as close as possible to that line. I adored Adrian in The Spymaster’s Lady, and was left feeling a little bereft of his sparkling character in My Lord and Spymaster. Oh, but he was brilliant in this one.

I’d never thought to see Adrian’s life before his entrée into Britain’s elite spy agency, and what a loss that would have been. The twelve-year-old Adrian was something to behold. In fact, I intend to re-read these books (something I never do), starting with this one first, just so I can appreciate Adrian in chronological order, along with Doyle and Maggie. (Ignore what Goodreads says about chronological order – this one would come first, not third.)

The Forbidden Rose is the story of two people who know they cannot be together, but neither can they bear to be apart. Neither conforms to society's standards of beauty, but each sees the inner beauty of the other. I could wax lyrical about this series all day. I will refrain, but let me just say this: Read. These. Books.
Profile Image for Regan Walker.
Author 56 books758 followers
February 24, 2012
Wonderful “prequel” to read first in the Amazing Spymaster Series!

For those who haven't yet read THE SPYMASTER'S LADY or MY LORD AND SPYMASTER, you should know this book comes first in time--it is a "prequel." Unfortunately it was written later so for those of us already fans to the series, we knew how it ended before it began as this is Doyle's and Maggie's story (and they are in the other books but later in time).

Set in 1794 in France, it's a great tale of English spies and French undercover work transporting royalists out of France during the time of the French Revolution and Robespierre. Marguerite is a wonderful young woman who, though raised as an aristocrat, has adapted to the times and is now doing important work that has her wearing many faces. British agent Doyle is after her father who he believes has provided names of English to be murdered by those in control of France. When he realizes he has taken the man's daughter, he keeps her, hoping she'll lead him to her father. Doyle has never allowed himself to get involved with a woman in the field. Ah, but Marguerite de Fleurignac aka Maggie is no ordinary woman! He gets aroused just looking at her and he admires her intelligence and fierce determination. He wants her for his own.

Bourne gives us another strong heroine and another drool-worthy hero. In an interview I did of her on my blog, she siad that Doyle is her favorite character and that this is her best work. I loved it.

Doyle, who is in the background in the other books, is now center stage. The dialog is very witty and at times very humorous. Bourne has mastered the art of suspense and her language is very colorful and fits well the era. Meticulously researched, as always, Bourne delivers up a detailed well-told tale. I liked this romance as well as MY LORD AND SPYMASTER and EVEN better than THE SPYMASTER'S LADY, but I recommend reading all in the series (THE BLACK HAWK, which won the RITA in 2012, is quite wonderful!). Just read this one first!

Here’s the series:

The Forbidden Rose - 2010 (France 1794)
My Lord And Spymaster – 2008 (London 1811)
The Spymaster’s Lady – 2010 (France and England 1802)
The Forbidden Rose – 2010 (France 1794)
The Black Hawk – 2011 (Paris, beginning in 1794, flashbacks to 1797 and 1802, and London 1818)

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