Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tuesday Review: The Black Hawk

The Black Hawk
By Joanna Bourne
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: November 1, 2011
Five Stars

They met in Paris when they were little more than children, but there was nothing childish about Justine DeCabrillac and Adrian Hawkhurst even then. She was an established agent of the French Police Secréte mentored by the Madame of a brothel; he was a reformed thief, a killer, and a newly named agent of the British service in France. Briefly they are partners in a dangerous venture, and then over more than two decades Owl and Hawker are friends, lovers, and enemies, but always there is a connection between them that neither can deny.

Twenty four years later, Justine has opened a shop in London, hoping she has left her past behind her. But when a couple of unsolved murders capture her attention, she knows she has information that Adrian, who has become head of the British Intelligence Service, needs to know. Making her way to him in pouring rain, she is stabbed by an unknown assailant with a poisoned knife belonging to Adrian.

Adrian saves her life, literally at one point giving her his breath. But someone is out to destroy them both, and finding this enemy will require all their skills and their trust in one another. Only when they have defeated this last, mutual enemy can they enjoy the future they’ve been waiting a lifetime to begin.

Sometime you read a book that gets everything right, the big things like characters and plot and setting and the smaller things like thematic threads than run through the story like ribbons of light, sentences that make you catch your breath at their perfection, and scenes that linger in the mind almost with the richness of actual experience. The Black Hawk is such a book.

I’ve been convinced of Jo Bourne’s genius since I first read The Spymaster’s Lady. I read My Lord and Spymaster and The Forbidden Rose and found them compelling, memorable, and significant, but I think The Black Hawk is Bourne’s finest book yet. It is part historical thriller and part romance, and both parts are the work of a writer who practices her craft with unfaltering excellence. She constructs a plot that keeps readers turning pages, reluctant to stop as tension ratchets with every turn. She creates characters whose lives are alien to her readers but whose humanity is so deep and layered that readers know them and are emotionally invested in seeing them safe and happy.

The novel can be read as a standalone. Fans of the series will be pleased to see some characters from other books, but the focus of this book is unswervingly on Justine and Adrian, their stories and their relationship over the greater part of their lives.  Mentally and physically, they belong together. “They knew even the small crevices of one another’s minds,” Justine thinks at one point. And later, “The body has memories deeper than thought. Her body remembered him.”

I am a lover of lyrical prose. I revel in the power of the precise word and the musicality of a beautifully crafted sentence. I also recognize the power of simplicity that can pierce the heart with its truth. Bourne gives readers lyricism and simplicity in passages like this one in which Justine expresses her fear: “I am overwhelmed by a knowledge of mortality tonight. We dance upon the edge of the abyss, and tonight, I cannot stop myself from looking down.”

Perhaps the best example of this powerful simplicity comes in two comparisons Bourne uses, one in the early pages of the novel and one near the close. The first: “After so many years, Hawker’s arms were still as comforting as bread and milk.”  Bread and milk are sustenance and remembrance. On the final page: “She flowed over him like water, refreshing him and filling every empty part of him.” Water is survival, cleansing, renewal. In words from a child’s early vocabulary, Bourne shows readers this elemental, nurturing, necessary relationship.

This is one you don’t want to miss, my friends. I have no doubt that we’ll see it listed among the best books of 2011 on dozens of lists in the next few months, but The Black Hawk is more than a book for this year. It’s a book for many seasons, a book for as many years as are covered in the story—and beyond.

What’s the last book you read that made you want to put it in readers’ hands, saying, “This is wonderful. You should read it”?


TerriOsburn said...

I've only read Bourne's THE SPYMASTER'S LADY and remain amazemed by what this woman can do with words. I will someday read the others, but you just moved this one to the front of the list, Janga. Not that I doubted Ms. Bourne, but somehow I missed that this is Adrian's story. Will be an immediate buy.

Ain't She Sweet(SEP) and Bet Me (Crusie) were the last ones I wanted to push on every reader I knew. Kleypas' Contemporaries as well.

Janga said...

TBH truly is an extraordinary book, Ter. Countless fans have been waiting for Adrian's story since book 1, and it is well worth the wait.

I saw someone had gicen Ber Me a 3 on GoodReads this week, and I fumed for an hour wondering how this was possible. :) And yes to LK's contemporaries, and yay that we get three in 2012 after a Kleypasless year.

quantum said...

Thanks for the thumbs up Janga .... I just downloaded it from Amazon.

I read her debut novel 'The spy master's lady' and loved it, so couldn't resist buying this one, especially after seeing you use the G word (genius) in your review.

I'm always wanting to vent about the romance books I have read. So many superb authors. But I generally resist.

I'm Currently reading SEP's 'Aint she sweet' and concur with Terri's assessment. Before that I read Johanna Lindsey's 'Secret Fire' and loved it. Pretty well every romance I read is fantastic so it would be easier to list the duds.

I think credit for this belongs mainly to my fabulous guide! *smile*

irisheyes said...

I can't wait to dive into this book, Janga! I have to go stay with my mom this weekend and plan to bring this along to pass the time. I have a feeling I'm going to want lots of uninterrupted time for Adrian's story. I too concur that JB is a genius. When I start her novels I lose track of time and place and just live in her book with her characters. It's amazing! She's amazing!

I tend to push authors more than books. But, coincidently, my authors are usually SEP and Lisa Kleypas. I just know, especially if I'm turning a new romance fan onto the genre, you just can't go wrong with either of them. They seem to be my gold standard:)

Janga said...

Q, you're so good for my ego. Thank you, kind sir. I hope you enjoy TBH as much as I did.

Ain't She Sweet is one of those books that always leaves me in awe. It's amazing that SEP makes us actually like Sugar Beth.

Janga said...

Irish, I think you're going to love TBH. Adrian definitely has become one of my all-time favorite heroes.

SEP ans Lisa Kleypas deserve all the accolades they get. Both are consistently good.

I'm eager for all of you to read Eloisa James's The Duke Is Mine (releasing December 27). It's another extraordinary book.

MsHellion said...

Shamefully, I could not get into TSL, so I have not read any of this author's books. However, it is not often you rave. And one of your raves was for Marsha Moyer--whom I adore due to your recommendation. Perhaps I should check this one out from the library and try her again.

PJ said...

Janga, your review gave me almost as many sighs of pleasure as The Black Hawk itself. This is easily not just one of the best books I've read this year but one of the best books I've read in many years.

PJ said...

Janga said, I'm eager for all of you to read Eloisa James's The Duke Is Mine (releasing December 27). It's another extraordinary book.

I'll second that! It's EJ at her very best!

Janga said...

Hellie, don't you miss Marsha Moyer? I keep wishing for a new book from her. I don't even know if she's still writing.

I understand that not everyone will share my enthusiasm for Bourne. I consider it a measure of her talent that she has me loving dark, action-filled historicals with spies--not my usual fare at all.

Janga said...

Thanks, PJ. I agree that TBH belongs on all-time best lists. The only fault I ever find with Jo Bourne is that she is a slow writer. A year between books is torture.

And oh the reams I could write about EJ's new one!

Vanessa Kelly said...

Janga, I adore Jo Bourne. Her mastery of the written word is just phenomenal. Another writer I feel that way about is Deanna Raybourn. Her Lady Julia books always take me away to another time and place. Jo's books do the same thing - total immersion in the world she creates.

Amanda said...

Janga, I'm about 1/2 way through the book and I am in awe of Joanna Bourne. I just cannot get over her writing. How does she do it? I have to do some work so I cannot finish this book in one sitting, but boy did I want to. I know I am going to want a copy (but it wasn't at the local WalMart)so I downloaded it to my Kindle. It is worth it.

Janga said...

"Total immersion" is the perfect phrase, Vanessa. I resent intrusions that take me away from such fictional worlds. Yes to the delight of Deanna Raybourn's books! Barbara Samuel (in all her guises) is another writer whose worlds totally engage me.

Janga said...

Amanda, I'm in awe too. I keep returning to the book to reread scenes and try to determine how she does it. For me, the test of the best books is how often I reread and still discover something new.

Chrisbails said...

I would have to say Lord & Lady Spy by Shana Galen and Violets of March by Sarah Jio. Both were great books and have recommneded to others as well.