The Black Hawk
By Joanna Bourne
Release Date: November 1, 2011
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”?