Book Review

Lord and Lady Spy by Shana Galen

C+

Title: Lord and Lady Spy
Author: Shana Galen
Publication Info: Sourcebooks 2011
ISBN: 978-1402259074
Genre: Historical: European

Book Cover

I found this book to be fun and fast paced and easy to jump in and out of, with a pretty good balance of emotion, drama, action, humor and tension between the main characters. I liked the heroine and the hero, I wanted them to figure out a way to be happy and together, and I loved their scenes together. In the larger context of the mystery they were trying to solve, I cared more about them than their progress in solving the case.

Adrian, Lord Smythe, is a spy known as Wolf. His wife, Sophia, is also a spy, known as Saint. Their identities are so secret, they have no idea about one another, and are pretty much strangers in their professional and personal lives. But when the war with France comes to an end, the secret agency in which they work is downsized and they are both laid off (my language, not the author's). Then, each receives a mysterious note to meet in some dark, drippy location at midnight where they discover they're both spies. Plus, there is a case that needs solving, and whoever solves it will get their job back with the secret agency. But there's only one position available.

Adrian and Sophia are initially hostile to one another, but decide to work together as best they can despite very different styles of investigation. Their distrust of one another, the competition for the one position available, and their conflicting feelings for one another serve as the basis of the drama between them.

This is not a book for any reader who is easily bothered by diversions from historical accuracy. There were words used in dialogue that I looked up in the dictionary solely so I could take a look at the etymology and see if they really were in use at that time (in most cases, no). The plot and premise don't stand up well to intense historical scrutiny, so if you are the type of reader who gets twitchy at historical details, this would not be a book you'd enjoy.

Adrian and Sophia are so very attracted to one another, and I found that very entertaining to read. Adrian is especially confused after he comes to know the 'real' Sophia, not the woman she's been pretending to be for years. But there were reasons the couple didn't just jump back into bed with each other, and there were layered reasons why they didn't immediately trust each other. Some of those reasons were logical: he was a spy. She was a spy. They didn't trust anyone beside themselves. Some reasons made sense: they were married and yet they were pretty much strangers to one another.

But other reasons had the depth and long-lasting impact of a months-old Post-it note from the bottom of my purse. One of her reasons for not wanting to trust him was so poorly integrated with the plot it might have well been a big misunderstanding involving a secret virgin.

Her brother, whom she barely mentions until it's time for her to have a conflict that will stand in the way of her trusting Adrian, was also an agent, and he was engaged to a woman who was also a spy – and alas a double agent for the French. When Sophia's brother confronted his fiancee about being a double agent, she killed him. But since Sophia mentions her brother all of maybe six times, this reason had little impact and seemed contrived rather than realistic – especially when compared to the more valid and emotionally understandable reasons for her hesitation to get involved with Adrian physically again.

There are some seriously twee moments in this story, too. Sophia's nose itches. All the time. Every sign of imminent danger, her proboscis is like a scratchy sixth sense. Someone's following them? ITCH. They're in imminent danger? ITCH. She thinks about someone who might have something to do with the case they are working on, and might possibly have more information to share? ITCH!

Imagine how useful this would be in real life: you're heading to the checkout at the grocery store. ITCH. Oh! I forgot to get orange juice!

Of course this bit of itchery isn't easily accepted by Adrian, who prefers a very logical and rational method to his investigations (which, unfortunately, we as readers only see a tiny glimpses of, such as in a later scene when he shows Sophia his incredibly awesome file collection). Most of the investigating is led by her more intuitive method, and he spends a lot of time grousing about it until he is forced to admit that it's effective.

The whole nose-itching thing made me irritated, though, because in my opinion it was demeaning, especially for a character who at times had to convince her own husband that she had the skills necessary to be an operative on his level. She was excellent with a knife, but she was a lousy shot, while he didn't really have any skill deficiencies except for a lack of allergy-signals in his nostrils. His nose didn't itch and he didn't follow his itchstincts like she did.

The fact that her skills in itchvestigation were based on some other force at work, her itching nose instead of, say, her brain, was demeaning, and reduced her a good bit to some sort of magical pixie sprite spy version of Samantha from Bewitched. It made me … twitchy.

One last complaint before I get to the good stuff: so many times Galen mentions that Adrian's hair is dark blonde. In fact, she mentions it every time he runs his fingers through it, which he does about once a chapter. First, the repeated mentions of his hair color were distracting and unnecessary. Second, they kept drawing my attention back to this:

Book Cover

That guy ain't blonde.

In the end, I was more interested in the emotional development between Adrian and Sophia than I was in their mission, especially in the end because a villain who had not been mentioned before became the likely culprit. The bad guy was like a Patricia Cornwall villain who shows up near the end of the book conveniently smelling like maple syrup. Moreover, said villain was so stereotypical, he might as well have twirled a mustache and laughed maniacally while he explained his whole plan to them both while they dangled in a cage made of spaghetti over a tank full of sharks with freaking laser beams on their heads.

The emotional development between the two characters was really, really enjoyable, and I liked that they had to learn to work together and live together and be married to one another all at the same time – it was quite different from many historical plots. Adrian and Sophia had a lot of things to work out for themselves, some of which magically disappeared as if enough pages and time had passed for Adrian or Sophia to get over them, and some of which remained realistically unsolved by the end of the book, though each was in a much better place at the end than where they started.

The issues such as their attempts to have a family, and the real emotional pain both clearly felt about their marriage, their intimacy, their families, and their respective loneliness, were compelling, and the scenes with Sophia and Adrian battling, debating and learning to recognize and understand one another were the most enjoyable parts of the book.

As frustrated as I was with the investigative storyline, the emotional power of the romance between them was satisfying. Writing this review was actually kind of difficult because I did enjoy reading the book, but only upon having to think back and think about what I read did I find that my list of bothersome things was so long.


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Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    I was afraid this was Mr and Mrs. Smith go back in time but now you tell me it’s one step above sharks with frickin laser beams? Great, that’s one off the TBR pile I need to shrink before I move.

  2. 2
    Ros Clarke says:

    I thought the same. I would LOVE a Mr and Mrs Smith as historical spies. Please? Someone?

  3. 3
    kkw says:

    I also figured Mr and Mrs Smith, and it wasn’t a draw.  But if there really were a cage made of spaghetti over a shark tank, I wouldn’t even miss the lasers, or care if they were ye olde anachronistic lasers.

  4. 4
    Rebecca says:

    The Mr. and Mrs. Smith thing made me twitchy too.  But then I started thinking.  (DERAILING AHEAD)  What WAS the state of English intelligence during the Napoleonic wars?  I know aristocratic spies are the norm in romancelandia, but wouldn’t the majority have been much more working class and…errr…venal?  More in the model of Barsad and Cly from A Tale of Two Cities?  I remember reading in an introduction to A Tale of Two Cities that the spies (and their social position) were pretty accurate, and that John Andre was held up as a shining exception not only because he was dumb enough to get caught but because he actually refused to sell out his country to save his life.

    I know English intelligence was superb in the 16th century, under Walsingham, in a sort of “cold war” situation with Catholic Europe, and that the tangled loyalties of Cromwell’s Republic led to some cool spying on the Sealed Knot and so on, but I gather that by the end of the eighteenth century the English military was a mess, and I don’t know that its intelligence services would have been better.  Anybody have any good non-fiction sources about 19th century espionage?  Would they have employed women much less “ladies”?  (I’d guess not about the “ladies” because I’d imagine the thinking about a “respectable” lady would be similar to the attitude toward gay spies in not-too-distant-past….much too vulnerable to sexually based blackmail.)

  5. 5
    Emily says:

    This is getting to be a pet peave of mine. I keep seeing book after book when the man is described as logical and rational and the heroine is illogical, emotional, and irrational. Then they have to solve a problem and the heroine’s irrationality solves the problems or atleast triumphs over the hero’s logic; causing the poor hero to question maybe logic isn’t a good idea. As a female fan of logic I am very tired of this happening in book after book. I like logic. I want more logical women and more logic to the rescue.
    That being said I am also a huge fan of classic tv which I was raised on. I would have called the itch a twitch ‘cause it sounds like Bewitched. (logical rhymes there) No but seriously it sounds lik Bewitched where Samantha twitched her nose and made things happen. Ok so Lady Spy’s nose doesn’t make things happen but like Samantha’s nose it has magic powers. It can fortell of danger. “By the itching of my nose something wicked this way goes.”
    I haven’t read this book but it sounds entertaining. I might try it.  I like a good spy story now and then and am partial to burned spies.

  6. 6
    Livi says:

    That’s a pet peeve of mine too, but in this case (yay, I’ve actually already read one of the books being reviewed for once!), it wasn’t quite as simplistic about the logic VS intuition distinction as other books are. Where the hero was logical and unwilling to combine that with intuition, she was intuitive but willing to combine it with logic, and I personally didn’t find that she was too flighty or irrational. Like you, I hate when a heroine’s irrationality solves a problem, because that isn’t something she has achieved – it’s just pure luck that her stupidity has landed them in the right place! But I felt in this book, the heroine was mostly rational about how she used her intuition, and his refusal to accept the value of using one’s intuition (either as your main method or as logic’s buddy) was actually what made HIM the irrational one.

    The nose twitching was definitely a bit Samantha-ish. I mean, if it had been portrayed as a tic/habit caused by stress, and stress often being caused by one’s intuition sensing danger, then fine. But this was literally like “Oh! Magical twitch! My nose says Stranger Danger! Don’t trust.” or “Oh! Magical twitch – Nose says look behind you!”.

    So, I’d say you probably would like it, though it’s a while since I read it and I might be forgetting elements that annoyed me or which contradict what I’ve just said above. Also, for those wondering about the Mr and Mrs Smith likeness, well, it’s clearly based on it, but I found the characters far more easy to engage with than those in the film, and their relationship is more real, somehow.

  7. 7
    Jim L says:

    Glad I’m not the only one who flashed back to MR. AND MRS SMITH with this one.

  8. 8
    Kim in Hawaii says:

    I read LORD AND LADY SPY When it was released in September 2011.  In fact, I read it during my recovery from surgery.  It was a fun read that provided something a little different.  Although it is easy to make the connection to Mr. and Mrs. Smith, it was not quite the Regency version – it was more lighthearted.

  9. 9
    cbackson says:

    This was cheap for Nook, so I read it when it came out.  I enjoyed it more than I expected, but not as much as I hoped to – Mr. and Mrs. Smith really flew because it had a certain “now, watch this!” verve.  You just kept watching to see if the whole contraption would fall apart, and yet, it didn’t. Lord and Lady Spy was dragged down, I thought, by its own failure to embrace the strain of screwball comedy that made the unbelievable premise of Mr. and Mrs. Smith work. 

    This book actually needed to be *more* ridiculous, rather than less.

  10. 10
    jcscot says:

    I have a little working knowledge of military intelligence during the period and, yes, you’re right that there was no formal intelligence service as we would understand it today.  I do take some issue with your notion of the military being a “mess” but it would be fair to say that the Napoleonic wars saw the rise of a new, professional class of soldier (I’m thinking especially here of General Sir John Moore’s Light Infantry – the “thinking soldier” concept that underpins the British Army training today).  Wellington had quite a network of intelligence officers (his “Exploring Officers”) but it’s not until the Boer War of the late 19th C that we see a more formal establishment of military intelligence.  Incidentally, military intelligence is seen a a somewhat seedy occupation and, even today, soldiers and officers in the Intelligence Corps are viewed somewhat askance – spying not being the occupation of a gentleman and all that.

    I am rather amused by the amount of spies – male and female – to be found in Romancelandia, especially in the Regency/Victorian era.

    Let me have a dig about on my bookshelves for some references.

  11. 11
    Julcad says:

    I have a little working knowledge of military intelligence during the period and, yes, you’re right that there was no formal intelligence service as we would understand it today.  I do take some issue with your notion of the military being a “mess” but it would be fair to say that the Napoleonic wars saw the rise of a new, professional class of soldier (I’m thinking especially here of General Sir John Moore’s Light Infantry – the “thinking soldier” concept that underpins the British Army training today).  Wellington had quite a network of intelligence officers (his “Exploring Officers”) but it’s not until the Boer War of the late 19th C that we see a more formal establishment of military intelligence.  Incidentally, military intelligence is seen a a somewhat seedy occupation and, even today, soldiers and officers in the Intelligence Corps are viewed somewhat askance – spying not being the occupation of a gentleman and all that.

    I am rather amused by the amount of spies – male and female – to be found in Romancelandia, especially in the Regency/Victorian era.

    Let me have a dig about on my bookshelves for some references.

  12. 12
    jcscot says:

    For some reason, my reply to Rebecca came up twice.  Ooops!

  13. 13
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  14. 14
    jcscot says:

    …and i’m back with a few non-fiction books that might be of interest when considering intelligence in the Regency period.

    Jock Haswell:  The First Respectable Spy – the Life and Times of Colquhoun Grant, Wellington’s Head of Intelligence (H. Hamilton 1969)

    Jock Haswell:  Spies and Spymasters – a Concise History of Intelligence (Thames & Hudson 1977)

    Anthony Clayton:  Forearmed: a History of the Intelligence Corps (Brassey’s 1993)

    For an overview of Intelligence and its role in warfare (both historical and modern) –

    Michael Herman:  Intelligence Power in Peace and War (Cambridge University Press 19996)

    Terry Crowdy:  The Enemy Within – a History of Epsionage (Osprey 2008)

  15. 15
    The Other Susan says:

    Oh yeah, big file collections really make me hot!

  16. 16
    kkw says:

    I remember liking the Colquhoun Grant book.  And I believe Sir Charles Oman covers spying a bit, although it’s definitely not his main focus, and he’s a pretty daunting undertaking (unless you have a weakness for discursive, violently opinionated military histories.  In which case he’s your man).  And I read about spies somewhere else, too, I think one of the Cavalry focused Peninsular histories, but again, whatever book it was dealt more with other things.  I’m not an expert, but everything I know meshes with what jcscot says. Regarding ladies, there’s some speculation that Grace Dalrymple spied during the late Georgian period, and I think she was a viscountess in the end…but of course it was as a courtesan that she was a useful spy.  Also Lady Hamilton, but again, not a lady despite the title.

  17. 17
    Rebecca says:

    Many thanks, jcscot and kkw.  I will try to guard these references and look them up sometime in mid-February, when I’m past current deadline induced craziness.  I withdraw the “mess” comment about the English military, since it comes more or less from Park Honan’s biography of Austen, which I’m not completely sure I trust.  I don’t read a lot of military history, but there’s a fantastic Spanish book by Carlos Carnicer and Javier Marcos called “Espias de Felipe II” which covers the rise of “professional” intelligence services in Hapsburg Spain, and of necessity has a good bit about their opposite numbers in England.  (Did you know that Philip II’s spymaster Antonio Perez was actually at the University of Pisa AT THE SAME TIME as Francis Walsingham, and that the two almost certainly had met face to face.  Le Carre couldn’t make this stuff up.)

  18. 18
    kkw says:

    No, Le Carre probably couldn’t.  Didn’t he just steal everything from Greene?

    I would love to read more Spanish military history, but it never seems to get translated, or if it’s written in English to begin with, there’s a lot of bias to wade through.

    I’ve studied half a dozen languages and don’t speak any of them.  Which is probably part of why I don’t speak any of them.  I have a very romantic view of languages, though, I’m waiting for the one right language to come along and sweep me off my feet.  None of those other languages will matter to me anymore, because when my true language shows up we’ll understand one another instantly, at least on a primal level.  There may be a few misunderstandings early on, but it’ll work out perfectly soon enough.

    In the meantime, I wish people would translate more history.

  19. 19
    Melissa says:

    Rebecca, Spies and Secret Service by Hamil Grant is available online at Google books and has quite a bit of interesting information:
    http://books.google.com/books?…

  20. 20
    Brooklyn Ann says:

    I really enjoyed the book. I also loved that they had previously known one another’s spy identities by reputation and had both admired the other—-until they met. Really, it was a fun read, more than I had expected since I didn’t like MR. AND MRS. SMITH.

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