RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne


Title: The Black Hawk
Author: Joanna Bourne
Publication Info: Berkley 2011
ISBN: 978-0425244531
Genre: Historical: European

The Black Hawk - open shirt, unbuttoned but still tucked in? WIN! This review was written by FairyKat. This story was nominated in the Best Historical Romance category.

The summary:          

Someone is stalking French agent Justine DeCabrillac through London's gray streets. Under cover of the rain, the assassin strikes–and Justine staggers to the door of the one man who can save her.  The man she once loved.  The man she hated.  Adrian Hawkhurst.     

Adrian wanted the treacherous beauty known as “Owl” back in his bed, but not wounded and clinging to life. Now, as he helps her heal, the two must learn to trust each other to confront the hidden menace that's trying to kill them–and survive long enough to explore the passion simmering between them once again.

And here is FairyKat's review:

Firstly, this is the fourth book in the series, but it was the one I read first and in many ways that's a great entry point. In fact, having gone back and read the two of the three prior books, I would say it is the best entry point, and if you adored this one it may be worth reading The Spymaster's Lady, but I wouldn't bother with the other two.

I only mention these other books because the story of the Hawk (once a grubby slum child Hawker, now Lord Hawksmoore and head of the Napoleonic era M15), and Justine is told largely in flashback, in events that are either depicted or at least alluded to in the earlier books.  So long time fans of the series will have been awaiting the story of the French spy Owl / Justine and her 'Awker for some time.

The flashbacks are definitely the best thing about the book, recalled in a night of waiting as the Hawk watches over Justine after she has staggered to his front door bleeding, perhaps from an attack by one of his famous black knives, and perhaps poisoned. The flashbacks are well plotted, evocative and informative without being info-dumpy, or digressionary.  I found the development of the story well paced and believable as the pair grew from two almost children caught up in the French Revolution, through the Napoleonic wars when they became lovers, to a fragile Regency peace and the moment when they can finally get their HEA–as long as Justine doesn't die first, and as long as she isn't the person trying to set him up as an assassin.

The subplot , which I think was supposed to be the main plot, about the Cachés, was a bit thin in comparison (though perfectly competent) and really only serves to set us up for the next story in the series.

The history, and the French, were both good enough that no blunders pulled me out of the story, and I'm a major pedant.

This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    LauraN says:

    People keep talking about Joanna Bourne around here.  I’m definitely going to have to give this one a try.

    As for pedantry, I know it’s supposed to be wrong, but but how can it be wrong when it feels so righteous?

  2. 2
    Mandi says:

    I LOVED this book. I think this author has one of the best voices out there. I recommend all of her books, but especially the previous one, The Forbidden Rose, as you see Adrian as a teenager in that book which leads to many things in this book.

    Definitely one of my favorite authors. :)

  3. 3
    JB Hunt says:

    I can’t say enough wonderful things about Joanna Bourne and her spymasters. I wouldn’t skip any of her novels. They are all beautifully crafted.

    The history! The romance! The strong and skillful women! The strong and skillful men! The knives! You will love them all.

    And I would never call her research “good enough.” It’s spectacular.

  4. 4
    harthad says:

    I adored this book! Hawker and Justine are such great characters. You’ll definitely enjoy it even more if you’ve read The Forbidden Rose (I agree, great on its own) which sets up Hawker and Justine as adolescents, and The Spymaster’s Lady (my third favorite of the series, but still quite worthwhile), in which Hawker is all grown up. I was not a fan of My Lord and Spymaster, in which he has a minor role; maybe I didn’t like it because there was not enough Adrian!

  5. 5

    I want to try this, but the thing that bothers me about Joanna Bourne are her heroines.  Particularly in relation to her heroes.  The readers are always told that the heroines are these awesomely intelligent women of great competence…and then they are shown to be of pretty moderate intelligence with TSTL leanings.  Who constantly have to be rescued by their men and who are never quite as smart, capable or ruthless as the hero, who always bests the heroine in everything ever.

    Annique (Spymaster’s Lady) and Jess (My Lord and Spymaster) were like this x1000, and it bothered me to no end.  Haven’t read this, but past experience with this author has made me cautious. Sucks, because the book sounds delightful in other ways. :(

  6. 6
    Karin says:

    I loved, loved, loved the first 3, and then actually bought this book, and then put it down without reading it because I didn’t like that there was such a long time span between when they meet and the HEA(decades!) I was glad when I did finally get around to reading it that the past was done via flashbacks, so the long separations that this couple had were not so painful. Now feeling as strongly as I do about her books, I have to politely disagree with the reviewer and another commenter. As far as TSTL, there is a bit of it, but how can anyone forget the opening of Spymaster’s Lady, when Annique totally is the one who does the rescuing? She is the one who gets herself, the hero of that book, and Adrian out of a French dungeon, even though she has a handicap which I won’t give away here. If I have any criticism of JB’s heroines, it is that they are too Superwomanish! And NO WAY would I not bother with the other 2. I think My Lord and Spymaster is a bit weaker than the others, but OMG, The Forbidden Rose has a hero to die for, not handsome but true blue. And in that book once again, there is a major scene where the heroine rescues him from certain death. It looks hopeless, but she will not give up. It’s a nail biter, absolutely thrilling!

  7. 7
    Kris Bock says:

    I’ve enjoyed all her books immensely. I was surprised at how well the extensive flashbacks worked for The Black Hawk, since I usually find flashbacks boring when I know basically how things turn out later. I read the other books first, so I was already in love with Adrian, and that probably helped. Maybe I find the heroes more compelling and memorable than the heroines, but overall these are my favorite historical romances, with great characters, plenty of plot, and an amazing voice.

  8. 8
    Bnbsrose says:

    Seeing Adrian and Justine’s relationship through time was the best part of the book for me. All too often in romance it’s instalove (or lust) with one plot challenge to overcome and then HEA. Here you see the challenges to their relationship portrayed in honest, realistic terms. I wept when Justine saw the truth of their opposing patriotism and took the only realistic course. Thank goodness for Bourne’s deft and beautiful writing that took the story above the maudlin.

    And yes, you really really do have to read the rest of the books, especially “The Forbidden Rose”. Not because you need to know what happened in them to follow the story here, but because they are so honestly awesome.

    Thanks for the review FairyKat.

  9. 9
    kkw says:

    It’s surprising to me that someone could love some of Joanna Bourne’s books and find others not worth bothering with.  I can understand either reaction – I love the dialogue, and the inner monologues, and the history, and spies in general, but on the other hand the characters’ behavior and motivations, even their personalities seem based largely on what will further the plot at any given moment, so yeah, there’s a fair bit of superheroines one moment being tstl the next.  Plus there is generally some bogging down of the plot.
    I’ve read them all (and wish there were more), and I have to say I find her books very much the same (which is not a complaint).  But I would absolutely have guessed that if you like one you’ll like them all, and if it’s not your thing, it’s never going to be, because I think the strengths and the weaknesses are remarkably consistent throughout the series.
    I don’t think I’d ever suggest reading a series out of order.  I do it frequently (though not in this case), and always find it a mistake.

  10. 10
    Readsalot81 says:

    I’ll echo what kkw said.. sort of. I really wish I liked her books more. She writes in a way I find intriguing but spy plots just don’t do it for me, in anyway, shape ,or form. No matter how meticulous the writing, if the substance of the book leaves you feeling “meh”, then chances are good the book will not meet whatever expectations you may have.  That being said, if she gives anything other than spies a go, I’ll be right in line to read it.

  11. 11
    Kim says:

    I liked this book, but I thought The Forbidden Rose was the best in the series. It sets up Hawker and Justine’s story nicely and is well worth reading before The Black Hawk.

  12. 12
    Nabpaw says:

    I have to agree with Karin.  the heroines of these books are all superwomen.  I find it difficult to identify with them.  I still enjoyed the books and probably The Black Hawk most of all.  It’s deeper and more painful than the others.  To be honest I prefer what I think is her first book,  Her Ladyship’s Companion.  It ‘s safer, more traditional and very charming.

  13. 13
    Susan says:

    Aside from The Forbidden Rose, which I just couldn’t get into, I’ve enjoyed all of Ms. Bourne’s books.  I was really looking forward to Hawker’s story and, after a bit of a rough start for me, it turned out to be a good read.

  14. 14
    Deniz Bevan says:

    I loved this book! I like series that feature intertwined characters – it was fun getting glimpses of Hawker in the earlier books and then seeing him in his own story.

  15. 15
    FairyKat says:

    What did people like so much about the Forbidden Rose? I’m always fascinated by how different people’s views are.  I just found it blah.
      I didn’t like the hero, he seemed just lumpish; I didn’t like the heroine, she was way too goody goody for me. I mean, I have friends who are aid workers, I have friends who were peace keepers, I have friends who are missionaries, but they are not naturally through and through nice like Jess.  Most of them are hard, tired, pragmatic, and smart—as well as passionate. She was just nice. I do know women that nice, but none of them would be able to run an underground railway. (Wow, sorry, rant!)

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