Sunny's bookshelf
Sunny's bookshelf photo by Judy Solomon

Online book reviews since 2011, the very best in reviewing – connecting good readers with equally good writers

The Forbidden Rose

Sign up to receive our latest reviews by email

The Forbidden Rose is a bodice ripper with a brain, as well as the other requisite gendered anatomical parts.  Set in late eighteenth-century France during the reign of Robespierre, it follows the last days of his rule by tracking two fictional opponents, Marguerite de Fleurignac and William Doyle.  The two meet unexpectedly.  Her family château has been burned and looted, she is hiding in the nearby woods, and he is on his way to Paris as a British spy searching for her father.  William spics Marguerite spying on him from the ruined stable, and the result is the kind of amorous sparks one might expect from a novel that fits neatly into the bodice ripper genre. Historic milieu, beautiful damsel in distress, larger-than-life prototype of masculinity, smoldering love at first sight but with lots and lots of ordeals ahead.

I rarely read such novels, so I was expecting pure seduction and passionate froth.  Joanna Bourne, however, surprised me.  Her characters are complicated, neither shallow nor predictable.  Marguerite, it turns out, directs an underground service to conduct men, women, and children endangered by the French Revolution out of the country.  Code named La Fleche, she oversees an intricate network of safe houses and conduits from Paris to the ocean and on to England.  She is thoroughly competent, and well-schooled as well.  William Doyle is not the innocent country bumpkin he appears to be, but is a man of many disguises and talents.  Together, they travel the French countryside to Paris, with countless close calls and close embraces along the way.

Paris brings no sanctuary to the pair, as they separate, come back together, separate, unite again.  The plot, it seems to me, accurately follows the rhythms of Robespierre’s power plays and subsequent demise.  The story exudes truth, although the participants aside from Robespierre are all imagined.  The secondary characters are drawn with equal finesse.  My favorites were the loyal sidekick, Hawker, a refuge from the criminal underworld of London, and Madame Cachard, the iron-grey disciplinarian who rules the British spy system in Paris with a decisive hand.  I also enjoyed the evil cousin, Victor, who tries to play both sides of French politics while helping himself to the de Fleurignac fortune.  And then there is Marguerite’s father, an off-kilter aristocrat whose scientific propensities and manic activities get in the way of his own safety, not to mention his daughter’s well-being.

Bourne not only weaves history into her fiction, but she adds literature and art, too. William turns out to have a Cambridge degree in the classics, while Marguerite has read far more than one might expect, given her years mingling with courtiers and royalty.  Their conversations are never dull.  Bourne is never heavy-handed with her allusions, either, and she sometimes has fun with her writing.  For example, the two donkeys who accompany Doyle and Hawker everywhere have prescient names: Dulce and Decorum.  Need I say more about this delicious novel?  It is what it is, but with a wonderful overlay of smarts that I found thoroughly charming.   – Ann Ronald

Also available by Joanna Bourne: The Black Hawk; The Spymaster’s Lady; My Lord and Spymaster; The Rogue Spy; Her Ladyship’s Companion.


Add your thoughts and comments...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share this Review

Related Reviews

The God of  Endings

Jacqueline Hollands’s debut novel, The God of  Endings, reveals the loneliness of the life of an unwilling vampire. Jacqueline Holland’s debut novel, The God of Endings, follows

Read More »
Dreamers of the Day

Dreamers of the Day

Dreamers of the Day is Mary Doria Russell’s novel that is as fresh if not fresher today than when first published in 2008. Mary Doria Russell’s

Read More »

About the Reviewer

Sign up for reviews by email

You’ll get email updates from Bookin’ with Sunny when we add a new review or blog post, and we never share your email with anyone else.

Shopping in-store Fun!

Support your local community’s economic growth by shopping for books at your independent bookstore in person, online at their website, or by phone.