The Black Hawk

Written by Joanna Bourne
Review by Jessica Brockmole

Joanna Bourne always manages to pack her historical romances with plenty of plot twists, multi-layered characters, and deftly placed historical detail, yet she never compromises the central relationship driving the story. Her latest offering, the story of Justine and Hawker, the young spies from her previous The Forbidden Rose, is no exception.

The war between France and England may be over, but the spying continues. When French agent Justine DeCabrillac is attacked in a London alley, she drags herself to the door of the only person she trusts – Adrian Hawk, head of the British Secret Service and her one-time lover. From their alliance during the French Revolution to their forced enmity on opposite sides of the Napoleonic Wars, their relationship was fraught with mistrust but also yearning passion. To find the assailant, Justine and Hawker must look to their past, at 23 years of secrets, lies, and forbidden love.

I really love Bourne’s romances and thought this was the best so far. Intricately plotted, carefully structured, gorgeously written. Despite the violence of the inciting incident, this is a quiet story, a story about a relationship, where it went wrong, and how it can again go right. She dips in and out of the present day, as they search for Justine’s attacker, and the previous two decades, as they fall inescapably in love. A lesser writer may have lost control of her story, but Bourne keeps hold of it, using the time shifts to build the story up by layers. She has a knack for describing characters and scenes in a way that’s both fresh and familiar. I’m not a Napoleonic spy, yet I felt right along with Justine and Hawker.