What is it about spies that make them such fantastic romance heroes? Is it the air of danger? The ability to write in code? Or maybe it’s that, when a hero is a spy, you know that eventually they’ll have to let down their guard and expose their secrets to the woman they love, proof of how she’s changed him and captured his heart. If you’re looking for heroes in service to the crown, this is a good start.
In Sherry Thomas’ His At Night, Elissande is virtually a prisoner of her uncle and the only way to escape is through marriage. In desperation, she sets her sights on Lord Vere, a notoriously vapid marquis. Once married, she’ll have freedom from her uncle, and with a husband who’s not very smart, she’ll have freedom within her marriage to do as she pleases.
Vere has spent years cultivating his reputation of idiocy, a man with no interests deeper than fashion, gaming, and skirt-chasing. But his secret is more than just his intelligence, it’s that he’s a spy in the service of the British government. When he’s cornered into marriage by Elissande, at first it’s only physical passion that unites them. But as they slowly learn to reveal themselves, they find that it’s love. Sherry Thomas writes intelligent and original heroes and heroines, with angsty, passionate plots.
Shana Galen’s Lord and Lady Spy tells it all in the title—Lord Adrian Smythe has been a top spy for the British for years during the Napoleonic Wars, but as the wars have ended, he’s been retiree. Lady Sophia Smythe has been busy as a spy as well, working on her own, and loathe to come home and become a good little wife and mother. Together, Adrian and Sophia must try to figure out what it means to be a married couple and how they fit together when they’ve spent the years apart. But more importantly, neither realizes the other was also a spy.
When Adrian is suddenly called out of retirement and told he’ll be working with another agent, he’s shocked to find that the agent is his wife. Together, they must uncover the person who murdered the prime minister’s brother. But they’re also fighting against each other, as only one will be allowed back into the service of the crown upon completion of the mission. Professional sparks fly and give rise to passion in this Regency take on Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
Joanna Bourne has an entire series about British spies which can be read in any order, so start with Spymaster’s Lady. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, Annique Villiers is the notorious French spy Fox Cub, thrown into a French prison with a British spy, Robert Grey. Grey has been ordered to bring Annique back to England, but Annique will not go quietly, using all of her spycraft to avoid him. Annique is French through and through, practical and whip-smart, and raised to be a spy. This romance is light on society and ballgowns, and heavy on intrigue and characters living by their wits.
Lisa Kleypas’s Your Scandalous Ways has that rarity in romance, a courtesan heroine. Francesca Bonnard has escaped her cruel husband and set herself up in Venice as a courtesan, insuring her safety with a packet of letters implicating her husband in some very unsavory situations. James Cordier is a spy for England, tasked to retrieve these letters. What ensues is a cat and mouse game between two smart, adult protagonists. Francesca is a memorable character, clearly not a virgin and willing to be up front about her desires in the bedchamber and in her life. She’s not afraid to take charge of a situation or assert her safety, leading to at least one situation in which she literally turns James onto the floor. Both have sworn off love, but as they band together to find who else wants the letters, their deepest secrets and desires are revealed.
For a twist on the spy subgenre, try Lauren Willig’s The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. Eloise Kelly is a contemporary researcher, tracking down information about spies the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian. But in her research, she comes across the unknown Pink Carnation. Who is the Carnation, and why have they been hidden from history? The story within the story is that of Amy, a British spy bent on defeating Napoleon. Her parents died at the guillotine, cementing her desire. As Eloise works to uncover the truth about the Pink Carnation, she learns more and more about Amy and her life. This is the first in the series, each set with the framing device of Eloise’s research.
~ posted by Jessica W.