Terrific, slow-burn, Regency romance!
Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: September 24, 2019
Publisher: Zebra Books
Pages: 359 pages
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
After many long, hazardous years as a British spy, 29-year-old Simon Duval is thoroughly burned out. Half-French and half-English, and an inheritor of great wealth on his English side, rather than joining the French Royalist army to fight Napoleon, he believed he could do more good for the cause of liberating France—and Europe—from Napoleon by serving in the British Army. After Napoleon’s abdication in 1814, Simon is finally free to resign his commission and return to England. Once in London again, he is delighted to discover that his cousin’s widow, Suzanne, is alive and well, though living in poverty while working as a low-paid seamstress to support herself.
Suzanne Duval, the Comtesse de Chambron, met and became friends with Simon 12 years earlier, just prior to her marriage at age 15 to Simon’s 30-something cousin, Jean-Louis Duval, the Comte de Chambron. In the intervening years, Suzanne’s husband fled France taking Suzanne with him. Their ship was attacked by pirates, Jean-Louis was killed, and Suzanne was captured and sold into a harem in Constantinople. (Her eventual escape from the harem occurs during Book 3 of this series, Once a Scoundrel, but it is not essential to read that story in order to get a complete picture of how her harrowing harem experiences have adversely affected her life. That is fully revealed in this book.)
Simon and Suzanne both believe they are incapable of sexual response, Simon because of burnout and Suzanne because of being sexually abused in the harem. In spite of her determination to never be controlled by any man again, when Simon proposes a marriage of comfortable, platonic companionship, Suzanne finds his generosity, warmth and kindness impossible to resist, and she accepts.
As Suzanne and Simon settle into their unconventional marriage, news comes that Napoleon has escaped from Elba and has headed to France to reconstitute his army. Simon and Suzanne are called upon, as a native-French-speaker spying team, to enter perilously unstable France, both to gather intelligence for General Wellington and to try and locate Simon’s long-missing cousin, Lucas, who has been spotted in France.
Once a Spy is Book 4 in the Rogues Redeemed, Regency romance series by award-winning, historical romance author, Mary Jo Putney. Chapter 1 of Once a Soldier, Book 1 of this series, sets the stage for these interlinked, standalone novels. In Portugal, in 1809, five English spies have been captured by Bonapartist soldiers and have been condemned to be executed in front of a firing squad the following dawn. When they manage to escape from the cellar where they are being held via a secret tunnel, each of the five men vows to redeem their formerly roguish existence, and they make a pact to reconnect with each other in London after the war is over. Will Masterson is the hero of Book 1, Once a Soldier. Lord George Gordon Audley is the hero of Book 2, Once a Rebel. Gabriel Hawkins is the hero of Book 3, Once a Scoundrel. Simon Duval is the hero of Book 4, this book, Once a Spy. Chantry is a subcharacter in Book 3, whom Gabriel Hawkins meets in Constantinople working as an aide to the British ambassador there. Gabriel recognizes his fellow escapee, though he is using a different name, Ramsay. It is my understanding that Ramsay will be the hero of Book 6 in this series. Simon’s cousin, Lucas, was not in the basement in Portugal with the five others, but he is introduced in this book as another fascinating and very sympathetic “rogue” who wants and needs redemption, and I was intrigued to learn that he will be the hero of Book 5.
I am a big fan of “slow burn” romances, and this heart-warming romance is an excellent example of that approach. Simon and Suzanne are both strong, honorable, compassionate, and very attractive protagonists, and it was a pleasure to read about their growing friendship, love, and mutual, sexual healing. Ms. Putney is extremely skilled at writing sex scenes that are both highly emotional and deeply passionate, which talent is on full display in this book. The unique sexual situation of both Simon and Suzanne brings an additional layer of sensitivity and compassion to their eventual lovemaking that is very moving.
There are many scenes of exciting action-adventure in this book which are connected to Napoleon’s 1815 Hundred Days of restoration to power before his final defeat at Waterloo. All of these scenes are impressively written with great historical accuracy, and they are given compelling immediacy as we experience electrifying events through the eyes of Simon and Suzanne.
I also enjoyed the cameo appearances of the wonderful protagonists from the previous three books in this series when members of the Rogues Redeemed fellowship reconnect with Simon in London.
I have very much enjoyed every one of the Rogues Redeemed novels so far, and I greatly look forward to the upcoming books in this marvelous series.
I rate this book as follows:
Romance Plot: 5
Action-Adventure Spy Plot: 5
Historical Settings: 5