The Laurentine Spy, by Emily Gee

In honor of the fabulous blog I found this book on I’m using their book review format:

laurentine_spyTitle: The Laurentine Spy

Author: Emily Gee

Genre: Fantasy with strong romantic elements

Publisher: Solaris

Release Date: May 5th, 2009

Paperback: 410 pages

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

Summary: The Corhonase citadel is a place of virtue and debauchery – and deadly secrets. For the Laurentine spies embedded there, every day brings danger. Nothing is as it seems, whether in the ballrooms and salons of the nobles’ court or the catacombs beneath it all.

Saliel has many secrets; her spying is one, her past as a pickpocket in Laurent’s slums is another, but her most deeply guarded secret is the magic she posses. She walks a narrow path between discovery as a spy and being burned as a witch. With a sadistic Spycatcher closing in, Saliel and her fellow spies are tested to the limits of their endurance. In the fight to stay alive they must trust each other – or die.

Why did I read this book: Ana’s review at The Book Smugglers was the impetus for me, I wanted to try a new genre to mix up my reading and keep things fresh, but still with my ever-favorite romantic elements and a happily ever after.

Review: After turning the last page I’m still waiting for my heart to start beating normally again. That was intense!

The adventure/action/intrigue scenes were agonizing in a good way, I’ll admit to skimming some pages to find out What Happens Next because Gee was great at keeping the reader in suspense and building up to events. Although I did find some of the conflicts seemed to be elongated just to keep the characters together, like a key breaking and having to wait 5 days for a new one to be made, just seemed a bit too much of a plot contrivance to me.

I agree with a lot of Ana’s points, though billed as a Dark Fantasy this definitely had more of a romance feel to it – it had so many more character driven points, following the relationship development between two main characters, Saliel and fellow undercover Laurentine spy Athan, with less fantasy world building. But overall I think it was most appropriate it was in the Sci Fi section of my bookstore when I bought it. Gee included plenty of little details like the difference in Laurent and Corhona’s cultures, freedoms, social behavior, even the sounds of the languages that still shaped my imagination to create another time in another universe comfortably.

The repressed society of Corhona actually reminded me of a Margaret Atwood type world, like The Handmaid’s Tale maybe? It’s been a while since I read that one though.
Also I would have loved a map of Corhona/Laurent/Marillaqa etc. as the second half of the story follows Saliel and Athan’s flight from Corhona to return to their native Laurent traveling through other countries along the way.
I was really emotionally tied to what the characters were experiencing to all the extremes. I genuinely feared and detested the spycatcher and his witch’s Eye (he could make people tell the truth) but LOVED that Saliel could resist it! I love it when the heroine has speshul qualities like that.
That being said poor Saliel really had the deck stacked against her. In the relationship conflicts with Athan every revelation was something bad on HER part: orphan with no knowledge of her parents, growing up in the slums, stealing, having the Eye… While she has an amazing personality, internal strength, quiet determination, beauty and all her other positives, the negatives were just a little too much.
Not that I wanted her to pull a Captain Lone Starr in Spaceballs where he turns out to be a Prince at the very last minute…that plot line can really annoy me, but I thought she was just given a bit too harsh of a time.
It certainly made Athan’s struggle to accept her more interesting as Laurent has a very strict caste system and other characters shun Saliel when they find out about her heritage (or lack of one), and his love for her that much more meaningful. Without giving too much away I’ll just say it was a very satisfying HEA.
Notable quotes/parts: When Athan is analyzing how he feels about Saliel and trying to understand her now that he knows the many dark secrets of her background:
“He’d watched a painter once, over several days. The man had created his background meticulously, using layer upon layer of pigment. When the painting was completed none of those individual layers had been visible to the eye. With Saliel he’d seen the final result. He’d known who she was as a person – private, relying on no one but herself – without knowing why…She wasn’t unusual; she was remarkable.”
Verdict: Fast paced, heart pounding adventure with a strong historical romance feeling theme.
Grade: B+
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