Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Laurentine Spy

Title: The Laurentine Spy
Author: Emily Gee
Genre: Fantasy (though it's really Romance in my opinion)

Publisher: Solaris
Publishing Date: April 28th 2009
Paperback: 416 pages

Stand Alone or series: Stand alone.

Summary: (from Angieville)
Deep in the bowels of the Corhonase citadel, among catecombs and crypts and crumbling columns, three cloaked and hooded personages meet in secret. They utter their passwords to the mysterious Guardian and enter. Known to each other only as One, Two, and Three, by day these three spies masquerade as nobles and servant in an enemy court, while by night they plot to steal top-secret code books on behalf of their homeland of Laurent. Different spies rotate through Corhona and there have always been a One and a Two. A noble and a servant. But now, for the first time, there is a Three. A woman. Saliel is Three and it is her job to stay close to the women of court, to the Prince's Consort, and feed her fellow spies and their Guardian any information she can glean about military movements, plots, and maneuvers. It is Saliel's dream to earn enough money to quit espionage and settle down in a solitary cottage by the sea and never have nightmares of her dark past or her danger-fraught present. Though they have no idea just who the other masquerades as during the day, One and Three develop a tenuous bond forged of mutual respect, curiosity, and a desire to protect the other from harm. But when the prince brings in a professional Spycatcher, that bond is stretched to the breaking point as Athan and Saliel are unwittingly pitted against one another, forced to tiptoe through their days, terrified of being caught, and uncertain as to whether or not they will ever escape Corhona alive.


Warning: There be spoilers ahead.

I have mentioned my love for the Book Smugglers before. They tend to give the type of book reviews I dream of writing but am just too lazy to ever do. Any book they give a 9 or 10 rating to goes directly on my “to-read” list (unless it’s romance) and I’ve loved every one. Even though Ana had reviewed this book last year though, I had never read it or heard about it when I decided to check it out at the library. (What can I say? There was a table of fantasy books by the children’s books and Holden can take a while.) It turned out Ana had loved the book and gave it a solid 7. So, I patted myself on the back for choosing wisely since the Smugglers have never steered me wrong and jumped right in.

There’s a first time for everything I suppose.

I hate to start out on such a dour note, but this book is the worst book I’ve read in quite a while. I almost always read my books in one sitting and will often stay up till all hours of the night (or morning) to finish a good book. But this book? I barely found the energy to keep reading it.

First off, I do not understand why this book is labeled as fantasy. Right off the back it’s very clear that this is a story about two people and that one of those people already has feelings for the other. Seriously, I feel like I was duped. I can’t see why the Gardella Vampire Chronicles (which has a much more engrossing fantasy element) was considered romance but this book wasn’t. The magic in this book was essentially blah and I found myself even getting bored with the small amount of actual subterfuge that happened in this story.

Maybe some back story would have helped. I never got a clear picture as to why I, as the reader, was supposed to want Laurentine to win or why the spying was necessary. Besides some vague references in some parts of the book, no history is really mentioned. If the only reason I’m supposed to hate the people of a country is because their women are supposed to be chaste and while their men are allowed to screw whores then that list would be mighty long. (Oh yeah, and they wear drab colors. The bastards.)

And about the women, how many books need to be written about how wonderful and sacred it is to be a virgin? Give me a freggin break. Maybe it’s the humorless feminist in me, but those kinds of stories just don’t appeal to me. I don’t want to read page after page about how the men control the women by controlling their sexuality. I don’t want to read about hymens breaking either. It’s just ridiculous. I also feel like the author didn’t give an explanation as to why Saliel was still a virgin. (I know it seems crass to bring it up, but believe me the book makes sure we’re quite well aware she’s a virgin from the beginning.) If she was born of low birth and spent time working as a governess before becoming a spy it seems odd to me she would have never dated. It’s this dichotomy of naiveté and kick ass spy that bothers me because instead of adding nuance to Saliel’s character it seems forced by the author.

This schism of competence and incompetence is the probably the most irksome thing about Saliel. First she is a kick ass spy. Then she needs Athan to protect her. Rinse and repeat over and over again. And Athan’s constant need to try and protect Saliel is the second most annoying thing about this book (the first being the deification of virginity). I would have kept track of how many times he said something about protecting her but I don’t think I can count that high and it’s making me angry just thinking about it to be honest. It reminded me of Twilight in that regard actually (the endless, "I just want to protect you" crap). I wish Saliel would have, just once, told Athan to back the fuck off and let her handle her business. But there I go with my silly notions of female empowerment again.

Can you see why I don’t read these kinds of books?

Beyond that, I thought the plot was slow and two dimensional. The most interesting relationship in the whole ridiculous story was between Saliel and her friend Marta. The parts where Saliel was questioning how her actions were hurting her friend were the only honest thing I read in this book. Everything else seemed too contrived or artificial. The fact these spies couldn’t figure out the identity of one another or figure out a way out of the country pretty much sums up what a lousy excuse for secret agents they were.

Notable Quotes/ Parts:

They spent their days indoors, now that it was autumn. Saliel disliked the Ladies’ Hall, with its heavy ceiling and narrow, shuttered windows. Two hundred women sat and sewed, but the Hall seemed to swallow them. They shrank, becoming doll-sized. She raised her head and looked around, seeing tapestries, sofas with brocade cushions, ornate side tables. The colors she wanted to see—warm reds and yellows, vivid blues and greens—weren’t there. The noblewomen wore the colors of virtue: dark colors, pale colors, dull colors. And gray, the color of mourning. The seamstresses had been busy in the past three weeks; fifty ladies wore gowns of ash-gray silk. And for each gown, a dead man. Saliel bent her head over her embroidery.


Ultimately this book was a succession of events that I was just waiting to happen. There was no surprise or mystery in this book for me. From the beginning to the end (and even that ill-conceived pregnancy) this book was just blah.

Rating: 4. Bad, but for some reason I still needed to know what happens in the end

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