The Laurentine Spy by Emily Gee
Source: Powell's--as in, I bought it.
This book is packaged as a fantasy novel, but it's really a romance about two spies. Even more than that, however, it's a well-told, quick read about adventure and destiny that definitely qualifies as a traveling book. It's a great novel and one that I would definitely recommend.
Lord Ivo and Noble Petra are members of the Corhonase court. With Ivo's laziness and Petra's timidity, they don't attract much attention--which is just as they want it, since they are actually Laurentine spies. Neither one is aware of the other's identity beyond their meetings in the citadel's secret catacombs; nevertheless, Lord Ivo (aka Athan) has developed a tendre for Petra, both in her Corhonasian guise and out of it.
This book grabbed me right away when it opened with the meeting of the Laurentian spies. Petra (whose real name is Saliel) is known to them only as Three; Athan is One, and another spy is Two. They are all directed by the Guardian, who organizes meetings in an embalming chamber under the Corhonase citadel (Ancient Egyptian shout-out!). Here they wear hoods over their faces to protect their false identities. Despite the secrecy, all three spies have formed a relationship of mutual respect, and this is especially the case between Athan and Saliel. Little does Athan know that the beautiful woman who hates him as Lord Ivo is his fellow Three.
The story of the spies was smooth and seamless, and perfectly paced. Athan and Saliel are quick characters to sympathize and identify with, and the development of their relationship grows with the story in a completely believable way. I also really enjoyed the contrast between Corhonase and Laurent: In Corhonase (Corhona?), women and men are strictly separated. Women are not allowed to chose their own husbands; and, if they're noble, they're not allowed to enjoy sex once they're married (!). They're supposed to be "virtuous" at all times, and most spend their entire day embroidering. Saliel feels understandably oppressed in this environment. In Laurent, meanwhile, although women have much more freedom, the class boundaries are severe; which is unfortunate for Saliel, since she was born into the lowest of the Laurentine classes. So really, she's damned wherever she goes. It was easy to dislike Corhonase society, but I was surprised at how easy it was to equally dislike the Laurentines. Neither country is particularly better than the other one, which seems to underscore the fact that this isn't a book about politics or countries, but about the relationship between Athan and Saliel.
I didn't like everything about The Laurentine Spy--the final 100-ish pages seemed to drag on by. Not that it was bad, but it was much less exciting compared to Athan's and Saliel's time in the citadel. I also thought the romance part of the book took an unbelievable turn at the end. Since we aren't given a lot of background information on Laurentines and how they perceive the classes, witchcraft, or marriage, Athan's reaction to some of Saliel's revelations seemed totally uncalled for. And although I definitely believe Athan loved Saliel, with Saliel I'm still not convinced. Her conversion from actively hating him to trusting him to being in love with him wasn't quite believable for me.
Overall, however, this is a top-notch romantic adventure. In some ways it reminded me of The Scarlet Pimpernell, especially when it came to Saliel's attitude toward Lord Ivo and her confusion when she found out he was actually Athan. Highly recommended, and I will definitely be looking for Gee's other novel, Thief With No Shadow.
The Book Smugglers
Fantasy Book Critic
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