The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne

The Black Hawk 240Narrated by Kirsten Potter

When The Black Hawk first came out in print, it suffered a little from “too-great anticipation syndrome” and even though I really liked it, I felt just a titch let down because it wasn’t what I had built it up to be in my mind. (I am deliberately not building up the next book so as to avoid this trap again). So, it was nice for me to get a chance to revisit the book in a low-pressure environment. I wasn’t racing to the end to find out what happens – I was able to enjoy the journey along the way.

The language and prose in Joanna Bourne’s books are beautiful, and, added to the particular way she writes the cadence of the different nationalities (French, English) such that is obvious who is narrating the scene, are treasures of their own, but hearing them aloud adds an extra flavour.

The story starts in 1818. Adrian “Hawker” Hawkhurst is now Head of Section for the British Service in England. Justine DeCabrillac, former French spy, is now a shopkeeper. She discovers information Adrian must know but on the way to him is stabbed. As Adrian nurses Justine to health and they, with the other British Service agents, solve the puzzle of the present day, Adrian and Justine flashback to various important times in the more than twenty year history of their tumultuous relationship. The flashbacks threw me a little when I read the book but I was expecting them this time and so was able to relax into the story more.

Adrian and Justine have always had a special connection and even though they can and do go years without speaking or even seeing each other, they share a deep and abiding love. I like how Justine’s sensibility as a supporter of the Bonaparte regime is presented as reasonable and logical, and I liked how both Justine and Adrian put their responsibilities to their respective countries above their personal desires. I also liked that the end of Bonaparte’s rule meant an end to Justine’s spying days and thus opened a (circuitous and long) path for Adrian and her to be together forever.

The flashbacks are clever because they show the development and then the depth and breadth of the connection between Justine and Adrian but they also drop little clues about the plot against Adrian in 1818, without being obvious or heavy-handed.

Paxton’s book comes out later this year I believe and I had forgotten his important role in this story and the tantalising glimpse we have into his adventures.

Kirsten Potter does great accents. I particularly love listening to her French accent and, with the cadence of the writing I mentioned above, it is a particular pleasure. There is even a brief snippet of a Scottish accent later in the book from a bit player and that was excellent also.

However, I have come to realise that Ms. Potter differentiates almost all of her characters almost entirely by accent. With the possible exception of Severine as a child, all of the French characters sounded the same – regardless of gender. The context always made it clear who was talking but there is no lowering of pitch for the males. Similarly, there is not a huge difference with the English characters – unless there is an accent which separates them. For some reason, I noticed this more in The Black Hawk than in other books I have listened to in this series from this narrator. Her accents are golden but she is entirely reliant on them to differentiate vocal distinction.

The other thing she does well is inhabit the characterisations. It is subtle (in a more Grover Gardner style of narration). It isn’t so much the way she speaks but the emotion and motivation which underlie it that serve to make each person at least somewhat unique.

If I could have a wish, it would be for Ms. Potter to further develop her range so that she might also be able to offer some more distinctly different voices; but what she does, she does very well.

I still have a slight bugbear that the narrative is done with an American accent when there are no Americans in the story. I got used to it (each time I get used to it) but I think a British accent for the narrative would work better.

It’s possible that I enjoyed The Black Hawk even better the second time around but in any event, it’s another wonderful addition to a great series.


Narration: B

Book Content: B+

Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in

Violence: Fighting and some descriptions of child abuse

Genre: Historical Romance

Publisher: Tantor Audio


The Black Hawk was provided to AudioGals by Tantor Audio for review.


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  1. Caz

    I was also a bit disappointed with the American accented narration when I listened to The Spymaster’s Lady, but the rest of the performance was so good – as was the story – that I stuck it out and am glad I did. Ms Potter is one of the very few I can stomach performing this way – although I suspect my tolerance level is higher because of the quality of the stories. I haven’t listened to her in anything else, although I know she’s narrated quite a few other historicals – but assuming she uses the same techniques, unless the stories are utterly gripping, I’m not sure I’d enjoy her performances so much.

    I really must give something else a try to test that theory!

    1. Kaetrin

      It feels incongruous but the rest of her performance is so good I get over it every time. I’m sure the quality of the story plays a large part in that.

  2. mel burns

    I loved this book when I read it, but I just can’t get past the American accent to be able to enjoy the audio. I honestly don’t understand it??

    1. Kaetrin

      When I first started The Spymaster’s Lady I felt the same way. I gave it some time and I was able to sink into the story in spite of the American accented narrative. And there is a lot which is wonderful about Potter’s narrations IMO.

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