Friday, August 28, 2015

Book Review - Lauren Willig's The Lure of the Moonflower

Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: NAL
Publication Date: August 4th, 2015
Format: Paperback, 528 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Jane doesn't know if it's wise to be working with Jack Reid, alias the Moonflower. But her mission is in Portugal, she doesn't speak the language, and he's the agent on the ground. Seeing as her old companion Miss Gwen is married to Jack's father, Jane has heard all there is to about Jack and his ever shifting allegiances. What she hasn't heard about Jack is that perhaps the legend doesn't match the man. And that man has sure heard of the legend of the Pink Carnation, who is now supposedly leading this new mission that he isn't allowed any input on. Jane is not suited to the rugged search for the Portuguese Queen across the rough and tumble countryside, yet that is just what she plans to do. She is being dictatorial and living down to his expectations. But that is the problem. They have both prejudged each other and found the other lacking. If they could just start over then perhaps they could find more than just a serviceable working arrangement. That new start happens when the deadliest of French spies, the Gardener, appears on their trek. They both have a history with him, and neither one is pleased to see him. They scrap all their plans and go off the grid, trying to beat the Gardener to the Queen and trying to become compatriots. While in the future Eloise and Colin are facing something just as daunting. Their wedding day. Which should go off without a hitch, that is until Colin's beloved Aunt Arabella is kidnapped the night before the ceremony and Colin reveals she was spy in her day! So they just have to deal with the kidnapper's demands and THEN they can get married.

While I haven't been a part of the Pink Carnation fandom since it's inception, arriving only two years late to the party, I hope I've made up for those two years with my cheer leading. Yet it was still hard to say goodbye to all the characters I have loved, even minus those two years. I thought that I'd be OK with it. I thought, given enough warning as well as re-reading all the previous eleven volumes I wouldn't have any pangs. I was wrong. These characters have been my friends through ups and downs for eight years! There's a scene near the end on Lord Richard's ship where Jack stumbles into the assorted crew, many of which are his family, and it just hit me. This might be the last time I see these characters in a new adventure. I didn't want to let go. I was on that ship and I was immobilized. I wasn't looking from face to face with bewilderment like Jack, I was looking from face to face and thinking of all the stories left to tell. There's Jack's little sister Lizzy, I don't just want, I need to know about her future adventures. Plus what about Jack's other sister Kat? Yes, she ends up with Tommy, but how? Also what about all the characters we have yet to meet? This world is teaming with stories that are now being set aside. Closure was given, but it's surprising sometimes that closure is the last thing we really want. What we really want is one more chapter before bedtime. 

My initial problem, aside from the series ending, was that I've never been the biggest fan of Jane. She's always been an enigma, and rightfully so, she is illusive after all. Always in the background setting the world to rights. Lauren previously needed her to be infallible and maddeningly omniscient and capable. These traits don't lend themselves to a character of flesh and blood, but an analytical ice maiden. A perfectly coolly composed heroine does not make the most interesting read. The Lure of the Moonflower gets off to a rocky start because, like Jack, we only see what Jane wants us to see. This capable perfect agent. When the truth starts to creep out, her self doubt, her sacrifices, how much she and Jack feel the weight of the mantle of spy, do you finally start to relate and to understand Jane. The loneliness, the long nights, the seclusion, the isolation from everything and everyone else as you have to be self sufficient and self reliant. That is where Lauren succeeds and the book comes together, she believably gives us insight into Jane. Slowly the layers are peeled away and the person who was once inconceivable is now all too human and relatable. While Jane's dalliance with Nicolas (aka the Gardener) shows us that she does have desires, her calculated seduction doesn't really give us any insight. It's in opening up to Jack that we learn about the real Jane behind the carefully constructed mask. If anyone had every told me my heart would ache for Jane I would never have believed them. But when she talks about her parents declaring her dead and her tombstone, that was it. Like Jack I wanted to protect her even though she didn't need the least bit of protection.

It's this opening up to Jack that not only makes Jane relatable, but that made me connect to her. Most of my young life I would shun help and advice. Even things like the simplest critique of how to write a paper better and I would shut down. Obviously I should know how to write my own paper! Sheesh. It wasn't until college that I realized that part of growing up is finding people to help you, people to lean on. Of course, this is a very trial and error procedure. Sometimes the people you think you can rely on the most turn out to be AWOL when you need them the most. Which is why I reverted to old habits and only counted on myself. So I totally get where Jane is coming from. But there's such a burden, so much weight on your shoulders if you go it alone. Finding the right people, the right group of friends who are their to lift you up when you're down, to help you over the rough patches, that is the most precious gift we can get in life. Over the course of The Lure of the Moonflower Jane realizes that Jack is just such a person. Someone who takes the weight of the mantle "The Pink Carnation" off her shoulders. Neither of them have any reason to trust the other, but their experiences together and there similar backgrounds makes them compliment each other. To have Jane find someone to compliment her is a wonderfully happy place to end this series, but more than that, to find someone to share her burdens, to rely on, someone with whom you can let down your defenses and admit you need help, that is the true happily ever after.

Also getting to a point where Eloise was allowed a happily ever after was a nice balance. While her future is more writing the exploits of daring do than perpetrating them, there was finally a nice symbiosis between the two plots to end it on the right note. I have always been a fan of the modern framing device used by Lauren with Eloise and Colin, but there were times when it felt they were just there to tell the future history of what happened versus being integral to the story. And sometimes you even wondered if perhaps Lauren's publishers were right to think of writing them out. By finally bringing spies, ever hinted at but never seen, into the present, the past and present finally clicked like they never have before. Aunt Arabella being a spy just makes so much sense. It's one of those things that when it happens you think, "how did I not see this before!?!" Eloise always wondering about Colin's spy affiliations felt forced. There was no way this gentle country squire was in any capacity related to any activities at Thames House. But Arabella! SO MUCH SENSE! Her globetrotting ways, her keeping of the family secrets. All of it just made this book reach another level. Of course some of that level was of the French farce variety, but when has Lauren's books ever disappointed by going farcical? Of course now I want an entire series just for Aunt Arabella, in the manner of her friend M.M.Kaye's "Death in" series. If there was more proof needed that I don't want to ever leave these characters desiring all these different spin-off series would be all the proof you need.

As for the book within the book. Perfection. I had been hoping for some time that Eloise might drop her academic career and have the series pull a meta switch on us and that's just what Lauren has done. I remember when it was first bandied about that Colin was secretly a spy, only to turn out to be writing about them, that wouldn't it be ironic if Eloise turned her dissertation into a book and became a bestselling author before Colin. And not only that, but a bestselling author writing about his family! Little meta jokes have always entertained me, hence my love of Abed on Community. Yeah self-referential humor! But more than that, I like that it brings the series full circle, beginning again at the end. Guess I'm supposed to read them all again right? I also love that Colin is such a great guy he literally doesn't mind this twist of fate. He and Eloise are a perfect couple. But the line that really captured it for me is when Eloise mentions to Aunt Arabella that there's a story in the Pink Carnation's further escapades, and Arabella replies more then one, I sighed wistfully. These characters have been my friends on more then one adventure, and I wish them the best of luck. Because obviously they live on and keep having adventures, even if Lauren isn't writing them. Yet.


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