Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Book Review - Lauren Willig's The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig
Published by: Dutton
Publication Date: February 7th, 2005
Format: Hardcover, 388 Pages
Challenge: Historical Fiction
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy
(different edition than one reviewed)
Amy Balcourt has spent her exile in the sheep infested fields of Shropshire dreaming of the day she can return to France. Her and her mother were lucky, they escaped France before her father's head rolled. But Napoleon and his ilk had to pay. Amy longed for revenge. She has dreamed of nothing but the day she could return to Paris and join the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel and foil those Frenchies with witty asides and raids on their secret files. But then that dratted Pimpernel went and got unmasked, so who's league would she join now? All the training Amy and her cousin Jane spent in disguises and teaching the sheep stampeding formations would go to waste unless another spy stepped up for jolly old England. Of course another spy did step forth, The Purple Gentian. Now Amy and Jane just had to wait for the opportunity to go to Paris, which handily came in a note from Amy's brother who hoped she would return to the family home during the (temporary) peace with France. With their neighbor, Miss Gwen and her trusty parasol, as their chaperon, Amy and Jane set out for the continent and to find the Purple Gentian. Instead what Amy finds is an annoyingly cute Lord Richard Selwick, whom Amy has no inkling about his extra curricular activities, despite the fact he is the Purple Gentian, aside from a stirring in her breast and the burn of hate when she learns he's for Napoleon, which of course is his cover. She just finds him inconvenient, because how else are they going to skulk around the docks and overhear crucial bits of information to get an in with the league. But lurking beneath desks and listening through keyholes soon pays off, Amy learns of details pertaining to the plans to invade England, she also learns that, though joining the league of the Purple Gentian has always been her goal, perhaps kissing him is preferable. And kiss him she does, as they seem to have a magnetic attraction from the moment they meet. Of course the Gentian is of two minds, both of which want Amy, both of which want her safe and sound. With midnight assignations and lusty boat rides how can Richard stop the invasion of England with his mind so firmly on Amy? Or course things could be worse, your whole family could descend on you, en masse, to help with your secret spying. How long will it be till the Purple Gentian is unmasked just as the Scarlet Pimpernel was? And how long till the Pink Carnation steps up to fill the void, just as the Gentian did in his day?

But the real question is. Who is the Pink Carnation? That's what modern day Grad Student Eloise Kelly is trying to find out despite many obstacles, many in the form of Richard Selwick's descendants. Because this book, and all other in this series, have a nice modern framing in which Eloise learns of Napoleonic spying habits through journals, notes and correspondences, but luckily no laundry lists. It is also based of the ingenious hypothetical of, what if the Scarlet Pimpernel was real and not a creation of Baroness Orczy and that she was just his biographer, as it were. This gives the book a modern sensibility for the true regency swashbuckling book geek that carries through the past and present events. With similarities to Austen and Heyer we get a Regency romp that is more accessible to modern readers. There is the wit, the amazing details and the man in black, just think Carey Elwes circa Princess Bride not Ella Enchanted, but here there is an emotional depth and a connection between the characters that, while Austen with her great lovers captured so well, has a remoteness. You feel a step away from the action and can admire the characters and wish to live Lizzy and Darcy's fairy tale, yet you somehow can't imagine yourself as that fairy tale couple as easily as you can being Amy, crouching under the desk waiting to announce herself to the Purple Gentian. Lauren Willig has created a world you become a part of and don't want to leave, hence her devote followers which she so generously spends time with. This book is just the beginning of a vast cast of characters you'll want to visit again and again and stands up to multiple readings. Though I should warn you, there is some serious sexy sexy... though apparently not in my edition. I was lucky enough to find a first edition recently only to find the sexy sexy expunged! So I can proudly, if dejectedly say, I own, perhaps one of the only bowdlerized copies of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation... now whether these pages were removed by the prudish (which I doubt) or the extreme liker will remain a mystery. So, as Lauren said "That's so funny! Censorship... or private collection?" Whatever the case, beware of Pink Page Pilferers!


how weird that your edition doesn't include the sexytimes! Funny though.

Great review, you've definitely made me want to go back through and re-read these :) If nothing else I'm dying for a nice shiny ARC of Orchid Affair!

I know! I'm dying for Orchid Affair. Yes, it was odd with no sexy sexy, I must have looked funny though sitting there with a hardcover AND my paperback edition just in case there were more missing scenes!

I absolutely love this series! I am so excited for The Orchid Affair :) I really want to reread the series before it comes out... we shall see how far I get. Though it shouldn't be hard with these excellent books!

I know! If it weren't for school I wouldn't be able to put them down. As it is this weekend looks like some prime reading time! I'm psyched.

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