Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Book Review - Lauren Willig's The Orchid Affair

The Orchid Affair by Lauren Willig
Published by: Dutton
ARC Provided by Dutton
Publication Date: January 20th, 2010
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
Challenge: Historical Fiction
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy
Laura Grey has had it being a governess. She has just graduated from the Selwick Spying Academy and is off to France to do her bit to fight the revolution. Of course she just happens to be going to France in the very role she was trying to escape, that of "governess."  Laura, or more precisely, Laure Griscogne, has been away from her homeland since her parents died and left her orphaned and having to take care of herself in the only way possible, by rearing others children, though when she started she was but a child herself. Now she has two new charges, the children of Andre Jaouen, a man The Pink Carnation is desperate to know more about, especially because he works in the Abbaye Prison with that most odious of men, Delaroche. But when you spend most of your time taking care of the children in a large and desolate house and rarely spying at keyholes and sneaking messages to The Pink Carnation through various booksellers, it's hard to see the value in your work. But there is more to Jaouen then meets the eye. He has connections within the artistic community that Laura's family was once in the center of. Laura was once the child of a somebody, a great poetess. Andre is having a hard time rectifying this stern, prim governess, with the loose and wanton Paris saloons of pre-revolutionary France. All the while Laura is having a hard time rectifying this rather attractive bespectacled man with that of a hardened revolutionary who wants to kill all the aristos he can find. But when both their missions unexpectedly collide around a man who could restore the French monarchy, they have to decide whether it is best to let animosities and allegiances fall by the wayside and trust their instincts and growing attraction to each other. Plus sneaking through the countryside as travelling performers can't be as hard as it sounds?

The newest in Lauren Willig's ever expanding cannon of Pink Carnation books takes us right back to the heart of what this series is about. Spying. Even if with a little Commedia it's, as the author puts it so well, "like The Sound of Music… meets Mata Hari." We are back within the courts of Napoleon and the streets of Paris, where blood might run in the streets at any moment, and the reality of the horrors that await in the Abbaye Prison are a real threat, not comfortably located on the other side of the channel. While the previous books have all had spies in various locals with various flower monikers, this one feels the closest to the legacy of The Scarlet Pimpernel; with our heroine in enemy territory, with barely an ally, and no ally that she can get to without a bookstore or an effusive poet. Speaking of said poet... we get nice little cameos from some of the Pink cast, but they are just the icing on the cake, what makes this book soar are the new characters of Andre and Laura, which even readers new to the series can enjoy without the previous installments. Every book since the first has been a pairing off of a previous hero or heroine with someone new or some old friend, but not in this case. Here we have a blank canvas ripe for the painting, Miss Grey has only had a few brief and enigmatic references which have given her no illumination. Laura has a rich and complicated past that was filled with sumptuousness and luxury and is now contained within harsh grey stays. Andre has also had a life that was once filled with love and an artistic wife, instead he now has to change ideals and live a sparse and paired down life. Both these two have spent a life hiding who they really are and masking what they want and feel. I felt such an instant connection with both of them, just waiting with baited breath for Laura to realize this man could not possibly be evil, even if he is French, they aren't all Delaroches. How Lauren is able to continually excel at each subsequent book astonishes me. While they do build on each other to form a perfect shelf in my library, they also are wonderfully contained little jewels of stories that you just want to go back to again and again, which Lauren does do. One day we wonder who is that lady at the Selwick Spy School, years later, she is flesh. She is whole and wonderful and I didn't want the book to end. I hope when you get your hands on a copy you'll feel as I do. And if you hate the new cover, you don't have to keep in on the book.


Fantastic! i can't wait to get my hands on this one! I loved Carnation and Black Tulip...gave up on Betrayal of the Blood Lily but I'm eager to get back into the series. I love her heroines. Okay, and Lord Vaughn. I especially love Lord Vaughn.

Have you read Mischief of the Mistletoe? There's a little Vaughn in there and it's totally Turnip awesomeness!

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