The Secret History of the Pink Carnation
Author: Lauren Willig
Publisher: Allison and Busby (UK edition)
Date: 2009 (ebook edition 2011), first published 2005
Hero: The Purple Gentian. Former colleague of, and sometime successor to, the more famous Scarlet Pimpernel. Dashing, handsome, mysterious, English nobleman, fond of rescuing aristos during the Revolution. A spy, of course, with a cunning disguise that gives him access to the house of Bonaparte himself (this is set in 1803). Also has a bad history of telling women the truth about himself and then finding his friends dead the next day. Is on a mission to prevent Napoleon from invading England. Likes classical literature and Egyptian antiquities.
Heroine: Amy Belcourt, half-French, half-English noblewoman whose father was killed in the Revolution and who is determined to join the League of the Purple Gentian to get revenge. It is somewhat unclear precisely what she means by this, but restoring the French monarchy has a part in it. She is not very good at thinking things through, but fortunately she always has at least a dozen backup plans, though admittedly they are not usually very good either. Would like to be a spy but is rubbish at it, only gaining moderate success through complete beginner’s luck. Still, she’s a fab heroine in lots of ways and I thoroughly approved of her. She also likes classical literature and is interested in Egyptian antiquities.
Other: A whole host of wonderful secondary characters: Miss Gwen, the chaperone who is a little like a more competent Amelia Peabody; Jane, Amy’s cousin who would actually make a very excellent spy; Edouard, Amy’s feckless brother; Lord Richard Selwick, the Purple Gentian (I promise this is not a spoiler); Lord Richard’s family, who are hilarious and wonderful and especially his mother who is not very reliable with a pistol.
Marriage: On board ship in a very great hurry.
Enjoyment factor: I adored this. I read it in a public place and laughed out loud a lot. There aren’t many books I get to the end of and wish I had written, but this is one. If I were to write a Regency romance, I’d like to write one like this. It is not tedious, nor missish. It is not a pale imitation of Austen or Heyer. It is not, thank goodness, Julia Quinnish. It is very much in the style of Baroness Orczy only, in my opinion, quite a lot better than Orczy’s own Pimpernel sequels. The plot is ludicrous, of course, but fun. The characters are likeable and plausible. The language and setting don’t read like a history text-book but are vivid and lively so that I forgave the occasional anachronism.
I didn’t dislike the contemporary sections (the book is supposedly the research of an American historian whose own love story happens alongside the historical one, though at a much slower pace), but I didn’t think the story needed them. It’s quite strong enough to stand on its own.
Epilogue: No. There is an historical note, followed by blurbs advertising the next books in the series. The reviews I’ve seen for these are a bit disappointing so I’m not sure whether to rush on to them or not.
Filed under: Historical, Lauren Willig, Regency, Single title | 5 Comments