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.

5 Responses to “The Secret History of the Pink Carnation”

  1. I liked this one a lot for the reasons you say. I’ve had a fondness for Pimpernel since a romantic high school French teacher showed us the Jane Seymour/Anthony Andrews version.

    For what it’s worth: I read the next 2-3 and enjoyed Crimson Rose (found myself skimming the rest), then got totally bored by Night Jasmine and quit the series. Tried and liked Mischief of the Mistletoe (which just won a RITA and has NO Elise and Colin) on audio after some good reviews. After that I tried to go back but still got bored so just skipped some. I really liked Night Jasmine (set in India) though there’s infidelity in it. And I started the latest one but haven’t been inspired to finish yet (problem w/audio is that you can’t skip the contemp. parts, which I find increasingly annoying–I cannot like a late-20s Harvard grad student who calls men “boys”). The plots do build on and refer to each other, but I didn’t find skipping too confusing, so you could just cherrypick the ones that sound appealing to you and be OK.

    • 2 Ros

      Good to know. I just found the free Christmas novella on Lauren Willig’s website, so I read that. I think I’ll keep going and see how I get on with the others.

  2. If you wrote a Regency romance like this I would dance up and down with glee!

    I enjoyed the first few of these books – I actually liked the second and third ones better than the first, because the heroines felt as if they had more defined personalities – but bounced hard off The Seduction Of The Crimson Rose. I keep wondering about reading the later ones, because I do like some of the minor characters (particularly Turnip) but I haven’t got round to it yet.

    I think you’ve put your finger on why I wasn’t so enthralled by the Eloise and Colin bits – the difference in pace is quite jarring.

    • 4 Ros

      So would I! I don’t think it’s likely to happen, though.

      That’s encouraging about the second and third books. I think that’s about what anthrokeight (who recommended this one) said, too.

      I love the idea of a character called Turnip.

  3. Just realized I messed up titles and said I liked/disliked same book. Night Jasmine bored me, Blood Lily I liked. Mistletoe is Turnip’s book and super fun. I’d read descriptions and go for tropes you enjoy. (I liked Crimson Rose because it features villains from earlier book, for instance, but could see why others wouldn’t. Hero and heroine aren’t very nice; it was interesting).


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