Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

The first in a series of book by new author Lauren Willig, this book looks at the lives of the spies that followed on in the footsteps of the Scarlet Pimpernel.

Deciding that true romantic heroes are a thing of the past, Eloise Kelly, a gifted young history student who nonetheless always manages to wear her precious Jimmy Choo suede boots on the day it buckets down, abandons Harvard for London to finish her dissertation on a dashing pair of spies, The Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian. What she discovers is something the finest scholars have missed: the secret history of The Pink Carnation - the most elusive spy of all time, said to have singlehandedly saved England from Napolean's invasion.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation opens with the tale of a modern-day heroine but soon becomes a story within a story. After discovering a treasure trove of old letters, Eloise is transported to eighteenth-century Paris through the daring exploits of another young woman determined to make her mark, and a passionate love affair that almost threw off the course of world events is at last revealed.

This book is an interesting mix of genres. We have some elements of chicklit (brand name dropping, parties, fashion), and yet at another level we have historical romance, mixed in with a dash of spying for good measure. In lesser hands, it could have been a recipe for mediocrity, with none of the elements dealt with satisfactorily, however, happily for the reader, it was handled quite competently. I was certainly left wanting to read more from this author!

The back cover details (above) really do not give an accurate reflection of what the book is about. From that blurb, one would assume that the main focus of the novel is Eloise, but really, other than a chapter here and there, the main focus of the novel is about the starting of the spy legend that is The Pink Carnation, and the romance between Amy Balcourt and Lord Richard Selwick.

From her days as a very young girl, Amy has dreamt of joining the league of spies that followed in the footsteps of The Scarlet Pimpernel, and if she couldn't join him, she would start her own league...the league of The Pink Carnation. Already enrolled in the league is Amy's cousin, the unflappable Jane. When Amy is called to go home to Paris by her brother Edouard, of course Jane will accompany, along with the very strict Miss Gwen, who is lethal with her parasol. Amy has everything planned...she is going to find The Purple Gentian and join him in Paris, and restore the monarchy to France. Unfortunately, The Purple Gentian has a much different agenda!

After being disappointed in her plans, the girls hire a boat for their exclusive use. Only problem is Lord Richard has done the same, and before they can sort out who really has the exclusive use of the boat, they are on their way to France, and the first interactions between our hero and heroine take place. In true romance fashion, they are attracted to each other, but keep on fighting with each other, especially when Amy finds the fact that Richard works for Napoleon unpatriotic. Once they reach Paris, they meet time and time again, until at last Amy realise who exactly she is dealing with. When the Purple Gentian finds himself cornered, he finds help from unlikely scenes which have high elements of slapstick comedy.

Whilst Eloise follows the story of Amy and Richard, she locks horns with the imperious Colin Selwick who is the family guardian of the papers regarding his ancestors life. There are only half a dozen chapters focusing on Eloise, and secondarily Colin, so there is plenty of scope in the next couple of novels to see where, if anywhere, the author wants to take our modern day couple.

The intriguing thing about this blend of different genres and styles is that it works! It will be interesting to see if it maintains its freshness as the series continues. I have my name down first on the request list at the library for The Masque of the Black Tulip

Reading this book did actually lead me to discover that Baroness Orczy who wrote The Scarlet Pimpernel actually wrote about 15 Pimpernel books, which I never knew previously, and most of them are available for free downloads on the internet. Hopefully I will get a chance to read some more of them soon!

A good fun read, filled with ingenious plans, swirling capes, masks and disguises - in short....lots of fun!

Edited to add: On Lauren Willig's website there are some "Outtakes" from this book - more fun!

Rating 4/5

Other Blogger's Thoughts:

A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore

The Written Word


  1. I am so sorry I didn't read this with you! It just had to coincide with my no sleep period. I promise we do a buddy read together and that I will keep up!

  2. I reviewed the book here:



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