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Archive for the tag “Lauren Willig”

Book Review: The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel
 By Baroness Emmuska Orczy

Many modern adventure stories owe a severe debt of gratitude to Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel. Blackadder has parodied the character. Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation novels function on the assumption that not only was the old Scarlet P a real person, he eventually retired and his flower-named pupils continued spying for England. I love both Blackadder and the Pink Carnation, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

The Premise

To imitate the book’s language…
It’s 1792. The Reign of Terror has Paris in its grip, and the guillotine drinks deep of France’s noble blood. A league of young English gentlemen dash back and forth across the Channel, rescuing French aristocrats from a revolution that has lost its way. Their leader calls himself the Scarlet Pimpernel—he plots every move and slips like a wraith through the French authorities’ fingers.

Now the French government has their best agent on his tail. He intends to blackmail Lady Marguerite Blakeney into helping him unmask the Pimpernel. If she doesn’t, he’ll have her beloved brother killed. Marguerite moves in the highest English circles thanks to her fabulously wealthy, incomparably stupid husband, Sir Percy Blakeney, but even she doesn’t know the secret that makes her part in betraying the Scarlet Pimpernel so awful: she’s married to him.

The Pain

Although I love the fact that Marguerite is a strong, active heroine who tells almost the entire story from her point of view, the overwrought palpitations of her heart will probably be off-putting for anyone with a low threshold for melodrama. That being said, the book is more than a century old and it gives me a happy ending, so I throw it a bone.

The Payoff

Percy, Percy, Percy . . .  you care for nothing, yet you watch your wife with incredible longing. You make the world think you’re an impeccably dressed buffoon—all so you can save innocent people from the barbarism of the guillotine. You laugh like an idiot, plot like a genius, and love like a starving man. You are worthy of Marguerite’s love, and you make the novel. Bravo.


4 out of 5 arrows

Book Review: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation
Novel by Lauren Willig
A contemporary/historical romance and alternate history spy novel

Time to talk about one of my favorite authors. Lauren Willig is who I want to be when I grow up. Of course, the fact that she has a Harvard Law degree and I…do not… might put a bit of a damper on my emulation plans. Eh, well my point remains: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation and its sequels are awesome incarnate.

The Premise

In modern day London, American grad student Eloise Kelly desperately needs sources for her thesis on flower-named spies during the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815). Everyone knows the Scarlet Pimpernel was a real spy, and they also know the identity of the Purple Gentian, his protégé—but Eloise really wants to discover the identity of the Pink Carnation, the most mysterious spy of all.

She becomes the luckiest grad student in history when she meets up with a direct descendant of the Purple Gentian. Even better, the old lady gives her permission to read the family papers—papers no academic has ever seen before. And never will, if her hostile-but-handsome grandson has anything to say about it.

Meanwhile in 1803, the Purple Gentian a.k.a. Richard Selwick is happily wreaking havoc in Paris when wannabe spy Amy forces her way into his life. Amy sucks at espionage. Suddenly, Richard has his hands full, carrying out missions for the crown while keeping Amy away from danger—and that includes himself.

The Pain

The book switches back and forth between the modern and historical timelines every few chapters. This would be intolerable if one storyline sucked, but fortunately they’re both good, so as you read it’s like “No! I don’t want to leave Richard and Amy!” and then a few chapters later it’s like “No! I don’t want to leave Eloise and Colin!” and so on.  Mildly annoying, but I can’t imagine the story being told in any other way.

The Payoff

This thing is funny. And hot romantic. And really well written. And she knows her history. And aw heck, why don’t I just squeal like the little fangirl I am.

There, done. Aren’t you glad you couldn’t hear me?


5 out of 5 arrows

The other books in the Pink Carnation series are great, too. In order:
The Secret History of the Pink Carnation
The Masque of the Black Tulip
The Deception of the Emerald Ring
The Seduction of the Crimson Rose
The Temptation of the Night Jasmine
The Betrayal of the Blood Lily

The Mischief of the Mistletoe (coming in October 2010)

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