Monday, February 14, 2011

REVIEW: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

American graduate student Eloise Kelly travels to England to research the topic of her dissertation: the identity of the elusive 1800's spy the Pink Carnation. After encountering many dead ends and resistance at first, she decides to contact the descendants of the famous unmasked spies the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian in the hopes she can uncover a link to the Pink Carnation. She finally gets a break in the form of Mrs. Selwick Arabella Selwick-Alderly who is in position of letters written by a Ms. Amy Balcourt, letters which may finally lead Eloise to discover the identity of the Pink Carnation.

Through the letters we meet the spunky and adventurous Amy Balcourt who dreams of leaving her home in Shropshire and joining the league of the Purple Gentian. She and her cousin Jane finally get the opportunity when Amy receives an invitation from her brother residing in Paris. He wishes her to serve as hostess for his household to further his ambitions at the court of Napoleon Bonaparte. Chaperoned by the no-nonsense Miss Gwen, the girls set off for Paris and encounter the dashing Lord Richard Selwick on board their ship. Attracted to each other one moment and at odds the next, Richard and Amy constantly cross paths in her quest to find the Purple Gentian, an endeavor that proves extremely dangerous when the run afoul of head of the French Policy Ministry, Gaston Delaroche.

I must say I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It was not at all what I expected it to be (actually I don't know what I was expecting). It was part romance, part mystery, part comedy, part historical fiction and all fun. I liked the spirited (if slightly clueless) Amy who was balanced perfectly by the sensible Jane. I LOVED Miss Gwen! Scenes such as the one where she pokes at Napoleon with her parasol and takes him to task for his rude shouting, standing about with his hand in his jacket, and the reprehensible way he invaded other countries had me laughing out loud. The bumbling way in which Amy goes about trying to discover the identity of the Purple Gentian was cute and I liked the build up of the romance between Amy and Richard until....

the book lurched into bodice ripper territory without much warning. I did not really enjoy this at all and think the book would have been just fine if it had remained "tame" throughout. These scenes were sparse though so it wasn't too distracting. Readers will not be surprised by the identity of the Purple Gentian although I am willing to bet their first guess for the identity of the Pink Carnation will not be correct. Secret History of the Pink Carnation is a bit predictable at times, but this part is not.

The only aspect I really did not enjoy was the storyline in present times involving Eloise and Colin Selwick. I am hoping this has more interesting developments in future installments but I constantly found myself wishing the chapters involving these two would be over so I could get back to the story of Amy and Richard. Also the transition between the happenings in the past and the present tense was almost nonexistent. Willig did do a nice job of setting the reader up for the next book with the ending though.

The Pink Carnation books are perfect for when you've been reading nothing but serious books and are looking to take a break with a fun fast paced read. I will definitely be continuing on with the series.

This book is from my own personal library

1 comment:

  1. Love your review! I just finished reading Pink Carnation and you expressed my thoughts to a T. That whole bodice-ripping scene in the boat was totally out of nowhere and didn't match the flavor of the novel at all. And you're right, the Eloise/Colin story was far less interesting than the historical one of Amy and Richard. But it was still a fun read--reminded me of some of Georgette Heyer's novels.