Everything is coming up carnations in this national bestselling series
Realizing romantic heroes are a thing of the past, graduate student Eloise Kelly is determined to focus on her work. Her first stop: England, to finish her dissertation on the English spies of the Napoleonic Wars, like the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian.
But her greatest conquest is to reveal the most elusive spy of them all, the dashing Pink Carnation. As she does, she discovers something for the history books-a living, breathing hero all her very own...
About the Author
Lauren Willig is a law student and Ph.D. candidate in history at Harvard University. She is the author of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.
Hometown:New York, New York and Cambridge, Massachusetts
Date of Birth:March 28, 1977
Place of Birth:Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Education:B.A., Yale University, 1999; M.A., Harvard University, 2001
Read an Excerpt
The Tube had broken down. Again.
I clutched the overhead rail by dint of standing on the tippiest bit of my tippy toes. My nose banged into the arm of the man next to me. A Frenchman, judging from the black turtleneck and the fact that his armpit was a deodorant-free zone. Murmuring apologies in my best faux English accent, I tried to squirm out from under his arm, tripped over a protruding umbrella, and stumbled into the denim-covered lap of the man sitting in front of me.
“Cheers,” he said with a wink, as I wiggled my way off his leg.
Ah, “cheers,” that wonderful multipurpose English term for anything from “hello” to “thank you” to “nice ass you have there.” Bright red (a shade that doesn’t do much for my auburn hair), I peered about for a place to hide. But the Tube was packed solid, full of tired, cranky Londoners on their way home from work. There wasn’t enough room for a reasonably emaciated snake to slither its way through the crowd, much less a healthy American girl who had eaten one too many portions of fish and chips over the past two months.
Um, make that about fifty too many portions of fish and chips. Living in a basement flat with a kitchen the size of a peapod doesn’t inspire culinary exertions.
Resuming my spot next to the smirking Frenchman, I wondered, for the five-hundredth time, what had ever possessed me to come to London.
Sitting in my carrel in Harvard’s Widener Library, peering out of my little scrap of window at the undergrads scuttling back and forth beneath the underpass, bowed double under their backpacks like so many worker ants, applying for a fellowship to spend the year researching at the British Library seemed like a brilliant idea. No more student papers to grade! No more hours of peering at microfilm! No more Grant.
My mind lightly touched the name, then shied away again. Grant. The other reason I was playing sardines on the Tube in London, rather than happily spooling through microfilm in the basement of Widener.
I ended it with him. Well, mostly. Finding him in the cloakroom of the Faculty Club at the history department Christmas party in a passionate embrace with a giggly art historian fresh out of undergrad did have something to do with it, so I couldn’t claim he was entirely without a part in the breakup. But I was the one who tugged the ring off my finger and flung it across the room at him in time-honored, pissed-off female fashion.
Just in case anyone was wondering, it wasn’t an engagement ring.
The Tube lurched back to life, eliciting a ragged cheer from the other passengers. I was too busy trying not to fall back into the lap of the man sitting in front of me. To land in someone’s lap once is carelessness; to do so twice might be considered an invitation.
Right now, the only men I was interested in were long-dead ones.
The Scarlet Pimpernel, the Purple Gentian, the Pink Carnation . . . The very music of their names invoked a forgotten era, an era of men in knee breeches and frock coats who dueled with witty barbs sharper than the points of their swords. An era when men could be heroes.
The Scarlet Pimpernel, rescuing countless men from the guillotine; the Purple Gentian, driving the French Ministry of Police mad with his escapades, and foiling at least two attempts to assassinate King George III; and the Pink Carnation . . . I don’t think there was a single newspaper in London between 1803 and 1814 that didn’t carry at least one mention of the Pink Carnation, the most elusive spy of them all.
The other two, the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian, had each, in their turn, been unmasked by the French as Sir Percy Blakeney and Lord Richard Selwick. They had retired to their estates in England to raise precocious children and tell long stories of their days in France over their postdinner port. But the Pink Carnation had never been caught.
At least not yet.
That was what I planned to do—to hunt the elusive Pink Carnation through the archives of England, to track down any sliver of long-dead gossip that might lead me to what the finest minds in the French government had failed to discover.
Of course, that wasn’t how I phrased it when I suggested the idea to my dissertation advisor.
I made scholarly noises about filling a gap in the historiography, and the deep sociological significance of spying as a means of asserting manhood, and other silly ideas couched in intellectual unintelligibility. I called it “Aristocratic Espionage during the Wars with France: 1789–1815.”
Rather a dry title, but somehow I doubt “Why I Love Men in Black Masks” would have made it past my dissertation committee.
It all seemed perfectly simple back in Cambridge. There must have been some sort of contact between the three aristocrats who had donned black masks in order to outwit the French; the world of the upper class in early nineteenth-century England was a small one, and I couldn’t imagine that men who had all spied in France wouldn’t share their expertise with one another. I knew the identities of Sir Percy Blakeney and Lord Richard Selwick—in fact, there was a sizable correspondence between those two men. Surely, there would be something in their papers, some slip of the pen that would lead me to the Pink Carnation.
But there was nothing in the archives. Nothing. So far, I’d read twenty years’ worth of Blakeney estate accounts and Selwick laundry lists. I’d even trekked out to the sprawling Public Record Office in Kew, hauling myself and my laptop through the locker rooms and bag searches to get to the early nineteenth-century records of the War Office. I should have remembered that they call it the secret service for a reason. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Not even a cryptic reference to “our flowery friend” in an official report.
Getting panicky, because I didn’t really want to have to write about espionage as an allegory for manhood, I resorted to my plan of last resort. I sat on the floor of Waterstones, with a copy of Debrett’s Peerage open in my lap, and wrote letters to all the surviving descendants of Sir Percy Blakeney and Lord Richard Selwick. I didn’t even care if they had access to the family archives (that was how desperate I was getting), I’d settle for family stories, half-remembered tales Grandpapa used to tell about that crazy ancestor who was a spy in the 1800s, anything that might give me some sort of lead as to where to look next.
I sent out twenty letters. I received three responses.
The proprietors of the Blakeney estate sent me an impersonal form letter listing the days the estate was open to the public; they helpfully included the fall 2003 schedule for Scarlet Pimpernel reenactments. I could think of few things more depressing than watching overeager tourists prancing around in black capes, twirling quizzing glasses, and exclaiming, “Sink me!”
The current owner of Selwick Hall was even more discouraging. He sent a letter typed on crested stationery designed to intimidate, informing me that Selwick Hall was still a private home, it was not open to the public in any capacity, and any papers the family intended for the public to view were in the British Library. Although Mr. Colin Selwick did not specifically say “sod off,” it was heavily implied.
But all it takes is one, right?
And that one, Mrs. Arabella Selwick-Alderly, was currently waiting for me at—I dug the dog-eared scrap of paper out of my pocket as I scurried up the stairs in the South Kensington Tube station—43 Onslow Square.
It was raining, of course. It generally is when one has forgotten one’s umbrella.
Pausing on the doorstep of 43 Onslow Square, I ran my fingers through my rain-dampened hair and took stock of my appearance. The brown suede Jimmy Choo boots that had looked so chic in the shoe store in Harvard Square were beyond repair, matted with rain and mud. My knee-length herringbone skirt had somehow twisted itself all the way around, so that the zipper stuck out stiffly in front instead of lying flat in back. And there was a sizeable brownish blotch on the hem of my thick beige sweater—the battle stain of an unfortunate collision with someone’s cup of coffee at the British Library cafeteria that afternoon.
So much for impressing Mrs. Selwick-Alderly with my sophistication and charm.
Tugging my skirt right way ’round, I rang the buzzer. A crackly voice quavered, “Hello?”
I leaned on the reply button. “It’s Eloise,” I shouted into the metal grating. I hate talking into intercoms; I’m never sure if I’m pressing the right button, or speaking into the right receiver, or about to be beamed up by aliens. “Eloise Kelly. About the Purple Gentian?”
I managed to catch the door just before it stopped buzzing.
“Up here,” called a disembodied voice.
Tipping my head back, I gazed up the stairwell. I couldn’t see anyone, but I knew just what Mrs. Selwick-Alderly would look like. She would have a wrinkled face under a frizz of snowy white hair, dress in ancient tweeds, and be bent over a cane as gnarled as her skin. Following the directive from on high, I began up the stairs, rehearsing the little speech I had prepared in my head the night before. I would say something gracious about how lovely it was of her to take the time to see me. I would smile modestly and express how much I hoped I could help in my own small way to rescue her esteemed ancestor from historical oblivion. And I would remember to speak loudly, in deference to elderly ears.
“Poor girl, you look utterly knackered.”
An elegant woman in a navy-blue suit made of nubby wool, with a vivid crimson and gold scarf tied at her neck, smiled sympathetically at me. Her snowy hair—that part of my image at least had been correct!—was coiled about her head in an elaborate confection of braids that should have been old-fashioned, but on her looked queenly. Perhaps her straight spine and air of authority made her appear taller than she was, but she made me (five feet nine inches if one counts the three-inch heels that are essential to daily life) feel short. This was not a woman with an osteoporosis problem.
My polished speech dripped away like the drops of water trickling from the hem of my raincoat.
“Um, hello,” I stammered.
“Hideous weather today, isn’t it?” Mrs. Selwick-Alderly ushered me through a cream-colored foyer, indicating that I should drop my sodden raincoat on a chair in the hall. “How good of you to come all the way from—the British Library, was it?—to see me on such an inhospitable day.”
I followed her into a cheerful living room, my ruined boots making squelching noises that boded ill to the faded Persian rug. A chintz sofa and two chairs were drawn up around the fire that crackled comfortably away beneath a marble mantelpiece. On the coffee table, an eclectic assortment of books had been pushed aside to make room for a heavily laden tea tray.
Mrs. Selwick-Alderly glanced at the tea tray and made a little noise of annoyance. “I’ve forgotten the biscuits. I won’t be a minute. Do make yourself comfortable.”
Comfortable. I didn’t think there was much chance of that. Despite Mrs. Selwick-Alderly’s charm, I felt like an awkward fifth-grader waiting for the headmistress to return.
Hands clasped behind my back, I wandered over to the mantel. It boasted an assortment of family photos, jumbled together in no particular order. At the far right towered a large sepia portrait photo of a debutante with her hair in the short waves of the late 1930s, a single strand of pearls about her neck, gazing soulfully upwards. The other photos were more modern and less formal, a crowd of family photos, taken in black tie, in jeans, indoors and out, people making faces at the camera or each other; they were clearly a large clan, and a close-knit one.
One picture in particular drew my attention. It sat towards the middle of the mantel, half-hidden behind a picture of two little girls decked out as flower girls. Unlike the others, it only featured a single subject—unless you counted his horse. One arm casually rested on his horse’s flank. His dark blond hair had been tousled by the wind, and a hard ride. There was something about the quirk of the lips and the clean beauty of the cheekbones that reminded me of Mrs. Selwick-Alderly. But where her good looks were a thing of elegance, like a finely carved piece of ivory, this man was as vibrantly alive as the sun on his hair or the horse beneath his arm. He smiled out of the photo with such complicit good humor—as if he and the viewer shared some sort of delightful joke—that it was impossible not to smile back.
Which was exactly what I was doing when my hostess returned with a plate filled with chocolate-covered biscuits.
I started guiltily, as though I had been caught out in some embarrassing intimacy.
Mrs. Selwick-Alderly placed the biscuits next to the tea tray. “I see you’ve found the photos. There is something irresistible about other peoples’ pictures, isn’t there?”
I joined her on the couch, setting my damp herringbone derriere gingerly on the very edge of a flowered cushion. “It’s so much easier to make up stories about people you don’t know,” I temporized. “Especially older pictures. You wonder what their lives were like, what happened to them. . . .”
“That’s part of the fascination of history, isn’t it?” she said, applying herself to the teapot. Over the rituals of the tea table, the choice of milk or sugar, the passing of biscuits and cutting of cake, we slipped into an easy discussion of English history, and the awkward moment passed.
At Mrs. Selwick-Alderly’s gentle prompting, I found myself rambling on about how I’d become interested in history (too many historical novels at an impressionable age), the politics of the Harvard history department (too complicated to even begin to go into), and why I’d decided to come to England. When the conversation began to verge onto what had gone wrong with Grant (everything), I hastily changed the subject, asking Mrs. Selwick-Alderly if she had heard any stories about the nineteenth-century spies as a small child.
“Oh, dear, yes!” Mrs. Selwick-Alderly smiled nostalgically into her teacup. “I spent a large part of my youth playing spy with my cousins. We would take it in turns to be the Purple Gentian and the Pink Carnation. My cousin Charles always insisted on playing Delaroche, the evil French operative. The French accent that boy affected! It put Maurice Chevalier to shame. After all these years, it still makes me laugh just to think of it. He would paint on an extravagant mustache—in those days, all the best villains had mustaches—and put on a cloak made out of one of Mother’s old wraps, and storm up and down the lawn, shaking his fist and swearing vengeance against the Pink Carnation.”
“Who was your favorite character?” I asked, charmed by the image.
“Why, the Pink Carnation, of course.”
We smiled over the rims of our teacups in complete complicity.
“But you have an added interest in the Pink Carnation,” Mrs. Selwick-Alderly said meaningfully. “Your dissertation, wasn’t it?”
“Oh! Yes! My dissertation!” I outlined the work I had done so far: the chapters on the Scarlet Pimpernel’s missions, the Purple Gentian’s disguises, the little I had been able to discover about the way they ran their leagues.
“But I haven’t been able to find anything at all about the Pink Carnation,” I finished. “I’ve read the old newspaper accounts, of course, so I know about the Pink Carnation’s more spectacular missions, but that’s it.”
“What had you hoped to find?”
I stared sheepishly down into my tea. “Oh, every historian’s dream. An overlooked manuscript entitled, How I Became the Pink Carnation and Why. Or I’d settle for a hint of his identity in a letter or a War Office report. Just something to give me some idea of where to look next.”
“I think I may be able to help you.” A slight smile lurked about Mrs. Selwick-Alderly’s lips.
“Really?” I perked up—literally. I sat so bolt upright that my teacup nearly toppled off my lap. “Are there family stories?”
Mrs. Selwick-Alderly’s faded blue eyes twinkled. She leaned forward conspiratorially. “Better.”
Possibilities were flying through my mind. An old letter, perhaps, or a deathbed message passed along from Selwick to Selwick, with Mrs. Selwick-Alderly the current keeper of the trust. But, then, if there were a Selwick Family Secret, why would she tell me? I abandoned imagination for the hope of reality. “What is it?” I asked breathlessly.
Mrs. Selwick-Alderly rose from the sofa with effortless grace. Setting her teacup down on the coffee table, she beckoned me to follow. “Come see.”
I divested myself of my teacup with a clatter, and eagerly followed her towards the twin windows that looked onto the square. Between the windows hung two small portrait miniatures, and for a disappointed moment, I thought she meant merely to lead me to the pictures—there didn’t seem to be anything else that might warrant attention. A small octagonal table to the right of the windows bore a pink-shaded lamp and a china candy dish, but little else. To the left, a row of bookcases lined the back of the room, but Mrs. Selwick-Alderly didn’t so much as glance in that direction.
Instead, she knelt before a large trunk that sat directly beneath the portrait miniatures. I’ve never been into domestic art, or material history, or whatever they’re calling it, but I’d spent enough afternoons loafing around the British galleries of the Victoria and Albert to recognize it as early eighteenth century, or an extraordinarily good reproduction. Different-colored woods marked out fanciful patterns of flowers and birds across the lid of the trunk, while a large tree of paradise adorned the center.
Mrs. Selwick-Alderly withdrew an elaborate key from her pocket.
“In this trunk,” she held the key poised before the lock, “lies the true identity of the Pink Carnation.”
Stooping, Mrs. Selwick-Alderly fitted the key—almost as ornately constructed as the chest itself, with the end twisted into elaborate curlicues—into the brass-bound lock. The lid sprang open with well-oiled ease. I joined Mrs. Selwick-Alderly on the floor, without even realizing how I’d gotten there.
My first glance was a disappointing one. Not a paper in sight, not even the scrap of a forgotten love letter. Instead, my sweeping gaze took in the faded ivory of an old fan, a yellowed scrap of embroidered cloth, the skeletal remains of a bouquet still bound with a tattered ribbon. There were other such trinkets, but I didn’t take much notice as I sank down onto my haunches beside the trunk.
But Mrs. Selwick-Alderly wasn’t finished. Deliberately, she eased one blue-veined hand along either side of the velvet lining and tugged. The top tray slid easily out of its supports. Within . . . I was back on my knees, hands gripping the edge of the trunk.
“This . . . it’s amazing!” I stuttered. “Are these all . . . ?”
“All early nineteenth century,” Mrs. Selwick-Alderly finished for me, regarding the contents of the trunk fondly. “They’ve all been sorted by chronological order, so you should find it easy going.” She reached into the trunk, picked up a folio, and then put it aside with a muttered “That won’t do.” After a moment’s peering into the trunk and making the occasional clucking noise, she seized on a rectangular packet, one of those special acid-free cardboard boxes they use to protect old library books.
“You’d best start here,” she advised, “with Amy.”
“Amy?” I asked, picking at the string binding the box together.
Mrs. Selwick-Alderly started to respond, and then checked herself, rising to her feet with the help of the edge of the box.
“These letters tell the tale far better than I could.” She cut off my incoherent questions with a kindly, “If you need anything, I’ll be in my study. It’s just down the hall to the right.”
“But, who is he?” I pleaded, pivoting after her as she walked towards the door. “The Pink Carnation?”
“Read and see. . . .” Mrs. Selwick-Alderly’s voice drifted behind her through the open door.
Urgh. Gnawing on my lower lip, I stared down at the manuscript box in my hands. The gray cardboard was smooth and clean beneath my fingers; unlike the battered, dusty old boxes in the stacks of Widener Library, someone cared for these papers well. The identity of the Pink Carnation. Did she really mean it?
I should have been tearing at the twine that bound the box, but there was something about the waiting stillness of the room, broken only by the occasional crackle of burning bark upon the grate, that barred abrupt movement. I could almost feel the portrait miniatures on the wall straining to peer over my shoulder.
Besides, I counseled myself, mechanically unwinding the string, I shouldn’t let myself get too excited. Mrs. Selwick-Alderly might be exaggerating. Or mad. True, she didn’t look mad, but maybe her delusion took the form of thinking she held the key to the identity of the Pink Carnation. I would open the box to find it contained a stack of Beatles lyrics or amateur poetry.
The last loop of string came free. The cardboard flap fell open, revealing a pile of yellowed papers. The date on the first letter, in a scrawling, uneven hand, read 4 march, 1803.
Not amateur poetry.
Dizzy with excitement, I flipped through the thick packet of papers. Some were in better condition than others; in places, ink had run, or lines had been lost in folds. Hints of reddish sealing wax clung to the edges of some, while others had lost corners to the depredations of time and the clutching fingers of eager readers. Some were written in a bold black hand, others in a spiky copperplate, and many in a barely legible scribble. But they all had one thing in common; they were all dated 1803. Phrases rose out of the sea of squiggles as I thumbed through . . . “provoking man . . . brother would never. . . .”
I forced myself to return to the first page. Sinking down onto the carpet before the fire, I adjusted my skirt, refreshed my cold cup of tea, and began to read the first letter. It was written in ungrammatical French, and I translated as I read.
“4 March, 1803. Dear Sister—With the end of the late hostilities, I find myself at last in a position to urge you to return to your rightful place in the House of Balcourt. . . .”
“ . . . The city of your birth awaits your return. Please send word of your travel arrangements by courier at first opportunity. I remain, your devoted brother, Edouard.”
“The city of your birth awaits your return.” Amy whispered the words aloud.
At last! Fingers tightening around the paper in her hands, she gazed rapturously at the sky. For an event of such magnitude, she expected bolts of lightning, or thunderclouds at the very least. But the Shropshire sky gazed calmly back at her, utterly unperturbed by the momentous events taking place below.
Wasn’t that just like Shropshire?
Sinking to the grass, Amy contemplated the place where she had spent the majority of her life. Behind her, over the rolling fields, the redbrick manor house sat placidly on its rise. Uncle Bertrand was sure to be right there, three windows from the left, sitting in his cracked leather chair, poring over the latest findings of the Royal Agricultural Society, just as he did every day. Aunt Prudence would be sitting in the yellow-and-cream morning room, squinting over her embroidery threads, just as she did every day. All peaceful, and bucolic, and boring.
The prospect before her wasn’t any more exciting, nothing but long swaths of green, enlivened only by woolly balls of sheep.
But now, at last, the long years of boredom were at an end. In her hand she grasped the opportunity to leave Wooliston Manor and its pampered flock behind her forever. She would no longer be plain Amy Balcourt, niece to the most ambitious sheep breeder in Shropshire, but Aimée, Mlle. de Balcourt. Amy conveniently ignored the fact that revolutionary France had banished titles when they beheaded their nobility.
She had been six years old when revolution exiled her to rural England. In late May of 1789, she and Mama had sailed across the Channel for what was meant to be merely a two-month visit, time enough for Mama to see her sisters and show her daughter something of English ways. For all the years she had spent in France, Mama was still an Englishwoman at heart.
Uncle Bertrand, sporting a slightly askew periwig, had strode out to meet them. Behind him stood Aunt Prudence, embroidery hoop clutched in her hand. Clustered in the doorway were three little girls in identical muslin dresses, Amy’s cousins Sophia, Jane, and Agnes. “See, darling,” whispered Mama. “You shall have other little girls to play with. Won’t that be lovely?”
It wasn’t lovely. Agnes, still in the lisping and stumbling stage, was too young to be a playmate. Sophia spent all of her time bent virtuously over her sampler. Jane, quiet and shy, Amy dismissed as a poor-spirited thing. Even the sheep soon lost their charm. Within a month, Amy was quite ready to return to France. She packed her little trunk, heaved and pushed it down the hall to her mother’s room, and announced that she was prepared to go.
Mama had half-smiled, but her smile twisted into a sob. She plucked her daughter off the trunk and squeezed her very, very tightly.
“Mais, maman, qu’est-ce que se passe?” demanded Amy, who still thought in French in those days.
“We can’t go back, darling. Not now. I don’t know if we’ll ever . . . Oh, your poor father! Poor us! And Edouard, what must they be doing to him?”
Amy didn’t know who they were, but remembering the way Edouard had yanked at her curls and pinched her arm while supposedly hugging her good-bye, she couldn’t help but think her brother deserved anything he got. She said as much to Mama.
Mama looked down at her miserably. “Oh no, darling, not this. Nobody deserves this.” Very slowly, in between deep breaths, she had explained to Amy that mobs had taken over Paris, that the king and queen were prisoners, and that Papa and Edouard were very much in danger.
Over the next few months, Wooliston Manor became the unlikely center of an antirevolutionary movement. Everyone pored over the weekly papers, wincing at news of atrocities across the Channel. Mama ruined quill after quill penning desperate letters to connections in France, London, Austria. When the Scarlet Pimpernel appeared on the scene, snatching aristocrats from the sharp embrace of Madame Guillotine, Mama brimmed over with fresh hope. She peppered every news sheet within a hundred miles of London with advertisements begging the Scarlet Pimpernel to save her son and husband.
Amidst all this hubbub, Amy lay awake at night in the nursery, wishing she were old enough to go back to France herself and save Papa. She would go disguised, of course, since everyone knew a proper rescue had to be done in disguise. When no one was about, Amy would creep down to the servants’ quarters to try on their clothes and practice speaking in the rough, peasant French of the countryside. If anyone happened upon her, Amy explained that she was preparing amateur theatricals. With so much to worry about, none of the grown-ups who absently said, “How nice, dear,” and patted her on the head ever bothered to wonder why the promised performance never materialized.
Except Jane. When Jane came upon Amy clad in an assortment of old petticoats from the ragbag and a discarded periwig of Uncle Bertrand’s, Amy huffily informed her that she was rehearsing for a one-woman production of Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Jane regarded her thoughtfully. Half apologetically, she said, “I don’t think you’re telling the truth.”
Unable to think of a crushing response, Amy just glared. Jane clutched her rag doll tighter, but managed to ask, “Please, won’t you tell me what you’re really doing?”
“You won’t tell Mama or any of the others?” Amy tried to look suitably fierce, but the effect was quite ruined by her periwig sliding askew and dangling from one ear.
Jane hastily nodded.
“I,” declared Amy importantly, “am going to join the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel and rescue Papa.”
Jane pondered this new information, doll dangling forgotten from one hand.
“May I help?” she asked.
Her cousin’s unexpected aid proved a boon to Amy. It was Jane who figured out how to rub soot and gum on teeth to make them look like those of a desiccated old hag—and then how to rub it all off again before Nanny saw. It was Jane who plotted a route to France on the nursery globe and Jane who discovered a way to creep down the back stairs without making them creak.
They never had the chance to execute their plans. Little beknownst to the two small girls preparing themselves to enter his service, the Scarlet Pimpernel foolishly attempted the rescue of the Vicomte de Balcourt without them. From the papers, Amy learned that the Pimpernel had spirited Papa out of prison disguised as a cask of cheap red wine. The rescue might have gone without a hitch had a thirsty guard at the gates of the city not insisted on tapping the cask. When he encountered Papa instead of Beaujolais, the guard angrily sounded the alert. Papa, the papers claimed, had fought manfully, but he was no match for an entire troop of revolutionary soldiers. A week later, a small card had arrived for Mama. It said simply, “I’m sorry,” and was signed with a scarlet flower.
The news sent Mama into a decline and Amy into a fury. With Jane as her witness, she vowed to avenge Papa and Mama as soon as she was old enough to return to France. She would need excellent French for that, and Amy could already feel her native tongue beginning to slip away under the onslaught of constant English conversation. At first, she tried conversing in French with their governesses, but those worthy ladies tended to have a vocabulary limited to shades of cloth and the newest types of millinery. So Amy took her Molière outside and read aloud to the sheep.
Latin and Greek would do her no good in her mission, but Amy read them anyway, in memory of Papa. Papa had told her nightly bedtime stories of capricious gods and vengeful goddesses; Amy tracked all his stories down among the books in the little-used library at Wooliston Manor. Uncle Bertrand’s own taste ran more towards manuals on animal husbandry, but someone in the family must have read once, because the library possessed quite a creditable collection of classics. Amy read Ovid and Virgil and Aristophanes and Homer. She read dry histories and scandalous love poetry (her governesses, who had little Latin and less Greek, naively assumed that anything in a classical tongue must be respectable), but mostly she returned again and again to The Odyssey. Odysseus had fought to go home, and so would Amy.
When Amy was ten, the illustrated newsletters announced that the Scarlet Pimpernel had retired upon discovery of his identity—although the newsletters were rather unclear as to whether they or the French government had been the first to get the scoop. SCARLET PIMPERNEL UNMASKED! proclaimed the Shropshire Intelligencer. Meanwhile The Cosmopolitan Lady’s Book carried a ten-page spread on “Fashions of the Scarlet Pimpernel: Costume Tips from the Man Who Brought You the French Aristocracy.”
Amy was devastated. True, the Pimpernel had botched her father’s rescue, but, on the whole, his tally of aristocrats saved was quite impressive, and who on earth was she to offer her French language skills to if the Pimpernel retired? Amy was all ready to start constructing her own band when a line in the article in the Shropshire Intelligencer caught her eye. “I have every faith that the Purple Gentian will take up where I was forced to leave off,” they reported Sir Percy as saying.
Puzzled, Amy shoved the paper at Jane. “Who is the Purple Gentian?”
The same question was on everyone else’s lips. Soon the Purple Gentian became a regular feature in the news sheets. One week, he spirited fifteen aristocrats out of Paris as a traveling circus. The Purple Gentian, it was whispered, had played the dancing bear. Why, some said Robespierre himself had patted the animal on the head, never knowing it was his greatest enemy! When France stopped killing its aristocrats and directed its attention to fighting England instead, the Purple Gentian became the War Office’s most reliable spy.
“This victory would never have happened, but for the bravery of one man—one man represented by a small purple flower,” Admiral Nelson announced after destroying the French fleet in Egypt.
English and French alike were united in their burning curiosity to learn the identity of the Purple Gentian. Speculation ran rife on both sides of the Channel. Some claimed the Purple Gentian was an English aristocrat, a darling of the London ton like Sir Percy Blakeney. Indeed, some said he was Sir Percy Blakeney, fooling the foolish French by returning under a different name. London gossip named everyone from Beau Brummel (on the grounds that no one could genuinely be that interested in fashion) to the Prince of Wales’s dissolute brother, the Duke of York. Others declared that the Purple Gentian must be an exiled French noble, fighting for his homeland. Some said he was a soldier; others said he was a renegade priest. The French just said he was a damned nuisance. Or they would have, had they the good fortune to speak English. Instead, being French, they were forced to say it in their own language.
Amy said he was her hero.
She only said it to Jane, of course. All of the old plans were revived, only this time it was the League of the Purple Gentian to whom Amy planned to offer her services.
But the years went by, Amy remained in Shropshire, and the only masked man she saw was her small cousin Ned playing at being a highwayman. At times Amy considered running away to Paris, but how would she even get there? With war raging between England and France, normal travel across the Channel had been disrupted. Amy began to despair of ever reaching France, much less finding the Purple Gentian. She envisioned a dreary future of pastoral peace.
Until Edouard’s letter.
“I thought I’d find you here.”
“What?” Amy was jolted out of her blissful contemplation of Edouard’s letter, as a blue flounce brushed against her arm.
A basket of wildflowers on Jane’s arm testified to a walk along the grounds, but she bore no sign of outdoors exertion. No creases dared to settle in the folds of her muslin dress; her pale brown hair remained obediently coiled at the base of her neck; and even the loops of the bow holding her bonnet were remarkably even. Aside from a bit of windburn on her pale cheeks, she might have been sitting in the parlor all afternoon.
“Mama has been looking all over for you. She wants to know what you did with her skein of rose-pink embroidery silk.”
“What makes her think I have it? Besides,” Amy cut off what looked to be a highly logical response from Jane with a wave of Edouard’s letter, “who can think of embroidery silks when this just arrived?”
“A letter? Not another love poem from Derek?”
“Ugh!” Amy shuddered dramatically. “Really, Jane! What a vile thought! No,” she leaned forward, lowering her voice dramatically, “it’s a letter from Edouard.”
“Edward?” Jane, being Jane, automatically gave the name its English pronunciation. “So he has finally deigned to remember your existence after all these years?”
“Oh, Jane, don’t be harsh! He wants me to go live with him!”
Jane dropped her basket of flowers.
“You can’t be serious, Amy!”
“But I am! Isn’t it glorious!” Amy joined her cousin in gathering up scattered blooms, piling them willy-nilly back in the basket with more enthusiasm than grace.
“What exactly does Edward’s letter say?”
“It’s splendid, Jane! Now that we’re no longer at war, he says it’s finally safe for me to come back. He says he wants me to act as hostess for him.”
“But are you sure it’s safe?” Jane’s gray eyes darkened with concern.
Amy laughed. “It’s not all screaming mobs, Jane. After all, Bonaparte has been consul for—how long has it been? Three years now? Actually, that’s exactly why Edouard wants me there. Bonaparte is desperately trying to make his jumped-up, murderous, usurping government look legitimate . . .”
“Not that you’re at all biased,” murmured Jane.
“. . . so he’s been courting the old nobility,” Amy went on, pointedly ignoring her cousin’s comment. “But the courting has mostly been going on through his wife Josephine—she has a salon for the ladies of the old regime—so Edouard needs me to be his entrée.”
“To that jumped-up, murderous, usurping government?” Jane’s voice was politely quizzical.
Amy tossed a daisy at her in annoyance. “Make fun all you like, Jane! Don’t you see? This is exactly the opportunity I needed!”
“To become the belle of Bonaparte’s court?”
Amy forbore to waste another flower. “No.” She clasped her hands, eyes gleaming. “To join the League of the Purple Gentian!”
Excerpted from "The Secret History of the Pink Carnation"
Copyright © 2010 Lauren Willig.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
"Lauren Willig balances her knowledge of English history with a veritable passion for English spies, turning out a deftly hilarious, sexy novel." —Eloisa James, author of Kiss Me, Annabel
"In her swashbuckling debut...Willig reimagines France under Napoleon besieged by a whole bouquet of spying floral foes...Bad news for the Bonapartes but barrels of good-natured fun for the rest of us." —Library Journal
"A juicy mystery...Chick-lit never had it so good!" —Complete Woman
"[A] breezy historical romance... The sparks fly." —Publishers Weekly
"[A] playful romp…effervescent prose... A sexy [and] determined-to-charm historical-romance debut." —Kirkus Reviews
Heart to Heart Interview with Lauren WilligHeart to Heart: When you told your Harvard Ph.D. adviser that you wanted to use your degree in history to write historically accurate women's fiction, what was his response? Lauren Willig: Not only did I tell my adviser, I published it in the History Department face book! The blurb next to my picture reads, "I can think of no better path than a graduate degree in English history to realize my burning ambition -- to write historically accurate romance novels." Subtlety has never been my strong point. One of my closest friends in the department beat me to telling my adviser about the publication of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation earlier this year. While I was unfortunately not present for this, I have it on the best authority that he toppled off his chair. Upon being reminded of my early warnings, he looked confused (which could have been in part a result of that unfortunate fall from the chair), and sputtered, "But -- she was joking! Wasn't she?" to which my friend replied with great relish, "Apparently not." It's the classic case of the purloined letter: Say something loudly enough, often enough, and no one pays the slightest bit of attention to it. HtoH: We know your character's thesis topic in The Pink Carnation -- aristocratic espionage during the wars with France 1780-1815 -- but how about your own? And have you finished your graduate studies? LW: My own dissertation, which is still in the works, is about royalists of a different sort, the dashing Cavaliers who fought for King Charles I in the English Civil War. Like their later counterparts, they have an endearing habit of skulking around dark taverns, engaging in improbable disguises (my favorite being the sneaking of the Duke of York out of London dressed as "a rather pretty girl"), and smuggling each other secret letters ending with, "Do not fail to burn this letter!" which they inevitably fail to burn. Don't even get me started on the time Charles I got stuck in a window while trying to escape from the Isle of Wight (the royal shoulders were just that little bit too broad). Since my scholarly work is concentrated in the 16th and 17th centuries, I tend to wander over to the 18th and early 19th centuries for entertainment, where I can stroll through Vauxhall, spar with gentlemen highwaymen, and make snide comments about Napoleon. HtoH: When did you get hooked on historical fiction? What are some of your favorites? LW: It's hard to remember a time when I haven't been hooked on historical fiction! Before I learned to read, my favorite book was an illustrated version of The Three Musketeers, featuring a very dashing D'Artagnan in a plumed hat. When I was six, my father rashly gave me E. L. Konigsburg's A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, sparking an epic Eleanor of Aquitaine obsession. To assuage my demands for more about Eleanor, he provided me with my first historical novel, Mary Lide's Ann of Cambray, in which Eleanor had a cameo role. That was it; I was hooked. It would be impossible to name an out-and-out favorite book, but I have my own private pantheon of authors. Judith McNaught's Almost Heaven reigned supreme for most of upper school, and still gets pulled from my shelf at moments of extreme duress. Every single one of M. M. Kaye's epics has taken its turn as favorite, along with that all-time romantic classic, Gone with the Wind. At the time I began The Pink Carnation, I was greedily devouring everything I could get my hands on by Julia Quinn. I covet Georgette Heyer's comic side characters and masterful command of period idiom. While living in England, I discovered chick lit and formed an addiction to Melissa Nathan, Elizabeth Young, and Clare Naylor. More recently, I've been reading a great deal of Gaelen Foley, Eloisa James, and Jo Beverley. HtoH: Please tell us there's a sequel in the works that will focus on the contemporary characters, Eloise and Colin -- and are you writing it now? Does it involve another historical mystery? LW: Although Eloise and Colin's story continues, the next book, The Masque of the Black Tulip, really belongs to Henrietta Selwick and Miles Dorrington, the Purple Gentian's little sister and best friend. Over the course of writing The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, it became blindingly clear that Henrietta and Miles were absolutely Meant for Each Other -- and equally clear that they were sure to fight it every step of the way, a combination dear to a novelist's heart. I'm happy to say they've proved me right. I would hug both of them if I weren't afraid of a) paper cuts and b) being carted off to a funny farm reserved especially for writers who become convinced that their characters are real human beings.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Wait... I know this feeling... it feels like... disappointment. I actually spent twenty dollars on this? What the heck? Okay, so I don't mind the whole romantic relationship thing, but come on! The author spent so much time describing the love/hate relationships, that she almost spent no time at all on the acclaimed Pink Carnation. And to top it all off, I hated Amy. Sure, her brave and spunky, independent spirit was admirable but she's so impulsive and immature and just totally, 'Oh my gosh. That guy is, like, so hateful. But then again, he's the sexiest babe ever.' And the 'spicy' scenes were so outrageously scadalous it made me sick. Let's do it in the middle of the boat and in my arch enemy's room and out smack dab in the open of the courtyard. What. The. Crap. The only character I actually like is Jane who really deserved to be the main character of the story. Guh... *headbash* It's an unsolved case why this book wasn't placed in the romance section. If you're looking for historical thrill, action and adventure, you're in for a disappointment since all there is, is just hardcore love. But if you like that sort of stuff, go for it.
I read many reveiws, some good and some bad. I think by reading the reviews I was able to prepare myself and not set up so many expectations. I did really enjoy the book. It did not have a lot of depth and was similar to many romance novels that I have read but was a very fun read altogether. I plan on reading the other novels in this series because of how much I enjoyed. You do get wisked away to another world while reading this book.
Dashing masked and cloaked hero meets witty, resourceful heroine with a desire to defeat Napoleon and a dislike of sheep. If you like Julia Quinn, you will love Lauren Willig. The entire series is great
Look, as a romance, it's adequate. As a historical novel, it's literary-lite. Which is fine, but that's not how this book is marketed at all! After the initial intriguing hoopla, I bought this book and have only gotten around to reading it after about a year. And I'm wondering to myself, is THIS what that was all about? Granted, the situations were charming, albeit quite silly, but the heroine was just plain stupid and she irritated me.
Harvard graduate student Eloise Kelly is writing her thesis on the early nineteenth century dashingly romantic English spies the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Purple Gentian, and especially the Pink Carnation. The first two were unmasked by Napoleon¿s agents as Sir Percy Blakeney and Lord Richard Selwick, but the identity of the Pink Carnation never was revealed. Eloise receives a grant to research her dissertation in England, so she ends her relationship with her boyfriend made easier when she caught him in the cloakroom with an art historian major.--- Eloise believes that the Pink Carnation is somehow related to the Selwick family of the Purple Gentian fame. She visits Mrs. Arabella Selwick-Alderly at Selwick Hall, who provides her with access to a large trunk filled with family letters from the Napoleonic era. Arabella suggests that Eloise start with the intriguing account of Amy Balcourt on a trip to Paris in 1803 where she meets Richard Selwick. As Amy and Richard play spy counter spy they share in common efforts to keep Napoleon from invading England and a growing attraction. Meanwhile in the present, Eloise plays historical spy counterspy with Colin Selwick, but where this romance will go only time will tell.--- This entreating tale occurs in two time periods with the brunt of the story line happening in the early nineteenth century. Readers will enjoy the Regency era gender battle between two fine protagonists yet also appreciate that this is being fed to the audience via present day characters in a chick lit setting. Though how easily she attains the letters seem odd as no outsider had access before, the dual themes merge into a finely blended fabulous romance.--- Harriet Klausner
I’ve been meaning to read this series by Lauren Willig for a long time but, as always, other books got in the way. Now that I read historical romance almost exclusively, this seemed a perfect candidate for an audio listen. And with the lovely voice of Kate Reading narrating, I couldn’t go wrong. I love stories within stories and this one is reminiscent of Possession by A. S. Byatt with its present day juxtaposed with historical events of the past. Eloise Kelly is a Harvard PhD history student researching the history of the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian, two spies who saved England during the Napoleonic Wars, however, when she travels to England and discovers a veritable treasure-trove of old family letters in the Selwick-Alderly estate, she gets a lead on another spy: the Pink Carnation. In the present day, Eloise spars with the gorgeous Selwick heir, Colin, who is intent on keeping the family history secret but with his aunt’s blessing, Eloise gains access to amazing finds. I like how Kate Reading perfectly captures Eloise’s strong American accent—not nearly as refined as the lovely British accent, of course, which is why I sort of cringe when I hear Kate Reading narrating the difference—and then goes immediately back to Colin’s British accent. It’s difficult and challenging and Reading does a marvelous job. In 1803, Amy Balcourt is a feisty, impatient, and very restless young woman, a native of France who escaped during the Revolution when she was a young girl. Her parents were not so lucky. Now living in England, she longs to go back to her homeland and visit her brother, Eduoard. When a brief truce allows this, she jumps at the chance and convinces her aunt and uncle to let her travel with her sensible cousin, Jane, where she will also try to discover the identity of the Purple Gentian. On the packet to Calais, however, she meets the debonair and cynical Richard Selwick. He’s a spy for England but he can’t tell Amy that. Sparks of attraction fly that both try to deny and their paths cross once they are in France. The love story between Amy and Richard is well done with strong sexual energy permeating the narration. At times, however, I thought Amy seemed really immature despite her sometimes foolish bravado. Her rash and impulsive actions often land her in hot water and Richard must save her. The present day sparring between Eloise and Colin promises to continue in future books in the series. Colin comes across as mysterious and sexy while Eloise seems a crass American at times. Stereotypical American? Perhaps. This is an edge-of-your-seat kind of story and an enjoyable debut.
Stating the honest truth: I did not finish this book. I couldn’t! The premise is there (it had previously been written) but the story and execution fall short. The whole thing was entirely too slow and I was overwhelmingly bored with the story. I just HAD to stop. The characters were simply ludicrous. Why would some random senseless girl suddenly have the bright idea to go and ask the surviving ancestors about the Pink Carnation when hundreds of scholars just failed to even comprehend that idea? The whole idea just is unfathomable to me. Every fiber of my being screamed that Lord Richard should not have survived, to invade the French Secret service with how incompetent he was was a miracle in itself. He was like a bull in a China shop, how did he manage NOT to get caught?!?! Maybe one day I’ll manage to pick this up again and get through it . . . maybe.
I picked up this book on CD for when I was traveling by car between California and Texas, a long ride. I was not disappointed in the story itself as created by Laura Willig. A history major, Ms. Willig had a dream of writing historically accurate fiction, and I believe that she has done that, but I am not as interested in the precise historical accuracy of the story line, as I am in the story itself. I enjoyed every minute of that! What made the book for me on this trip, however, was the reader, Kate Reading. Ms. Reading brought the characters and the story line to life with her dramatic flare and use of voices in different registers, no mean accomplishment. Just reading the book aloud well would not have done it without her ability to infuse it with meaning and interest. It led me to buy all of the other books on CD in the series, and now I have all the hardback books as well. Laura Willig and Kate Reading make an unbeatable combination for a book on CD! Let's face it, without a good story to begin with, this series would not have this appeal for me.
This the first of Willig's novels that I have read. I couldn't put it down! I was thrilled with the book and can't wait to get the next book. I recommend this one to anyone that loves historical romance.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is one of my favorites. Naturally, I was drawn to a series about others during that time. The first book is wonderful. They only get better for the most part. Willig sets the reader up for a whole slew of interwoven stories that she must've been planning the entire time she was writing this.
I knew that this was chick lit when I started the book, so it didn't come as a surprise. In any case, the general storyline was fun, even though the silly character of the heroine made me raise an eyebrow plenty of times. The final surprise about who really was the Pink Carnation didn't come at all as a surprise. Overall, the lack of depth in the plot is exasperating. Would I read one of Willig's books again. Probably yes, in a "my brain needs a rest" period. Would I recommend it to anybody: oh, no.
Eloise is working on her dissertation, and she's always been fascinated with enigmas like the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Purple Gentian, and the Pink Carnation. The identity of the first two have long been unmasked, but her hope is to come across something in the archives that will reveal the long-debated identity of the Pink Carnation. In the course of her search, a descendant of the Purple Gentian gives her unprecedented access to family papers, which contain the story of the origins of the Pink Carnation.Most of the story, in fact, is set during 1803, when Amy Balcourt returns to France (she is half-French, half English) to try to meet the Purple Gentian and assist him in his fight against Napoleon. I am a moody reader and what I, apparently, was in the mood for when I picked up this book was pure, unadulterated fluff. Oh, don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it and would probably read it again. The characters were engaging and the romance aspect of the story amusing. Don't expect to find accurate historical fiction, however. History bends to serve the purpose of the narrative in more ways than one. The plot twists were not unexpected; in fact, I'd already guessed elements of the past and present story lines far before they were made explicit in the narration. Despite these facts, it was precisely the story I was in the mood for, and I enjoyed every unbelievable minute of it.
I am all for comedic books and light reads, and regency romances...but this one is just plain silly. Based on the premise, I expected a tale of intrigue, romance and danger. What I got was a tale of idiocy, sex and bumbling. The present-day Harvard student and the 1803 "well-bred" lady who traipses about like a street urchin and practically loses her virginity on a canal boat in front of a boatman without even a second thought think the same, speak the same and act the same. The only reason that this book can be said to be set in 1803 is because Amy didn't have an airplane or a car, and because the author kept beating us over the head with famous people of the time with whom the heroine could interact (One of whom she admittedly fudged into the story a year too early). I felt throughout the book as though the author doubted my ability to understand her and therefore had to simplify things to the point of inanity. Although, this book got enough good reviews that I suppose Ms. Willig has her audience. I certainly won't hang around for the sequel!My suggestions to the author:1. Your readers are not 12-year-olds2. Read a book of Regency etiquette if you are going to write about it3. Don't lure your readers to your book by talking of intriguing subjects such as the Scarlet Pimpernel and then leave them hanging without the return on the promises it suggests.4. You lost me completely when the heroine said "Argh"I gave this two stars because I actually finished it, and because the author used the word "Pulchitrudinous" more than once, even if it was parodically.
Loved it. I needed a break from all the dark, weighty books and the nightly news. The couple reminded me of Nick and Nora from "The Thin Man" with the bickering and her wanting in on the excitement.
Summary: Grad student Eloise Kelly knows what she wants to write her thesis about: the true identity of the Pink Carnation, who, like the Scarlet Pimpernel and Purple Gentian, was a British spy in France during the Napoleonic wars, but who, unlike the other two men, has never had his identity revealed. Eloise stumbles upon a treasure trove of papers which she is told may hold the name of the Pink Carnation, but what she finds instead is a love story between Amy Balcourt, a feisty young woman who is determined to help the British cause against Napoleon, and Richard Selwick, the man who was known as the Purple Gentian.Review: This book was thoroughly, exceedingly silly, but still entirely entertaining. Let's be honest: it's got a lot of flaws, both in concept and execution, but at the same time, it kept my attention, kept me reading, and was a nice, light, thoroughly fluffy, funny good time.The main problem I had with the book was how thoroughly anachronistic it was, both in terms of dialogue and behavior. I'm not an expert on the Regency period by any means, but I know damn well that the vast majority of the situations in which Richard and Amy contrive to find themselves would never, ever have happened. A young lady of high society arranging a midnight meeting with a man she's never met in a public park? Right. That selfsame lady getting to third base on the floor of a rowboat crossing the Seine? Not a chance, no matter how impulsive she is. Amy frequently behaves like an rather slow child, or at best an impetuous 14-year-old, rather than the 20-year-old she is (and this in an age where many 20 year old women were already married with a kid or two), and I had to frequently remind myself that Robert wasn't being inappropriately gross and creepy by lusting after her. (At least not based on their age difference. Based on how incapable Robert seemed to be of holding a single other thought in his head when he was around her, his attraction to her was certainly ill-advised and incompatible with his espionage activities.)I wasn't crazy about the framing plot, either. Chick lit is just not my genre of choice, and the framing story is thoroughly steeped in it (New rule: If you refer to an article of apparel, particularly shoes or handbags, by designer ("my Jimmy Choo boots"), then what you are writing is chick lit.) The male "romantic" "lead" in the framing story is your standard devastatingly handsome but curmudgeonly but with a soft gooey heart of gold Brit... Willig even names him "Colin", fer god's sake. And, while I'm okay with the framing device of a grad student pouring through old documents to introduce a historical plot, the abrupt switch from "Oh my goodness, look at these amazing papers and documents and letters and diaries and DOCUMENTS." to an omniscient third-person narrator in the historical sections left me wondering about the context, and about how much of what we were reading was actually available to Eloise. But despite not being clear about the context of the story, and despite wanting to give Amy a good slap and tell her to stop being a moron, AND despite figuring out the identity of the Pink Carnation very, very early on, I still kept reading, and I still enjoyed the book. As long as I was able to turn off the part of my brain that makes rational objections to all of the things mentioned above, this book was funny, and entertainingly racy, and a fun adventure romp. 3.5 out of 5 stars.Recommendation: If you like historical romances, or just need something light and appropriately guilty-pleasure-ish for an airplane or vacation read, or just to give your brain a break, this one was certainly fun to read, despite (or because of?) it being thoroughly silly fluff.
This was a fun story of spying in Napoleonic France. Eloise, a grad student, wants to uncover the identity of the Pink Carnation. She finally gets to see some long hidden family letters in hopes of unmasking him. The owner of the papers - Colin Selwick - is very reluctant to let her see them but his aunt makes them available. They include diaries of Amy Balcour and most of the story is in the past with Amy's adventures and Richard Selwick's as they spy on Napoleon and fall in love. Very humorous!
Eloise is a history student from Harvard spending a year in England doing research on English spies in France in the 19th century. She has a quest - to find information on the mysterious Pink Carnation, whose true identity was never revealed. Her last desperate effort to find something, anything, produces surprising and fascinating results as well as may be a possibility of a romance. If you are anything like me you'll enjoy this book. Ms. Willig blends historical romance and chick lit to create a page-turner of a story with fun characters and a mystery. I laughed out loud too many times to count and while the leads were an absolute delight the secondary characters kept stealing the spotlight. I did have trouble getting into the story but the pace picked up in the second third so I'm not complaining too much. Another thing that didn't always work for me is the language - it didn't really fit the Napoleonic era. I kept being distracted by modern turns of phrase and American spelling although the characters were all English. All in all this is a delightful read that did a wonderful job of distracting me from the tedium of the never-ending dishes-laundry-work rotation and put me in a good mood. I look forward to reading the next volume in the series!
It didn't take much brainpower to figure out where this plot was going, and yet I'm a little embarrassed to say I quite enjoyed the journey. Eloise Kelly is a history PhD student who is researching famous English spies of years gone by, The Scarlet Pimpernel, the Purple Gentian and the Pink Carnation. The book is set both in the present, as we read about Eloise's research, and England and France in the 1800s, when we read about the Purple Gentian and the eventual revelation of the identity of the Pink Carnation. A bit of a guilty pleasure ...
My review is based on a reread - as I continued to devour new entries in this addicting historical espionage romance saga, I decided to reread those books I hadn't yet reviewed. I waver between giving this book four stars and five. It is the first book in a series that I love, and is a great story and has fun characters as well, but it is not as good as others in the same series. Though the Pink Carnation is a decidedly fun romp, and was addicting enough to propel me further along the path of Willig novels, it is not quite up to par with her other books. The author has definitely improved over time.To begin with the many positive aspects of this book. Amy and Richard are a cute couple with great romantic tension. Amy is feisty and full of independence, even if she is seriously lacking in common sense. Her enthusiasm compensates for the many times she jumps into trouble. Actually, her naivete is part of her charm. Richard is the reformed rake, tall and handsome, and perfectly fulfills his role of swaggering yet debonair hero. I always imagine Errol Flynn when I read about him. They are drawn to each other immediately, but a series of misunderstanding, all built upon their double identities, forces them apart. Amy decides that she hates Richard, and he decides that his life is too dangerous for any distractions. Too bad they can't stop thinking about each other. On top of it all, Amy falls for Richard's secret identity, the Purple Gentian. The love story is light-hearted and delicious. Another positive aspect is Jane. I love Jane. In fact, I had forgotten how she became the Pink Carnation. I knew she carried the identity in later books, but since Amy and Richard are the central couple, they were the only ones that I remembered years later. How could I forget that Jane was Amy's cousin, and she was the one who actually had the skill, ingenuity, and intelligence for espionage? She loves her cousin Amy, and is willing to follow along with her plans, but she is much better suited for the game, and appropriately takes over when Amy returns to England. I am so glad that I remember how Jane became the Pink Carnation. Now on to the drawbacks that keep this book from being five stars. The espionage subplot is not as engaging as later volumes in the series. Amy's brother is secretly smuggling goods, along with the rogue Marston. Not nearly as high stake as other plot lines. Another irritation: I felt like I read a few too many romance cliches in one story. I also agree with other reviewers that the sex scenes are too much. I'm sure others might argue the other way - that the sex is too tame - but I'd rather have story than sex. I prefer romantic tension over drawn-out groping and love-making. Later books still deliver some naughty scenes, but they are more succinct. Also, although I thought Richard was charming, and a worthy hero, he isn't totally my type. I prefer Geoff and Augustus of later stories. These quibbles are enough to keep this from being a great story, but it certainly is a really good one, that I enjoyed. The series as a whole has served me as a wonderful escape from reality time after time. I am certainly glad Willig created this charming series of romantic reads.
What a fun (and anachronistic) romp! Written in the vein and spirit of Possession by A.S. Byatt but given a humorous tongue-in-cheek aspect along with a decidedly will not take itself seriously bent and intent to illustrate the absurdities of current everyday life added into the mix it does a fine job of perhaps not being recognized as a similar novel pre-text. I liked the characters (even if in reality Amy would have been a very badly brought up girl for her status from the English countryside - Jane [so far] is a much better example) Jane is a delight, Miss Gwen.. well what can one SAY about Miss Gwen other than to just utterly adore her? Mr. Stiles deserves a nod and a mention if only because he is entirely fun and possibly the closest character to the Scarlet Pimpernel in the entire book. The other characters all have their points as well (mustn't spoil!) I was slightly surprised at how utterly graphic some of the "hot n steamy" interludes got. ok !! [oh and the boatman was a howl.] Definitely no discreet drawing of the curtain or any other veiled references and letting the reader imagine what they will! I'm not one for romance books but.. whoa.. that ain't harlequin folks! The actual "Secret Of The Pink Carnation" I did guess shortly after we were introduced to the main cast of characters. But that didn't' lessen my enjoyment of the romp through Napoleonic France. Ms. Willig's portrayal of Joséphine de Beauharnais was also very well done in my opinion. I also liked her note at the end about taking serious liberties with history and highlighting some of what she'd done. The modern storyline had just about as much to offer. We all have our Pammy's (although hopefully not turning up with red leather bustiers!) and other such things happening in our lives. It was a nice touch of an American in London and the differences in living life. Oh and her "anti-compass" loved that part! Ms. Willig has confused actions, mores, and speech from the different periods, but it does not detract from what is a fun story. After-all it is "historical fiction" and written with a light humorous tongue-in-cheek touch that makes it all the more entertaining.
Eloise goes to England, looking for source materials to discover the identity of an English spy, the Pink Carnation, during the Napoleonic Era. As she reads journals and letters, the reader is transported into the times of the journals/letters writers' times/lives. This was funny, light-hearted, romantic, and full of rich historic detail and intrigue. I found it delightful!
I liked it, much resonance with the Scarlett Pimpernel. I liked the lead female in this too she was spirited. I am getting more and more interested in this series. I would suggest if you like historical mysteries and it does have a bit of romance.
I loved this book! I found it on the shelf at Borders, read the first page and was laughing in the store. It combines mystery, love, and history. It is everything I could ever ask for in a book, and now I am hooked on the series. At times there can be an overload on vocabulary, but it does add to the descriptive nature of the novel. I have been recommending this book to all of my friends and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, mystery, chick lit, and romance.
Who could not love that title. This book is such a wonderful mix of historical and modern day history that you don't want to put it down. When I picked this book up little did I know that it was the first in a series. And if you know me at all you know I'm a sucker for a series.
Written as a chick-lit, extra-bad "historical" fanfiction piece to Emmuska Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel, Lauren Willig provides not one but two insipid idiotic (Mary-Sue) "heroines". These spies are more interested in trite banter and tired slap-slap-kiss routines or in initiating sex scenes too cheesily full of "swoon"s to be accepted into a romance novel than actually doing any spy work. By the time I was halfway through this novel, I had long since dried my feminist tears and was actively hoping Napoleon would uncover our protagonists and execute them to spare the world from more of this horrific prose.