Friday, December 18, 2015

CBR 7 Review 5: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

“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.” 

I know you'll be shocked when you discover I'm reading yet another book that is part of a series (well, maybe you are - if you are only reading CBR7, you don't know my reading proclivities as yet). However, this is one that, while enjoyable, doesn't motivate me to continue the rest of the journey. It's probably just as well. While I'm a habitual reader of series, even to me, 12 is a *lot* of books. I do recommend you look at the list of titles Willig has come up with to keep to the Color Flower combo for the title characters - there is some serious struggle going on after awhile ( MIDNIGHT MANZANILLA??). That said, let's dive right in.

This story is set in one of my favorite formats, albeit less successfully so, which is that of the multiple time period structure. I'm a fan of my historical fiction being brought to me via a contemporary (or more contemporary than whatever they are finding out about). Eloise Kelly is our intrepid principle narrator, an American transplant in London pursuing her dissertation on The Scarlet Pimpernel and other spies like him. Eloise gets the opportunity to read some very interested documents held by the descendants of the Purple Gentian, documents that may finally reveal the identity of an even more elusive spy - The Pink Carnation. 

As Eloise reads, we are transported back in time to 1803 and three different narrators - Amy Balcourt, our heroine, Richard Selwick, the Purple Gentian himself, and, for reasons I'm still not really clear on, Delaroche, the vicious French police inspector. Through these people we learn of romance, intrigue, and, yes, the identity of the titular Pink Carnation. We are swept back to Eloise periodically, as she is challenged by the nephew of the woman who provides all these secret family documents. Colin is *not* pleased to be sharing family secrets, especially not to an American. Their conflict is the centerpiece to Eloise's portion of the story. The historical section is focused on Amy's discovery of the identity of the Purple Gentian (a thing we know from the start), and the English objective to subvert Bonaparte's intended invasion of Great Britain.

From a POV perspective, the only notable misstep is the inclusion of Delaroche. We don't need him. He's literary filler. The things revealed in his chapters don't provide more depth to his character, and the story points they uncover are better left either unsaid, or shown later as they come to pass. He's a mustache twirling kind of villain, and we don't care what he's thinking. The book would be tighter without it. I liked being in all the other perspectives, and appreciated that Eloise, Richard and Amy all had different voices to bring to the table. 

In terms of plot, nothing particularly revolutionary to uncover here. You know certain characters are safe by dint of history, and it's not even history you had to know ahead of time, as Eloise fills us in on enough to be certain of some things from the get go. Espionage and torture and the like are great when the stakes are higher. I never really felt like there was much to lose with these characters, which reduces the impact of the story. It's also not terribly hard to figure out the identity of the Pink Carnation if you care to look for it. Willig utilizes the normal mystery tool of red herrings, but they are unlikely to fool anyone.

All that said, it's still a fun romp through Bonaparte's France. There's reasonable set up for the sequel, in particular in the modern story, as Eloise sets off with Colin for a weekend at the family estate at book's end. I liked the characters, Richard in particular, and it was a fun, easy read. I'm just not invested enough to continue. However, that may not be true for you, so feel free to give this one a whirl and see if it grabs you! I've heard tell that the series gets progressively better, so if you've got the time and desire to see it through, more power to you. 

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