by Lauren Willig
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They seek him here, they seek him there.
The Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven, or in hell?
The damned elusive Pimpernel
Those four lines sparked my love of historical intrigue when I was twelve years old, and saw the remake of Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel on television, the version with Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymore. I fell so in love with the period, and the concept, that I bought a lorgnette (a monacle on a stick) and pestered my mother for calligraphy pens and sealing wax (I guess you can blame Sir Percy for my stationery fetish).
So, when I saw a display of Lauren Willig’s first novel The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, in Barnes and Noble several weeks ago, I knew, even before picking it up, that this was not a history of a flower, or even a normal romance novel, it would, in some way, relate to my beloved Pimpernel.
And I was right, sort of.
Willig has set her story a bit after Sir Percy Blakeney’s illustrious career, created a prodigee-cum-successor in The Purple Gentian, and also created a pair of romance-struck hero-worshiping girls, who decide that they, too, must save people from the French government, by working in tandem with The Purple Gentian (thus discovering who he is). And thus is the Pink Carnation born.
The novel is part historical romance, part swashbuckling action-adventure. There is as much swordplay as there is talk of fashion, and the historical bits are bookended by the tale of a modern American history student doing her dissertation on espionage during the French Revolution, and, in the process, trying to discover what we, the readers, know from the start: the identity of The Pink Carnation.
As novels go, it’s neither the best nor the worst I’ve ever met. The author is talented, and her attention to detail is amazing. (An article about her suggests that she majored in history for the sole purpose of writing an historically accurate romance novel one day, so this is not surprising.) The characters, in both eras, are likable and interesting.
The book screams for a sequel, and I suspect one will be forthcoming. For further info, check out the author’s website: ThePinkCarnation.com.