For the last few years, I've been having a fun time in some of my escape reading. A new discovery has been author Lauren Willig and her adventures of clever spies in the ongoing Pink Carnation series.
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Set in the time of Napoleon's wars in Europe, these novels blend plenty of history and wit, along with lovely, fiery heroines and dashing heroes. As with the previous three novels, this time, the reader will not be disappointed as two previous characters come to get to know each other very well, and find themselves entangled in the hunt for the Black Tulip.
Miss Mary Alsworthy is finding herself smarting after her younger sister Letty not only has gotten married, but also eloped with the man that she was planning to take to the altar. For a beautiful young woman such as Mary, it's a condition not to be borne, especially when there isn't quite enough money for a fifth Season in London Society, and the odds of her making grand match among the ton are dwindling.
That is, until Lord Vaughn gives her a most interesting proposal. If she is willing to act as bait to uncover the notorious Black Tulip, he will make certain that she has a chance at another Season. Of course, that is if he isn't the Black Tulip himself...
Mary's not quite that certain. Lord Vaughn is one of those men who's self-assured, with a cutting wit, and cultivates a general air of mystery, tinged with more than a little bit of the sinister. After all, he dresses all in black, has walking stick with a silver serpent coiling about it, and then there are all those rumours about his first wife. Mary isn't quite sure if she's to trust him, fall in love with him, or hide.
Readers of the earlier novel The Deception of the Emerald Ring will be amused by this closer look at Lord Vaughn as he and Mary get tangled up in the hunt for the Black Tulip. While I did like finding out all of the back story behind Lord Vaughn and getting to see him in his relentless pursuit of lovely Mary, there was something seriously lacking with this entry into the series.
Perhaps it was that Mary and Lord Vaughn are a touch too perfect. She's exquisitely lovely, with black hair and plenty of grace, and of course, he's cast in the vein of the tall, dark and dangerous variety. Both of them have rapier wit, and a good deal of the story is taken up with them talking and dodging, which verges on a mutual sniping contest at times. I was starting to really wish for something ordinary to happen, something to pull this pair down from the pedestals that they're perched on. While Mary does have a terrible temper at times, which helped, by the end of the novel, I was just relieved that it was over.
Which was really too bad, as the author has a lot of talent in creating her version of London. There are glimpses of daily life, secret revolutionary societies, theatricals, and right down to the music and foods of the time. Despite a few anachronisms, such as postage stamps (not invented until the reign of Queen Victoria, some thirty or so years later), I rather liked the over-the-top purple prose of the novel. Too, the use of a Jacobite rebellion was a very clever touch, and letting it be revealed added a great deal of suspense to the story, right up until the very end.
And now for the true disappointment of the novel.
Throughout the series, Ms. Willig has been using the hook of modern day Eloise Kelly and her hunt for the truth and indentity of the Pink Carnation, the English spy who has been working behind the scenes to foil Napoleon's to take over all of Europe. But with this novel, we scarcely see her at all. The opening is promising, when she is at the Vaughn Collection in London, tracking down more clues for her dissertation, and meeting a rather smarmy, too smooth curator by the name of Dempsey. Too, we also catch a peek at her somewhat suitor, Colin Selwick, but there's so little going on, I wondered why did the author even bother to put them into the novel at all? There's nothing there to interest the reader in either of them, and to be honest, if this had been the first novel by Willig that I had read, I wouldn't have bothered to go any further.
This is a novel that I would give a 'somewhat' recommend to. If you've read the previous novels, then by all means, continue on with this one. If not, then I suggest that the reader begin with the earlier ones. There is so much that is left dangling in this one, and so very little filled in, that I would have given up on this one if not for the earlier ones. And that's a bad sign. From the author's website at www.laurenwillig.com, there is a fifth novel in the series that is in progress, but a title has not yet been announced.
Given the problems and general lackluster attitude here, I would only say three stars overall. Here's hoping that the next novel will be an improvement.
The Pink Carnation series:
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 -- you are here
Ivy and Intrigue: A Very Selwick Christmas
The Temptation of Night Jasmine
The Betrayal of the Blood Lily
The Mischief of the Mistletoe: A Pink Carnation Christmas
The Orchid Affair
The Garden Intrigue -- forthcoming, due February 2012
The Seduction of the Crimson Rose
2008; Dutton, PenguinBooksUSA