I had dived into the early novels of Lauren Willig's Pink Carnation series with plenty of enthusiasm, but by the time that I had reached the third or fourth book in the series, the shine was off. The books were feeling and worse, reading the same, and I then decided that it was time to set this particular author aside.
But then I had read some reviews of her 'Christmas' book, The Mischief of the Mistletoe, and decided to give it a chance. After all, I was in dire need of something slightly silly and maybe a touch on the light side after some fairly heavy duty reading at the end of the year.
At the start of the novel, Mr. Reginald FitzHugh is arriving at Miss Climpson's Select Seminary for Young Ladies with a Christmas hamper for his younger sister -- and finds himself confronted by hordes of young schoolgirls. It's a place that he's not at all comfortable with. But he manages to deliver the hamper, and as he is leaving, bumps into a young woman, Miss Arabella Dempsey, who has just had someone try to steal a Christmas pudding in her hand.
Turns out that there is something rather important about that pudding -- seems there's an important message in it. Besides, Reggie -- or as he is better known as, Turnip, is rather taken with Miss Dempsey. As you might guess from the nickname, Turnip lacks a certain amount of dash and cleverness that his friends have; on the other hand, Turnip does have something even better -- a good and great heart, and an unswerving sense of loyalty and honour. Alas, he's also a bit uncoordinated, shall we say, and tends to flail about at the worst moments, much to the merriment of this reader.
But it as it turns out, both Arabella and Reggie are just right for each other. I loved watching as they manage to avoid catastrophe together, and the rather gentle and sweet romance between them -- it's a delightful change, and one that I can happily applaud. Don't worry, there's plenty of derring-do in this one, what with a bit of fisticuffs, climbing a trellis, secret signals, and a winter picnic, along with the overall Christmas theme. As sharp eyed readers will discover, there's a great deal of homage being paid to the novels of The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy here, and Ms. Willig does manage to get that breathless feel in there.
I really liked this one. It's a splendid mix of humour, and characters that are not the usual sort of heroes and heroines that tend to over litter this genre. Turnip is just so likeable and amiable, and you know that if Arabella asked for the stars he'd do anything he could to get them for her. Arabella is equally appealing. She's smart, levelheaded, and at the start of the novel, rather worried about the relationship with Turnip, especially as it could affect her family, and the poverty that they are in. It's a believable plot twist and one that certainly was not out of the ordinary in Regency England. Too, she's smarting over a failed relationship with a young officer -- turns out that he married instead her rather ridiculous elderly aunt for her money. Ouch.
As with the other Pink Carnation books, there tends to be a lot of reintroduction of previous leads from the other books. To be honest, I tend to find this annoying, as I like the story to focus on the leads, but here, Ms. Willig keeps to a minimum somewhat, and it was that helped me to keep going with this one.
Another likeable touch was having the real Jane Austen show up at various points in the story, all based about what is known about her stay in the resort town of Bath with her family. It's a rather mysterious part of her life as there isn't that much documentation that has survived from that period. Here, Jane is not at all contrived, and it all actually does sound like her voice. Too, the historical details are spot on, and have quite a bit basis in the time and place, which is always a delight for me.
Along with the story itself, the author has usefully included a note on the Pink Carnation series that helps to place everyone and who and where they turn up. As well there is an author's note that helps to clarify the use of Jane Austen in the story. Finally, for all of those out there who are curious about what is a Christmas pudding the author has kindly included a recipe along with some lore about this traditional element of a holiday feast.
On the whole, I found this to be a funny, clever novel, a little light perhaps, but a perfect antidote for the winter blahs. For those who like their Regency romances to be more on the par with Georgette Heyer, this should satisfy a great deal. Five stars overall, and recommended.
Books by Lauren Willig:
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
The Temptation of Night Jasmine
The Betrayal of the Blood Lily
Ivy and Intrigue: A Very Selwick Christmas
The Mischief of the Mistletoe: A Pink Carnation Christmas -- you are here
The Orchid Affair
The Mischief of the Mistletoe: A Pink Carnation Christmas
2010; Dutton Books, PenguinGroup (USA), Inc.
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