More Whimsy and a Dash of Danger in Willig's _Masque of the Black Tulip_

Aug 15, 2006 (Updated Dec 23, 2011)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Plenty of humor, romance, and delightfully unstuffy heroes and heroines.

Cons:At times the silliness is over the top, but with this much fun, who cares?

The Bottom Line: A combination of mystery, romance and derring-do set in the Napoleonic England and France, with plenty of intrigue.

After the exciting events of The Secret History of the Black Tulip, I was eagerly looking forward to the next installation of the adventures of a group of young aristocrats during the events of the French Terror and the rise of Napoleon. In the previous work, the Purple Gentian has retired, leaving his network of informants and spies in the care of the even more elusive Pink Carnation.

Richard Selwick -- The Purple Gentian -- has retired from active service as a spy now that he's married his beloved Amy, but that doesn't mean that he's not involved in the art of spycraft. His best friend, Miles Dorrington, is more than eager to work, but the War Office refuses to send him off to France. Instead, he's reduced to keeping an eye on 'suspicious characters.' That is, until a footman who was an agent turns up dead in a London street with a small drawing of a black tulip pinned to his livery.

Richard's sister Henrietta, a smart, capable young woman, is also putting her efforts towards the struggle to stop Napoleon. While she might not be able to indulge in more physical activities, her job is just as vital -- coding and decoding messages from the Pink Carnation. When a missive arrives that warns that the French are looking for her and Miles, Hen finds herself in the middle of plots, seductive mystery men and plenty of amorous adventures.

There's a sinister nobleman in black, an exiled French marquise who also tends to overuse black, a fop known as Turnip Fitzhugh for the unusual denseness of his brain, and even the Pink Carnation makes an appearance or two. Of course, the main story line involves Hen and Miles, and to a lesser extent Richard and Amy from the previous novel. Will the course of true love triumph over Napoleon's minions? Will the wicked Black Tulip be found out?

As with the previous novel, the modern storyline of Eloise Kelly, an American who is researching the Pink Carnation and her sort-of romance with Colin Selwick, a modern day descendant of the Purple Gentian, gets tucked in here and there. It's honestly not very much, and not that interesting, besides a few good quips and in-jokes for those who are familiar with the literature of the period.

Happily, Willig's writing has improved a bit with this installation of the series. Both Hen and Miles have some serious character flaws, mostly having to do with impulsive behavior. Miles in particular goes through some interesting mental gymnastics when it comes to being romantically in lust with Henrietta, a trait not normally seen in Heroes, and it was good for a few chuckles. There are some some good moments at a masqued ball, a dowager duchess that is as outspoken as she is forward, and a few bawdy moments. There's also a version of a 'shotgun' wedding in Regency England, along with the requisite 'special licence.'

All in all, it's a nice little sequel, and I am looking forward for the next book in the series. It's refreshing to see a romance/historical novel that doesn't take itself so seriously, and there were quite a few laugh-out-loud moments. The villains are rather one-note characters, which are a shame, as they tend to not only dress better, but get better dialogue too.


Other 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
Ivy and Intrigue: A Very Selwick CXhristmas
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 Masque of the Black Tulip
Lauren Willig
2005; Dutton, Penguin USA
ISBN 0-525-94920-8

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