Nothing ever goes right for
Eloise. The day she wears her new suede Jimmy Choos, it rains. When the Tube
stops too quickly, she's the one thrown into some stranger's lap. And she's had
her share of misfortune in the way of love. So, after deciding that romantic
heroes must be a thing of the past, Eloise is ready for a fresh start but first
she must finish her history dissertation on those most romantic of spies, the
Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian. While rummaging through a pile of old
letters and diaries, Eloise discovers something amazing, something that
historians have missed: the secret history of the Pink Carnation - the most
elusive spy of all time. As she reads on, Eloise begins to wonder just who this
brave secret agent was, but as she gets tantalizingly close to the answer, she
is distracted by the very modern charms of Colin Selwick - is Eloise about to
find a dashing hero all of her own?
I read this on our recent holiday in Estonia - it is
the perfect holiday read. By that, I don't mean that
it's insipid and/or contains a vapid romance that may or may not take place on
or near a beach. I mean that it's smartly funny, has plenty of adventure
of the swash-buckling variety, has a romance that is actually enjoyable to read
(*gasp*) and is completely and utterly absorbing. Honestly, I read this at every available
second and forced gently persuaded Boyfriend to sit for an hour with me
in a park when I just HAD to read through to the end (the sun was shining and
he had a book to read too so I’m not that awful a girlfriend, I promise).
Set largely in France in 1803, this elaborates on Baroness
Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel (which,
by the way, I now really want to
read!). The titular character of
Baroness Orczy’s work has now retired, with the younger Sir Percy Blakeney
stepping into his stealthy shoes as the Purple Gentian, aiding the French
resistance against Napoleon one cloak-swirling mission at a time. Words can not express how much I loved Sir
Percy Blakeney. He is the epitome of ‘dashing’
and everything you could possibly want from a necessarily duplicitous
hero. Since a significant portion of the
book is told from his perspective, there’s plenty of time to get to know the
spy. I actually think that the split
narrative is what makes this book work so well.
Don’t get me wrong, Amy is great but I liked the behind-the-scenes look
at the Purple Gentian’s escapades and his perspective did add a certain level
of maturity to the whole thing that was a good balance to Amy’s naivety.
So, Amy. When she
first starting narrating, I wasn’t convinced that I was going to like her. She drags her life-long friend Jane around
like a sidekick and comes across as a bit immature and a lot petulant. They in fact end up in France because Amy is
looking for “adventure” and a way to contribute to the French resistance. As the novel went along, though, I couldn’t
help but like her. She’s impulsive and
brave, regularly makes the wrong choices and then tries desperately hard to
make everything better.
The identity of the Pink Carnation wasn’t a surprise to me
at all and I suppose (hope?) that it isn’t supposed to be. I was happy enough watching the characters
mixing up each others’ alter egos that I really didn’t mind that there wasn’t
an edge of mystery for me. I was more than content to be in the role of amused spectator.
It says a lot about the writing that the mask-based mix-ups never once got on
my nerves – usually I would be gripping the pages and getting ever more grumpy
about identity confusion (“Just PULL OFF THE MASK!!!” etc...). In short, the plot just works.
There's probably a heftier dose of sarcasm than was
actually present in Paris in the early 19th century (I imagine...)
but that's an addition that I'm perfectly happy with that exercise of artistic
licence as it suits my sense of humour down to the ground. The scenes
with Percy Blakeney's family and his old friend Miles are particularly
well-written and full of quips and witty dialogue that genuinely do make you
feel as though you're stood in the drawing room with them. I defy anyone not to like them.
This is all getting a little gushy, isn't it? Ok, you
want some balance? As with most historical fiction that also features a
modern day side-plot, I always felt a tinge of disappointment when I turned the
page and found myself dumped back with Eloise. That wasn't helped by the
fact that Eloise kept going on about how she didn't want to do anything but
read more about the Pink Carnation and I couldn't help thinking, "Eloise,
I know the feeling, stop wittering and get back to the good stuff!" Which
isn't an indictment on Eloise or the plight of her poor Jimmy Choos, it's just
testament to how flipping good the chapters set in the 19th century
Oh, also, I've seen a 1-star rating on GoodReads, given
because the reader was disgruntled at finding a little raunch in the story.
Did I mention that there's romance? I think I did but, just to be
clear, there is ROMANCE: it’s believable and relevant and fits into the story
seamlessly BUT the characters do more than have a little saucy eye contact or
the occasional hand-holding session. If you like your romance novels
chaste, this perhaps isn't the one for you.
At the moment, there are nine instalments in the series
and, from what I can gather, they each focus on a different character.
I'm hoping that means that the series stays as bright as this book.
As with a worrying amount of books, I doubt I would have heard of this
book if it hadn't been for Hanna's review of the third in the series (The
Deception of the Emerald Ring) at Booking
In Heels. Don't judge this series by its woeful covers, just read it
and love it!
Overall: I honestly can't think of any more ways to convince you to
read this - if you have ever even been remotely interested in historical
fiction or romance series with a dashing hero in a black cloak and mask
(*swoon*), this is for you. And if you haven't ever been interested
before and you're idly thinking about branching out? I'm pretty sure that you see where I'm going but, yes, this is also