2007, Historical Romance (1800s [Georgian] England)
Dutton, $24.95, 400 pages, Amazon ASIN 0525950338 Part of a series
I’ve been following Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series from the beginning, and was very excited to get the chance to review the fourth installment, The Seduction of the Crimson Rose. The series follows the quest of an English spy, the Pink Carnation, to one-up Napoleon and keep England safe from a French invasion. It also has a modern day storyline featuring Eloise Kelly, an American graduate student researching Napoleonic era spies.
This book features some characters that may be surprising to veteran Willig readers: Mary Alsworthy, the young woman whose fiancé abducted and married the wrong sister, and Lord Vaughn, the self-serving peer who helps out the Pink Carnation’s cause, but is never quite trustworthy. The Pink Carnation herself, Jane Wooliston, asks Vaughn to act as an intermediary between Mary and herself, as Mary bears the coloring and physical appearance of the “Petals,” as the operatives of the deadly French spy the Black Tulip are known, and Jane hopes that Mary will be approached and be able to provide intelligence to the Pink Carnation. Vaughn agrees and convinces Mary to do her patriotic duty. As he assists her in entering the world of espionage, the two of them begin to fall for each other, despite their hardened hearts. However, the plan soon becomes dangerous, and unexpected challenges impede their burgeoning relationship.
Meanwhile, in modern-day London, Eloise continues her studies in the Vaughn Collection, where she meets another Napoleonic spy enthusiast in the archives. She is also preparing for her “date to end all dates” with her crush, Colin Selwick.
Both Mary and Vaughn are cynical, jaded, and bitter, but for different reasons, making the tone of this book different than the previous ones, though it still retains Willig’s distinctive and thoroughly enjoyable writing style. However, their cynicism toward the other characters is a little hard for fans of the series to fully embrace them and reading their thoughts about the other couples form the previous novels is a bit like overhearing one friend make fun of another behind their backs. It made me a bit resentful of them at first, and it took longer for me to fully warm to the characters. The book as a whole took a bit longer to get into as well than other entries in the series, though it picked up considerably in the second half.
Though the sensuality of this book doesn’t stray beyond kisses, there is a fair amount of innuendo and implication. For Mary and Vaughn, conversation is an art, easily comparable to chess and fencing matches between masters. Double, even triple, entendres and Shakespearian quotes abound, whichs makes reading their repartee both fascinating and a bit of a lesson in subtle warfare. Willig is incredibly skilled in creating the battle of wits between the two of them.
While this book is thoroughly enjoyable, it is probably not the best starting place for new readers. However, starting at the beginning certainly isn’t a hardship since the entire series is one of my favorites and absolutely worth reading.
-- Jane Granville
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