Review: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation (Pink Carnation #1) by Lauren Willig

I feel like I just entered the most interesting florist shop in London.

I am surrounded by flowers….the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Purple Gentian, and of course the Pink Carnation….but wait I’m in a book! What the deuce are all these flowers doing in a book?? Granted…it’s decidedly less fragrant in the book than in a florist shop but still–what the deuce is going on here? Oh wait….I am reading Lauren Willig’s novel The Secret History of the Pink Carnation!

Pink Carnation is just the beginning of the flowery Regency era series. We begin with Amy, born in France she and her mother flee the French Revolution across the Channel to England were Amy’s mother has relations. Amy dreams of the day she can avenge her father who was a victim to the bloody guillotine.

Growing up with tales of upper crust spies…mainly the Scarlet Pimpernel….Amy longs to join his ranks and become an indispensable aide to the Scarlet Pimpernel while avenging her family. But one problem….the Scarlet Pimpernel has now retired. 

But rumor has it, another dashing hero has taken his place….the Purple Gentian. The Purple Gentian now becomes Amy’s focus. Amy is summonsed to France by her brother who she has not seen since she left years before. She sees this as an excellent opportunity to search the Paris streets for the Purple Gentian…..instead she meets Lord Richard Selwick (who ironically IS the Purple Gentian).

They are immediately put off by one another but at the same time desperately attracted to each other….more like on fire for each other in more ways than one! When they arrive in Paris Amy quickly starts poking around for news of the Purple Gentian….when she does encounter him the passion intensifies leaving Amy’s head spinning. What is a girl to do? How is she to choose between two seemingly different men? A caped, masked hero or a scholarly (and irritating but devilishly handsome) gentleman academic?

While Amy is busy dallying over her feelings for each man, Richard (AKA the Purple Gentian) has a job to do and a job that does not include falling in love. Richard is to infiltrate Napoleon’s plan to invade England and intercept his shipment of gold.

But Richard just can’t get Amy out of his head…but he must if he hopes to remain alive for very long or if Amy hopes to remain alive for very long for that matter, Amy keeps getting in the way of EVERYTHING. She fancies herself her own spy and refuses to wait around until Richard makes up his mind about her….she came to France with a purpose….same as Richard, to avenge her family and if that includes throttling Napoleon’s plan to invade England so be it!

Who needs a Purple Gentian when you have a Pink Carnation? Could the Pink Carnation be the long shot that threatens the Purple Gentian’s glory? Will the Pink Carnation be the undoing of all that Richard has worked so hard for? Will Amy return Richard’s love before it’s too late? Can two flowers come together and make fertilizer? You Dear Reader must read to find out!

I absolutely LOVED this book. When my sister described it as ‘Zorro meets Jane Austen’ I admit….I had doubts, serious doubts!! After putting off reading The Pink Carnation for YEARS…..I picked up The Mischief of the Mistletoe (also by Willig and part of the Pink Carnation series, book 7) as my Christmas reads this year, I’ll admit it was super cute, funny, witty, charming, dashing, and well down right addicting! I knew I would have to read the rest of the books but when??

That’s when I stumbled on the Regency & Victorian Era Reading Challenge hosted by The Royal Reviewers Blog… and what luck! It runs at an odd time, Oct 2011 to Mar 2012, how fortunate!! I can start one of my reading challenges for the new year immediately! 🙂

At the end of the book, there is a list of book club questions and one I found very thought provoking. I’ll summarize it in my own words more or less: Richard is only one of many fictional hero spies in literature, in what ways does he embody or deviate from the traditional dashing hero? Do his deviations from the archetype undermine his role or make him more convincing? Do you take Richard’s role as spy serious or more parody?

I thought long and hard about this (as I found Richard to be one of the more interesting characters). Initially I wanted to say his role was more of a parody. Though he is dashing, charming, witty, handsome, and just SEXY….he was at times mocking the whole capped crusader prototype! For God sake, he’s being henpecked by his loving affectionate if not eccentric mother who pops up at weird time with his circus family in tow trying to randomly marry him off at the first opportunity :).

He’s a little ‘nerdy’ with all his scholarly explorations (which by the way was very Indiana Jones-ish for me, and I loved it!!) but there was something said early in the book about Richard always wanting to be a hero when he was a child….he never wanted to be anything else but a hero. That made me believe him and not look at him as a joke.

At times I did laugh that he was flitting around in a black cap, black mask, and probably a pair of too tight black breeches…..my God he could practically be Zorro or Batman at this rate 🙂 and the whole flower spy code name was more than comical but I never thought he didn’t take his work seriously….it wasn’t just a fancy which endeared him to me.

I felt like this book was meant to be a fun romantic comedy….a very Mr and Mrs Smith type book so the caped crusader bit was fitting. Richard wasn’t meant to be James Bond who clearly took his job more seriously….this is a romantic, chick lit-ish, historic fiction book….not just a spy novel. What endeared me most about Richard was he never took himself too seriously nor the Purple Gentian role too seriously, he was able to laugh at himself at times. I think the book and Richard in general were meant to make the whole spy thing look more fun, romantic, and comical than some serious. Which after all is the essence of literature….a fun filled escape.

I enjoyed this book immensely…..I had about 100 pages left to go when I quickly realized that I didn’t have the next book in the series (The Black Tulip) and that would mean I would have nothing to read tonight as I would surly finish Pink Carnation well before bed time. I actually got out of my PJ’s, in the cold rainy late afternoon, and drove across town to pick up the next book so I could start it tonight…..I NEVER do that!

I was hooked from the first page….it is full of charm, romance, mystery, mistaken identities, a crazy circus family, and of course good humor. I literally laughed so hard I cried at various parts of the book….just the whit and irony of things would randomly do me in….I loved the one liners and the ‘pause for effect’ moments. Willig has a great tongue and cheek way of telling her stories, perfect to the ‘t’. Hold on to you bonnets ladies and gentlemen…..exotic flowers are invading the Regency!

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation (Pink Carnation #1) by Lauren Willig 

  • Paperback, 428 pages
  • Published December 27th 2006 by New American Library

This book counts toward: Regency & Victorian Reading Challenge

Recommendation: 5 out of 5 (comical romantic novel that will sweep you off your feet)

Genre: Historic fiction, Regency fiction, chick-lit, romance

Memorable lines/quotes: NA

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16 Comments

  1. I read all the books in this series this year and really enjoyed them! Waiting anxiously for more now

    Reply
  2. Yet another great review for this book. This just may move to the top of my TBR list after reading this review. If it was good enough for you to drive across town for then it is good enough for me to get to in January. 🙂

    Reply
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