The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig @laurenwillig @BerkleyPub @sophiarose1816

Posted January 26, 2022 by Sophia in Book Review / 24 Comments

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig @laurenwillig @BerkleyPub @sophiarose1816The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig
Series: Pink Carnation #1
Published by Berkley on December 27, 2005
Genres: Historical Romance, Mystery
Pages: 400
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
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Realizing romantic heroes are a thing of the past, graduate student Eloise Kelly is determined to focus on her work. Her first stop: England, to finish her dissertation on the English spies of the Napoleonic Wars, like the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian.

But her greatest conquest is to reveal the most elusive spy of them all, the dashing Pink Carnation. As she does, she discovers something for the history books-a living, breathing hero all her very own...

In a time of revolution and then war, daring-do was called for and sometimes the heroes and heroines had to wear a mask to accomplish what was needed.  In the spirit of The Scarlet Pimpernel and Pride & Prejudice comes a series to tantalize historical romantic suspense fans.  I eagerly took up this first book in the Pink Carnation series, having already been a fan of the author’s light and engaging writing.

In an odd twist, I’ve already read three books from the series and two happen to be the last two while the other was somewhere in the middle.  So, yes, I know how it all ends, but I was still very curious about how it all began and it has been several years so I was pretty sure it would be almost new to me.

I was happy to take up my now yellowing copy of the first book and discover how modern-day historian Eloise Kelly, working on her dissertation, came to be researching the secret English spies of the Napoleonic Era and what her early encounters with irascible Colin, descendant of The Purple Gentian and family archives holder, were like.  Within Eloise’s modern story is the heart of the story which introduces the world, people, and plot as The Pink Carnation began the first unauthorized spy mission in France in 1803 even as The Purple Gentian, the authorized British spy, is working to discover the details for Napoleon’s planned invasion of England.

So, as I’ve indicated, I’ve already read later books in the series.  This is a series I’ve had a hot and cold affair with and mostly because it has a split time line that was iffy for me.  I enjoyed the Regency time line, but was only moderately into the modern thread.  In truth, I found Eloise a not so good distraction much of the time.  This first book confirmed again that she’s rather annoying and distracting.  She gets lucky that she inexplicably impresses Colin’s aunt and gets access to the family papers including letters that are the basis for the other timeline story of 1803.  She has the attitude that Colin owes her access and she deserves to be the one to write up the Secret Histories, but rarely did she act like a person who should be trusted with archival papers and a few times I cringed at her way of tripping along.

As to the 1803 timeline, in this first book, I was not so captivated as with later ones.  Amy was the poster child TSTL type who gets lucky so she thinks she’s rather talented and skilled.  In truth, the real talent is her cousin Jane who accompanies her to Paris and slips into the background and gathers lots of intel in the process.  The announced reason for the trip is reuniting with Amy’s long lost brother who survived the French Revolution somewhat intact, but a hidden reason being she wanted to track down the clandestine Purple Gentian and his spy network so she could join.  I found Amy silly and childish and she could have gotten a lot of good people hurt in her ridiculous tramp around Paris thinking she’s Miss Discreet Superspy.  Not that Richard, the Purple Gentian, who works by day as a geeky Egyptologist for Napoleon is much better.  I think the lovers’ spat in shouted tones while inside the enemy’s bedchamber was when it really hit me that I was not reading a serious historical mystery.

Rather quickly, I had to adjust my expectations and I recommend others do the same.  This is light and loaded with humor.  There are some strong and good historical details, but the behavior and dialogue of the characters is modern- and, as I pointed out, not to be taken seriously.  This is a romp of espionage and romance, in point of fact.  I suspect each book, which introduces a new main romance pair, will have a slightly different feel to match the personalities involved because the later books didn’t have the frivolity of this one, as far as I can recall.

I quickly read this one and giggled through a lot of it.  It was fun and light with a well set background.  Amy and Richard had their moments when they weren’t annoying and I loved Richard’s interfering, quirky family and friends.  I liked this book as a whole rather than the individual parts, if that makes sense.  So, I will continue on to the next installment which features the same modern pair, some of the same historical players, but a reshuffle so that some minor characters take the lead.  I’ll recommend this to those who are in the mood for rompish and light historical romantic suspense.


About Lauren Willig

Lauren Willig is the New York Times bestselling author of nineteen works of historical fiction. Her books have been translated into over a dozen languages, awarded the RITA, Booksellers Best and Golden Leaf awards, and chosen for the American Library Association’s annual list of the best genre fiction. After graduating from Yale University, she embarked on a PhD in History at Harvard before leaving academia to acquire a JD at Harvard Law while authoring her “Pink Carnation” series of Napoleonic-set novels. She lives in New York City, where she now writes full time.

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Posted January 26, 2022 by Sophia in Book Review / 24 Comments

24 responses to “The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

  1. Sounds like an exciting and dangerous time to live. TSTL heroines can be trying! Glad to hear you still want to complete the series even though this one didn’t knock your socks off. Fab review, Sophia!

  2. Jen

    This sounds like such a unique twist on a series. I can see where you have to “suspend belief” or “lower expectations” when you mix modern and historical like that. But I’m glad you are able to enjoy this one after all those years.

  3. Its very interesting that this one has such modern dialogue, I wouldn’t have expected from some of the books I have read from this author. I will that in mind though when I pick this one up. I am like you in that can really ruin a book for me especially us readers that have been reading HR for longer and prefer the authenticity in the dialogue.

    Great review as always Sophia and hope you are faring well.

  4. vvb

    I read this one awhile ago and liked. But have not yet got around to reading the rest in the series. However, I love the book covers for this series.