Friday, November 18, 2011

Review: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

First line: The Tube had broken down.

From the back cover: Nothing goes right for Eloise. The one day she wears her new suede boots, it rains cats and dogs. When the subway stops short, she's always the one thrown into some stranger's lap. Plus, she's has more than her share of misfortune in the way of love. In fact, after she realizes romantic heroes are a thing of the past, she decides it's time for a fresh start.

Setting off for England, Eloise is determined to finish her dissertation on that dashing pair of spies, the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian. But what she discovers is something the finest historians have missed: the secret history of the Pink Carnation - the most elusive spy of all time. As she works to unmask this obscure spy, Eloise stumbles across answers to all kinds of questions. How did the Pink Carnation save England from Napoleon? What became of the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian? And will Eloise Kelly escape her bad luck and find a living, breathing hero all her own?

My thoughts: This is the first book in Lauren Willig's Pink Carnation series and I really enjoyed it. I like the idea of a historical mystery and felt that this book fits that description quite adequately.

Eloise Kelly is a Harvard graduate student who has decided to write her dissertation on the Pink Carnation, a spy who created mayhem for the French during the Napoleonic wars. Though the Carnation was less well-known than the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian, he is nonetheless an important historical figure. Eloise's plan is simple: move to London and unmask the Pink Carnation. Though she initially meets resistance at every turn, eventually a descendant of the Purple Gentian allows her to read through the Gentian's letters in the hopes of discovering the other spy's identity.
I loved how this is really two stories in one book. We have the modern-day story of Eloise moving to London and doing her research and then we have the story that Eloise finds in the letters of Amy Balcourt, which takes place in 1803.  As the story moves back and forth between the two time periods, we are left with mini-cliff hangers. Does Amy finally realize who the Purple Gentian is? Does Eloise finally figure out the identity of the Pink Carnation and does her relationship with Colin Selwick ever progress to anything beyond the sniping we see throughout the book?

I found this book to be engaging and deeply engrossing. It was witty, humorous and quite fun and I can't wait to read the rest of this series.

(I purchased this book.)


  1. I picked up several books from this series for $1 each last winter at a closeout book sale. I have heard good things about the series. I am glad you told us it is humorous and witty. I would not have gotten that by looking at the cover. I guess that is why I shouldn't judge a book by it's cover! Great review!

  2. I just found your blog and am excited to find someone who reads/blogs and shares their insights about what they read. I too like to read about historically placed fiction. And a good mystery is exciting. Thank you for your insights into the Pink Carnation. I will put it at the top of my list.


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