Book Log #3: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, by Lauren Willig

Oh my, I’m really of two minds about this book. Going into it, even aware that I’d seen some poor reviews of it before, I was hopeful about the prospect of a plot that asserted that the Scarlet Pimpernel had been real and had in fact set off a trend of flower-themed spies during his era–and that the heroine of the meta-story, graduate student Eloise, was researching the identity of the mysterious Pink Carnation. It sounded like fun and I decided to give it a shot anyway, even knowing going in about poor reviews.

And now that I’ve read the first book I won’t exactly say that the poor reviews are justified–that wouldn’t be fair. But I will say that the book wasn’t nearly as strong as I would have liked. The meta-story involving Eloise wasn’t nearly as the story she was researching; aside from a few cliched conflict scenes she has with her future love interest, she honestly doesn’t do much, and it’s kind of surprising that the author bothered to put a framing story around the more entertaining actual story at all.

As for the main story, this is where the interest is, yes. Although here, as well, there wasn’t as much strength as I’d have liked. I have three major issues with it. One, both our hero and heroine make critical errors of judgment that should have gotten them killed. Our heroine doing so is more forgiveable, as she is a young and inexperienced girl full of her own ambition, and not nearly as trained at being a spy as she thinks she is. Our hero, on the other hand, is supposedly an experienced spy and has no excuse. Two, there’s a near-sex scene about three quarters of the way through that I found jarringly out of place with the overall flavor of the novel, not to mention the time period it was set in. And three, the final confrontation scene with the bad guy was unfortunately farcical, to the degree that the bad guy was only caught because he literally tripped over a convenient dropped object rather than any real skill on the part of our heroes.

Despite these flaws, I actually enjoyed the read. The chemistry between heroine Amy and hero Richard was fun (even given the jarringly out of place scene previously mentioned). And even though both of them were being stupid in places, there were other scenes where they achieved a rhythm that actually did hearken back to the actual Pimpernel and Zorro novels. Amy has some nifty supporting characters backing her up in the persons of her cousin Jane and their chaperone Miss Gwen, the latter of whom is a force of nature.

All in all, flawed but fun, and if you go in, go in expecting lightweight fluff. Three stars.