Drama, French society, a budding romance and lots of complications — the latest in Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series delivers nothing less than the intrigue and snappy dialogue I’ve come to expect from this fun series, now in its ninth installment.
In this story within a story, widow Emma Delagardie flits through Parisian society as an associate of Napoleon Bonaparte’s family, hosting parties and enjoying her newfound friendships with powerful associates. One friend is Jane Wooliston, the subject of a poet’s ardor — Augustus Whittlesby’s ardor, in fact, though it’s undesired. Posing as a terrible poet so as to attract little suspicion in Paris, Augustus is actually a spy . . . and his awful verses are actually filled with clues for those in the know. His innocuous behavior allows him unlimited access to upper-crust French society — access he hopes to use to Britain’s benefit.
Though Augustus believes he’s actually in love with Jane, spending more time with the effervescent and outspoken Emma begins to change his mind — and when an opportunity to arises to gain access to Emporer Napolean through a play during a country weekend, Emma and Augustus are commissioned to work on it together. Their time in cahoots leads them to form new opinions about one another — but the masks they wear in public, and around each another, might not be what they seem.
Having read and enjoyed several of Willig’s Pink Carnation books, though not in order, I was happy to grab this latest installment — and it didn’t disappoint. The story was fun, light and very fast-paced, and I loved the setting of early 19th-century Paris. So much was happening here that, at times, it felt difficult to pin down — and I didn’t even mention the entire story-within-a-story plot of a modern-day grad student and her British boyfriend (Eloise and Colin, if you’re a devotee) above. The contemporary plot was less compelling to me, and I found myself flipping to return to the 1800s.
Zany, outspoken Emma was easily my favorite character. I loved her garish behavior — and the fact that she rarely seemed to give a fig what anyone thought of her. Disowned by her family because of an elopment to her now-deceased husband, Emma is definitely someone who cuts her own path. She stands in stark constrast to Augustus, a spy who uses terrible poetry as a cover. Though I appreciated Augustus’ cunning and the heavy dose of espionage happening in The Garden Intrigue, at times it felt a bit long. And I was a mite bored.
The push-and-pull conversations between Emma and Augustus had me grinning, though, and Augustus’ wordplay is fun for a word geek like me. Francophiles will love the Parisian setting and backdrop of Emperor Napoleon’s estate, and the romantics will enjoy the banter and budding romance between Augustus and Emma. Though I didn’t love this one as much as The Mischief Of The Mistletoe, it was a pleasant way to spend a few evenings — and I’d imagine Pink Carnation fans will gobble this one up.
3.5 out of 5!