The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren WilligThe Secret History Of The Pink Carnation (Pink Carnation #1) by Lauren Willig
Published: Dutton Adult (2004), Hardcover, 388pg
Source: Library
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance

Deciding that true romantic heroes are a thing of the past, Eloise Kelly, an intelligent American who always manages to wear her Jimmy Choo suede boots on the day it rains, leaves Harvard’s Widener Library bound for England to finish her dissertation on the dashing pair of spies the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian. What she discovers is something the finest historians have missed: a secret history that begins with a letter dated 1803. Eloise has found the secret history of the Pink Carnation—the most elusive spy of all time, the spy who single-handedly saved England from Napoleon’s invasion.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, a wildly imaginative and highly adventurous debut, opens with the story of a modern-day heroine but soon becomes a book within a book. Eloise Kelly settles in to read the secret history hoping to unmask the Pink Carnation’s identity, but before she can make this discovery, she uncovers a passionate romance within the pages of the secret history that almost threw off the course of world events. How did the Pink Carnation save England? What became of the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian? And will Eloise Kelly find a hero of her own?

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation is super fluffy, the most candy-coated spy mystery romance I’ve ever read. I think it was written at the tail end of the chick lit = big times! era, so it’s got tons of chick lit tropes wrapped in a historical fiction wrapper.

This could be very annoying to people who don’t like fluffy historical fiction! In fact, I might have been annoyed myself, if the book hadn’t actually started out in the modern world, in a scene ripped straight from 50 other chick lit books. The heroine (one of them) trips over something and ha! isn’t clumsiness adorable and funny I’m so glad every other contemporary romance heroine has that trait, aren’t you?

Anyway, I didn’t like the modern stuff BUT THEN it switched over to the historical fiction spy adventure stuff and that was better! I mean, it was still super fluffy, but I was prepared for that by the fluffy contemporary part, so it was all good.

Well, not good. I kept wanting it to be something more than it was. Greater!

I really liked the Scarlet Pimpernel Part II aspect, I LOVED the French revolution-ish spying, and I really liked Jane, Amy’s level-headed cousin. But for a novel about superhero spies it’s terribly unsatisfying. Not even because of the fluff, though! But because the spying gets put on the back burner for the romance– so much so that I’m surprised the hero didn’t die before the fifth chapter. He ignores safety and prudence several times in order to make out for the heroine, including once during a break-in! Very stupid for a supposedly professional spy dude.

As a romance, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation is okay. I much preferred the historical characters’ romance over the modern characters’, which always felt confusing and boring. I could have done away with the entirety of the modern chapters, tbh.

Though I eventually grew to like the silly historical romance plotline, I do wish it had been slightly less fluffy and its characters more intelligent.

Read: April 17-19, 2014

3 thoughts on “The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig”

  1. Yep, that was my impression of this book from other reviews I’ve read. I’m kind of saving this book for a day when I am in the mood for dumb historical romance and that’s all I want and nothing else will do. If I read it with that mindset, I think I will manage to enjoy it. :p

  2. It’s awful of the author to jump in, but you popped up in my Google alerts, so…. I just wanted to say, if you want something with spies that’s a little less giddy, you might want to try to eighth book in the series, “The Orchid Affair”, also Paris-set, but a lot darker. (I was much older when I wrote it. And chick lit had died.) Since you’ve read the first, you know the set-up, so you’re not missing much in the intervening books. I also highly recommend Tracy Grant’s Napoleonic-set mystery/spy novels.

  3. I didn’t get past the beginning as I got super annoyed by the cliched modern day romance. It doesn’t sound like I want to put this away for another day either.

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