Acclaimed author Lauren Willig’s latest offering, The Passion of the Purple Plumeria, is the tenth novel in her New York Times bestselling Pink Carnation series. This historical romance series of Napoleonic era English spies, that fight for Britain and for love, is constructed within a modern-day love story, told from the point of view of the American grad student Eloise Kelly who is writing her dissertation on the true identity of the Pink Carnation, the master British spy of the time.
In Purple Plumeria, (those of us who have been previously “Pinked,” often refer to the novels by the abbreviated Flower title…), the handsome Colonel William Reid, who we first encountered in Blood Lily (The Betrayal of the Blood Lily) has returned to his daughters in England from a lifelong military career in India only to discover his youngest has recently disappeared from boarding school with one of her classmates. Soon we learn the other missing student is Agnes Wooliston, the sister of British spymaster, errr, ehm, spymistress, the Pink Carnation – generally known as Miss Jane Wooliston – recalling her home from Paris to England. And where Miss Wooliston goes, so goes her caustically witty and straight-laced companion, and adroit, clever, a parasol-wielding agent of the War Office, Miss Gwendolyn Meadows. While conducting an interview with the headmistress, they meet the aforementioned comely, charming Colonel.
Gwen didn’t like any of this. She didn’t like it one bit. All her instincts, well honed over years of midnight raids, were shouting “trouble.” How much of the trouble was coming from the situation and how much from a certain sun-bronzed colonel was a matter for debate. Bad enough that Agnes had gone missing; worse yet to have to deal with the parent of the other girl, poking his nose in—however attractive a nose it might be—and posing questions that might prove inconvenient for everyone. And by everyone, she meant the Pink Carnation. p. 55
Finding they must work together if they have any hopes of finding the two young ladies, the Colonel discovers his partner to be quite a delightful, refreshing conundrum and not only because of her dexterity while under attack. The lines at the corners of Colonel Reid’s eyes crinkled. “Do you ever allow anyone else the last word, Miss Meadows?” “Not if they haven’t wit enough to seize it,” said Gwen. “That,” said Colonel Reid, ‘sounds remarkably like a challenge.” p. 92 She on the other hand, never expected to be partnered with such a man and is surprised by the thoughts and emotions he inspires. He looked at her quizzically. They were close enough that she could make out the faint hint of a scar beside his lip, close enough to kiss. Where had that ridiculous thought come from? p. 93 Could our uptight, upstanding, paragon of virtue, spinster-heroine have passion simmering beneath that starchy, purple plumed facade?
We last left our modern-day Harvard grad student Eloise in book #9, The Garden Intrigue, the storytelling the story, (or is it the story in the story? much like the chicken or the egg?), researching the Napoleonic Wars, specifically, the Pink Carnation, while living with her boyfriend, Colin Selwick at his country family estate, Selwick Hall. As it would happen, she fell into this love affair while researching his very ancestors – and with only 2 months left until she is expected to return to Harvard, the American one on the other side of the pond – she is as anxious about leaving him as she is about discovering her research has come to an unexpected standstill.
No matter where I looked, I couldn’t find any reference to Miss Jane Wooliston or Miss Gwendolyn Meadows in my sources post 1805. Edouard de Balcourt went on merrily living in the Hotel de Balcourt, toadying up to the Emperor (until the Restoration, at which point he abruptly remembered that his father had been decapitated during the Revolution and he’d never liked that upstart Corsican dictator anyway), but his cousin and chaperone had left the building. p. 72
And when the Selwick family legend of “the lost jewels of Behar” stirs up the skulking about of Colin’s loathsome douche of a cousin/step-father, Jeremy Selwick-Alderly, their family’s matriarch demands the two men work together to find the treasure, or else. Guided by childhood familial stories, a three-lined riddle, and a 200-year-old book entitled, The Convent of Orsino by A Lady, the trio, embark on their own intrigue, which fortuitously re-ignites Eloise’s dissertation.
In the cunningly written Reader’s Guide, interviewing both the authors of The Convent of Orsino and the author of Purple Plumeria, Willig admits no little intimidation in pursuing Miss Gwen’s story and even wrote her Edwardian era stand-alone novel The Ashford Affair as a means of deferment. As much as I loved reading the fruits of her willful, blatant procrastination of this next Pink book, I am thoroughly satisfied with her win-win stratagems. The Passion of the Purple Plumeria has all the trademark characteristics of Lauren Willig’s previous Pink Carnation books: clever players and Napoleonic spy intrigue united with heart-pounding romance. My only complaint: this book is not offered in hardback. In the spirit of Miss Meadows this reader snaps, “Hmph! It mars the look of the rest of my collection! The wrong trim on the wrong bonnet!” *Sniff!* But since that is not the author’s fault and falls clearly to the publisher, Lauren Willig’s latest is still a 5 star read! Be certain to add it to your summer reading list. Added bonuses: Discussion Questions perfect for your book club, as well as an excerpt for her next in this series, due Summer 2014.
5 out of 5 Stars
The Passion of the Purple Plumeria: A Pink Carnation Novel, by Lauren Willig
NAL Trade (2013)
Trade paperback (480) pages
Cover image courtesy of the Penguin Group © 2013; text Christina Boyd © 2013, Austenprose.com.