All good things must come to end. And so it seems must my favorite historical romance series, The Pink Carnation—offering us its twelfth and final installment, The Lure of the Moonflower. *deep sigh*
For eleven novels author Lauren Willig has enchanted us with Napoleonic spies, romance and laughter. It has been an amazing ride while it lasted. Now with one last fling ahead of me, I started to read (and listen to the audio edition) this new novel. Pushing aside my deep lament, I came to the realization that I am a sappy sentimentalist. Honestly, how could I not be? I had been duly “Pinked”.
It is very fitting that this final book in the series focuses on Miss Jane Wooliston – the Pink Carnation herself, the infamous English spy who gave “the French Ministry of Police headaches” and “who had caused Bonaparte to gnash his molars into early extraction…” Let’s hope I have teeth by the end of the book.
It is 1807 and Napoleon’s army has invaded Portugal. At the urging of the British government, the Royal family has fled, sailing away to their colony in Brazil. Working as a British spy Jane is in Lisbon, the capital of a country that she is not familiar with nor does she speak the language. Her local contact is Jack Reid, aka the Moonflower, a rogue operative whose notorious turncoat antics are as fluid as the tide. The natural son of Scotsman Colonel William Reid and an Indian Princess, Reid is unaware of his connection to Jane through the marriage of her fellow spy Miss Gwendolyn Meadows to his father. She must convince Reid to assist her in discovering the whereabouts of Mad Queen Maria who has been sequestered away by loyalists. The French are looking for her too in the hopes of using her influence to manipulate their cause. Besides the touchy family connection, Jane’s paring with Jack Reid is more than a bit awkward. He does not believe she is the Pink Carnation. She is very leery of his true loyalty.
In pursuit of the Queen, clues lead them through the provincial Portuguese countryside in the dead of winter. Using various disguises and modes of travel, including an unruly, scene-stealing donkey, the journey of two people thrown together becomes the ultimate “road novel”. As they progress, facing treacherous encounters and the elements, what started out as a war of wits and words evolves into the lowering of their guards and revealing their personal stories. Despite the fact that they share the same profession, they discover that they are both pariahs in the eyes of their families and society. What started out as a power struggle fueled by distrust, evolves into mutual respect, admiration and growing affection.
As Jane and Jack close in on the Queen, enter French spy Monsour le Comte de Brillac, aka The Gardner. He and Jane have a troubled history. Devious, manipulative and vengeful, Jane’s former lover is the force that could thwart their plans and her fledgling romance with Jack.
Each book in the series is framed by the modern story of Eloise, an ambitious (and very Bridget Jones-ish) American ex-graduate student who is researching the Selwick family Napoleonic-era spy ring in England. In this installment, she is preparing for her marriage to the family scion Colin, Lord Selwick, at his estate in Sussex. When a mysterious ancient trunk owned by Jane Wooliston, a Selwick family ancestor, arrives the day before her wedding, it sets in motion the abduction of a family member. While Colin’s colorful family harbors enough bad blood to “give a vampire indigestion,” this modern diversion from the historical story is really a minor sideline to the main stage, the story of Jane and Jack in Portugal.
By the end of The Lure of the Moonflower my recalcitrant, peevish mood had melted away and I was purring with pleasure. I had been duly wooed and wowed. Willig’s plot and prose far surpassed my expectations. While her historical research was impeccable and the atmosphere and descriptions spot on, it was her characters, especially the sparkling, whip-smart repartee and sexual tension between Jane and Jack that really carries this novel to new heights. If I can find any quibble, (and I really had to dig), it was that the exposition was lengthy at times. I wanted to her explanations to be in conversation by the characters and not so much in their heads.
For the loyal fans of the Pink Carnation series, many of the previous characters make a burlesque cameo appearance in a tour-de-farce finale. Willig also includes a lovely acknowledgment which wraps things up in a big Pink Carnation bow rather nicely and several generous appendixes: Historical Note; A Conversation with Comte de Brillac, aka The Chevalier de la Tour D’Argent, aka The Gardener; The Lost Epilogue and A Conversation with Lauren Willig. Now that the last hurrah of the series is finis, I raise my glass with a resounding huzzah to Willig for her brilliantly crafted, widely entertaining and passionately romantic adventure. Twelve years and twelve novels—this fan is thankful, tearful and optimistic that she will venture once again into a Regency ball gown.
5 out of 5 Stars
The Lure of the Moonflower: A Pink Carnation Novel, by Lauren Willig
New American Library (2015)
Trade paperback, eBook & Audio (528) pages
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Cover image courtesy of NAL Penguin © 2015; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2015, Austenprose.com