Saturday 12 April 2014

#CBR6 Book 29: "The Masque of the Black Tulip" by Lauren Willig

Page count: 464 pages
Rating: 4 stars

This is the second book in The Pink Carnation series, with events following on pretty much directly from the end of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. If you want to avoid spoilers for the first book, you should probably skip this review for now.

Eloise Kelly has discovered the secret identity of the elusive British spy known as the Pink Carnation, but wants to discover more about the gentleman spies of the Napoleonic era. She goes with Colin Selwick to his country house, to search through the library archives there, and discovers new information about the unmasking of the deadly and dangerous French spy, the Black Tulip.

Lady Henrietta Selwick has grown up knowing that her brother was the dashing Purple Gentian and has always wanted to get involved with the war effort against Napoleon, to the strident objections of her entire family. Now, keeping up a correspondence with the Pink Carnation in France, she sees her chance to help capture the Black Tulip, rumoured to be coming to London. Miles Dorrington, her brother's best friend, who she's known all her life, has also been tasked by the War Office to try to uncover the identity of the French agent. To track the suspected spy, he has to frequent the various ballrooms of London, which he finds rather tedious. He did, however, also promise his best friend that he'd watch out for Henrietta and scare unsuitable gentlemen away from her.

Miles and Henrietta decipher secret messages, follow suspicious suspects, attend balls and do their best to uncover the true identity of the French assassin, while fighting their feelings for the other. Neither is entirely sure how they ended up madly in love with a person they've known for most of their lives. Of course, neither realises that they're both in terrible danger, as they are on the list of people the Black Tulip has come to London to investigate, due to their closeness to the Purple Gentian.

While the framing device of Eloise, the American grad student researching all the various British spies for her doctoral thesis was enjoyable enough in the first book, it grated a bit more in this book, especially as Lauren Willig tends to switch back to the present day and Eloise's not really all that interesting life every time something really tense and exciting happens in the historical narrative. Eloise finds herself quite attracted to Colin, and after being dragged to a party at a clearly deeply jealous neighbour's, starts to wonder if he may be returning her feelings, at least to a certain extent. Her insecure internal narrative is so much less exciting than the friends developing into lovers and trying their best to keep up with the other spies in the series back in 1803. In future books, if the trend continues, I suspect I'll want to shake Eloise quite frequently, and be annoyed when I have to read about her rather than the Pink Carnation and the other 19th Century spies and their associates. Still, a fun and enjoyable story. I can see why the books have such a following.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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