Even a modern girl could use a hero. Eloise Kelly, a smart but slightly fumbling Jimmy Choo-clad American, has had her nose in the books, but she's about to uncover The Secret History of the Pink Carnation--a tale of espionage, adventure, and romance. And she just might find a hero of her own along the way.
The French eventually unmasked the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian, famed spies in the Napoleonic wars, but as Harvard graduate student Eloise Kelly discovers at the start of this breezy historical romance, the identity of the Pink Carnation remains a mystery. Working in London on her history dissertation, Eloise gets access to a trunk of papers and documents from the early 19th century. She dives into this treasure trove, and suddenly the reader is plunged into a novel within a novel, told from the viewpoint of Amy Balcourt. Amy, exiled to rural England with her mother, now wants to avenge, with the help of her cousin Jane, her father's death at the hands of the French. She hopes to be in league with the Scarlet Pimpernel, who heroically tried to save her father. Willig, a Harvard graduate student herself, does a good job painting a picture of the tumultuous era. She also makes the sparks fly between Amy and the Purple Gentian, a dashing English nobleman in charge of Egyptian antiquities for Bonaparte. But when the Pink Carnation's identity is finally revealed after many obvious clues, the reader wonders why it took Eloise so long to get it. More critically, Eloise's appearances come to seem like awkward intrusions into Amy's-and the Pink Carnation's-more intriguing story. Agent, Joe Veltre. (Feb. 7) Forecast: Misleading chick lit-style packaging doesn't do Willig's debut-essentially a conventional historical romance-any favors. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 26, 2005
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Excerpt from The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig
"... The city of your birth awaits your return. Please send word of your travel arrangements by courier at first opportunity. I remain, your devoted brother, Edouard."
"The city of your birth awaits your return." Amy whispered the words aloud.
At last! Fingers tightening around the paper in her hands, she gazed rapturously at the sky. For an event of such magnitude, she expected bolts of lightning, or thunderclouds at the very least. But the Shropshire sky gazed calmly back at her, utterly unperturbed by the momentous events taking place below.
Wasn't that just like Shropshire?
Sinking to the grass, Amy contemplated the place where she had spent the majority of her life. Behind her, over the rolling fields, the redbrick manor house sat placidly on its rise. Uncle Bertrand was sure to be right there, three windows from the left, sitting in his cracked leather chair, poring over the latest findings of the Royal Agricultural Society, just as he did every day. Aunt Prudence would be sitting in the yellow-and-cream morning room, squinting over her embroidery threads, just as she did every day. All peaceful, and bucolic, and boring.
The prospect before her wasn't any more exciting, nothing but long swaths of green, enlivened only by woolly balls of sheep.
But now, at last, the long years of boredom were at an end. In her hand she grasped the opportunity to leave Wooliston Manor and its pampered flock behind her forever. She would no longer be plain Amy Balcourt, niece to the most ambitious sheep breeder in Shropshire, but Aim?e, Mlle de Balcourt. Amy conveniently ignored the fact that revolutionary France had banished titles when they beheaded their nobility.
She had been six years old when revolution exiled her to rural England. In late May of 1789, she and Mama had sailed across the Channel for what was meant to be merely a two-month visit, time enough for Mama to see her sisters and show her daughter something of English ways. For all the years she had spent in France, Mama was still an Englishwoman at heart.
Uncle Bertrand, sporting a slightly askew periwig, had stridden out to meet them. Behind him stood Aunt Prudence, embroidery hoop clutched in her hand. Clustered in the doorway were three little girls in identical muslin dresses, Amy's cousins Sophia, Jane, and Agnes. "See, darling," whispered Mama. "You shall have other little girls to play with. Won't that be lovely?"
It wasn't lovely. Agnes, still in the lisping and stumbling stage, was too young to be a playmate. Sophia spent all of her time bent virtuously over her sampler. Jane, quiet and shy, Amy dismissed as a poor-spirited thing. Even the sheep soon lost their charm. Within a month, Amy was quite ready to return to France. She packed her little trunk, heaved and pushed it down the hall to her mother's room, and announced that she was prepared to go.
Mama had half-smiled, but her smile twisted into a sob. She plucked her daughter off the trunk and squeezed her very, very tightly.
"Mais, maman, qu'est-ce que se passe?" demanded Amy, who still thought in French in those days.
"We can't go back, darling. Not now. I don't know if we'll ever... Oh, your poor father! Poor us! And Edouard, what must they be doing to him?"
Amy didn't know who they were, but remembering the way Edouard had yanked at her curls and pinched her arm while supposedly hugging her good-bye, she couldn't help but think her brother deserved anything he got. She said as much to Mama.