Following an ugly breakup, Harvard graduate student Eloise Kelly reacts in the time-honored tradition of historians everywhere: she throws herself into research for her dissertation. Her quarry? The Pink Carnation, a British spy in France during the Napoleonic era. The Pink Carnation is hardly the first colorful flower to play spy in France: the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian had each been unmasked by the French in the 1800s. But the Pink Carnation was never identified, and Eloise figures the best, and perhaps only, place to start is with the Pimpernel and Gentian.
In the archives of the Selwick family, the descendants of the Purple Gentian, Eloise loses herself in the world of Amy Balcourt, a half-English, half-French girl desperate to overthrow the rule of Napoleon in France and restore the monarchy. To that end, she endeavors first to join the League of the Purple Gentian, and then make a name for herself as the Pink Carnation. As Amy and her cousin Jane begin to delve into the work of spying, they discover that international espionage is a bit different than it seems when plotting at home.
I initially read The Secret History of the Pink Carnation two years ago, when the third book in the series came out. I decided it was time for a re-read of the whole series, though, when the fifth book came out last month and I had completely lost track of who some of the characters were (they took a backseat during some of the intervening novels). And honestly, it’s kind of a miracle that I continued to read the series after the first one. Don’t get me wrong, it has some interesting stuff going for it: I love the blend of contemporary chick lit and historical fiction. However, there were a few places where the romance in the historical fiction portions of the book were a little too much for me. I’m not much for stereotypical romances, so I had a hard time dealing with the fact that there was actual bodice-ripping.
Overall, I would say this book is okay. It’s not great, but it is good for an afternoon of escapist reading. Plus, the historian in me loves the idea of the academic coup Eloise is attempting to pull off. Recommended for those who like historical romances and modern “chick lit.” However, I wouldn’t recommend it for those who prefer their historical fiction without a romantic focus.