After spending some time in London researching the Vaughn collection, Eloise Kelly is headed back to Selwick Hall to resume her perusal of the Selwick papers in hopes of furthering her research into French and English flower spies of the Napoleonic era. Of course, her ever-developing relationship with Colin Selwick certainly plays a role in her willingness to return to Selwick Hall. Luckily, though, Eloise is just as interested in the archives as she was before. This time, it is Lady Charlotte Lansdowne, the best friend of Henrietta Dorrington (nee Selwick) who gets the 19th century storyline.
Charlotte Lansdowne has always been overshadowed by her grandmother, the formidable Dowager Duchess of Dovedale, and her best friends Henrietta and Penelope. And that’s okay with her; she’d prefer to live in a world surrounded by fictional characters.When her cousin Robert, the current Duke of Dovedale, returns after twelve years in India, she begins to think for the first time that she could get married- thoughts that she had not previously entertained. As is true of all things in life, though, there are bumps along the way, and Robert and Charlotte are drawn, for different reasons into a world of secret societies and treason unlike any they’ve faced before. As the story progresses, the stage is set for a new foe for the Pink Carnation.
This actually is one of my favorite books of the series, in spite of the fact that it does very little to advance the Pink Carnation storyline. The beginning of the novel does drag a bit, as we begin to get some insight into Charlotte’s world (Charlotte’s only previous mention is in The Masque of the Black Tulip, as Henrietta’s best friend). However, once things begin to move along, they move along quite quickly. Charlotte and Robert don’t exactly work well together early on- Robert underestimates Charlotte, and in some places, I did, too. It was easy to see Charlotte as an almost naive bookworm, very much like Catherine Morland in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (a novel which Eloise referred to more than once while at Selwick Hall). By the end of the novel, Robert and I both appreciated Charlotte as someone who knew when to stand her ground, and when to move into the background.
Additionally, I felt like their relationship was more real than any of the relationships in the previous novels. They TALKED about how things might or might not work, and I think their story ended with far more realistic expectations than other characters. Even in this novel, after several months of being married, Miles and Henrietta don’t feel like they’ve grown as a couple. Their relationship has continued on exactly as it had before, only now they’re married. At one point, Charlotte observed that Henrietta knew a lot of intimacies about Miles, such as how many times it took him to get his cravat right in the morning. But I think Henrietta knew things like this because Miles was already an important part of her family. So I wish we’d gotten to see something new and different in their relationship.
But I digress, since this is about Robert and Charlotte, and Eloise and Colin. I also felt, for the first time, that Eloise started considering Colin more as a person, and less as a Boy. Granted, there were still times that she seemed to think of Colin almost as being super-human, but she began to think more like a woman in a relationship and less like a little girl with a big crush. The audience (and Eloise) also continue to get a lot more information about Colin, as well as some further insight as to why Colin was so reluctant to allow Eloise to see the archives in the first place (in addition to information learned in The Seduction of the Crimson Rose).
Overall, I really think this book shows how much Willig is growing as an author. The characters and the story lines are better developed, and it’s all starting to come together quite nicely. I’m not sure how many novels are left in this series, but I happily await each one if they’re going to be more like this one. However, for those who are fans of the romance aspect of these novels, you may be a bit disappointed. Personally, I’m a bigger fan of historical fiction than historical romance, so the lack of sex scenes was fine with me.
Rating: 4 stars
Qualifying Challenges: 100 Books, Countdown Challenge, 999 Challenge, Winter Reading Challenge
999 Category: Books Released in 2009
My reviews of the previous books in this series can be found here:
- The Secret History of the Pink Carnation
- The Masque of the Black Tulip
- The Deception of the Emerald Ring
- The Seduction of the Crimson Rose