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The Secret History of the Pink Carnation Paperback – December 27, 2005

3.4 out of 5 stars 246 customer reviews
Book 1 of 10 in the Pink Carnation Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

It's difficult to narrate one book, much less a story within a story that spans two different time periods, but Reading meets this challenge with a bravado befitting Willig's swashbuckling tale. American academic Eloise Kelly has come to London to uncover the identity of the Pink Carnation, a British spy who infiltrated Napoleonic France. Eloise, who's given an appropriately flat American inflection, hits a vein of gold when she uncovers letters describing a love affair between the Purple Gentian, another famous spy, and Amy Balcourt, who may be the Pink Carnation. Much of the novel focuses on the far-fetched love story between Amy and Richard Selwick (aka the Purple Gentian), and here Reading truly demonstrates her vocal prowess. Amy's accent smacks strongly of her British roots but also proves as impish as her character, and Richard possesses a deep voice that actually sounds sexy. As the adventure progresses, evil French spies and formidable dowagers roll off of Reading's agile tongue, making this a fun, dynamic listen. Simultaneous release with the Dutton hardcover (Forecasts, Jan. 24). (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Willig's imaginative debut is the story of Eloise Kelly, who is trying to uncover the identity of the Pink Carnation, a British spy a la the Scarlet Pimpernel who infiltrated Napoleonic France, for her Ph.D. dissertation. But it is also the story of Amy Balcourt, a young woman of French descent raised in England, whom Eloise learns about when she gains access to the papers kept by Arabella Selwick-Alderly, the descendant of another dashing spy, the Purple Gentian. Amy sets off to join her brother, Edouard, in France, with the hope of joining the league of the Purple Gentian. On her journey over she meets Lord Richard Selwick, the Purple Gentian himself, and though sparks fly between the two, he feels he can't reveal his secret identity to her. Eloise is engrossed in Amy's story, even as Arabella's infuriating but handsome nephew, Colin Selwick, tries to bar her access to the papers. Readers should expect more of the swashbuckling past than the scholarly present, but Willig's story is a decidedly delightful romp. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Pink Carnation (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 449 pages
  • Publisher: NAL; Reprint edition (December 27, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1863254781
  • ISBN-13: 978-1863254786
  • ASIN: 045121742X
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (246 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #312,631 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I enjoyed this book, and I'm a bit surprised by all the really bad reviews. It may not be perfect but it is a fun read, which I believe is what the author intended.

DON'T expect Jane Austen or Baroness Orczy or Philippa Gregory. Lauren Willig's "The Secret History of the Pink Carnation" is not deep, destined-to-be-classic, impeccably accurate historical fiction--nor is it intended to be. The author says on her website that she wrote it for fun after passing some tough grad school exams, and her enjoyment of writing it comes across in the book.

Sure, Amy Balcourt isn't quite as prim and proper as your standard young lady of 1803. It would be difficult to feature in a romance novel if she were. Which, though it hurts my intellectual pride to admit it, this essentially is.

It is not, however, I hasten to add, a bodice-ripper Harlequin that's all sex and no substance with no plot, flat characters, and a lot of heaving bosoms. Um, well...there are a few heaving bosoms, but that isn't the *sole* focus of the plot.

On the contrary, the book is well-written and engaging. The plot may be insanely contrived at times, but that's what makes it a comedy! The writing is light and funny, the dialog is witty, the romance is...romantic, the plot is suspenseful and full of funny unexpected turns, and the characters are outstanding.

Rebellious, vivacious Amy Balcourt and dashing, mysterious Lord Richard Selwick are the main characters. Amy is a lively, intelligent young woman with big plans to help the mysterious Purple Gentian save England (though she wouldn't object if he fell in love with her in the process). She is appalled when she meets Richard--an Englishman on Bonaparte's payroll, which in Amy's eyes amounts to nothing short of treason.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When historical mysteries first started to become really popular I didn't really understand why. Then I realized that all we do in studying history is try to explain mysteries, even if it's just trying to understand the motivations of peoples personal actions. So I overcame my aversion to historical mystery and started in on this new-ish genera.

When I first read the title "The secret history of the pink carnation" I thought that the pink carnation had to be a painting of some sort. As it turns out, the pink carnation is a not-so-real English spy who worked against Napoleon. In fact, the pink carnation is the third in a line of English spies named after flowers who all worked in France. In modern times Harvard grad student Eloise Kelly is trying to uncover the real identity of the pink carnation, the only spy who was not unmasked by the French. She gets her opportunity when an elderly woman, a descendent of one of these flower spies, grants her access to family letter and diaries that revel the identity of the pink carnation, but have always been kept secret from the world.

And so we have the secret history of the pink carnation. Is the spy the same person as the romantic Purple Gentian, a spy who poses as the collector of Egyptian objects for napoleon? Is it Amy Balcourt, a young woman whose father, a French noble, was murdered by the revolutionaries? And will Eloise Kelly even be allowed to figure the mystery out over the objections of an annoying young British noble who doesn't want her poking into his families past?

In my opinion the main virtue of this book is that it's funny. All those little ironic, stupid observations that we make in the course of a normal day are written down.
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I was expecting something similar to The Scarlet Pimpernel, and this is not it. The writing is poor, the characters are stupid, and both of the plots (past and present) are ridiculous.

This is not an historical spy novel with romantic overtones. There is no espionage: only arrogant, bumbling fools trying to foil other arrogant, bumbling fools. There is no romance: only lust and sex.

The novel is twice as long as necessary -- no, wait, it's completely unnecessary. Truly, I don't understand how the series continues.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
I have the audiobook of this, which I got on sale (thank god, though I'm sorry I paid a dime for it). The narrator is quite good, but the poor thing is working with some pretty flimsy stuff. There's nothing remotely historically accurate about this, but I'm not sure anyone would expect that. It's sort of a romance novel, though a fairly tame one by modern standards.

The main thing that annoys, however is that the 19C heroine is such a dithering idiot you want to wring her neck. She behaves like an 8-year-old boy trying to worm his way into his older brother's clubhouse. She wants to be a spy, but has no idea what spies are actually after. It's kind of a cloak-and-dagger game for her. The author does that romance novel thing of having this woman be "spirited," which means cutely indignant every so often for no particularly good reason. Then the hero gets miffed at her. It's unspeakably tedious. And she's constantly stubbing her toe or falling down and squealing "ouch!" when she's trying to be stealthy. The modern heroine is also always spilling things and tripping. I'm not sure if this clumsiness is supposed to make them adorable or relatable or what, but it's just irritating. By the halfway point, you'll find yourself wishing in vain that the halfwit will get herself killed, as she is forever on the verge of doing, but no luck.

If you want a heroine for whom you can muster at least a morsel of respect, look elsewhere.
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