Back to trying to finish series – I read The Secret History of the Pink Carnation when it first came out, and have read and enjoyed several more in the series, but somehow fell behind. At this point, I have only to read the Christmas entry, The Mischief of the Mistletoe, and this year’s new release, The Passion of the Purple Plumeria.
The Garden Intrigue by Lauren Willig. Read by Kate Reading.
The premise of this series is that in the era of the Scarlet Pimpernel, a league of female British spies worked to help save French nobles and prevent a possible French invasion of England, all set within the frame story of an American grad student, Eloise, who’s researching the spies, and her romance with the British noble, Colin, the spies’ modern-day descendant. Augustus Whittlesby has been a recurring comic character in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century. He’s a British spy embedded in the French court as a really awful poet, who doesn’t even need to encrypt his reports back home because he just writes them into the excessively long poems. Emma Delagardie is good friends with Jane, Augustus’s contact, but doesn’t know about Jane’s spy work. She’s a young American widow, disowned by her family when she eloped and married a Frenchman, and who hides her brains and her grief behind the front of a sparkling socialite. Not incidentally, she has been close friends with Bonaparte’s stepdaughter Hortense since they were in school together. In that capacity, she’s asked to write a masque for the newly-minted emperor’s upcoming garden party. A big military invention of some sort is supposed to be unveiled at that event, so Augustus volunteers to help Emma write as a means of securing an invitation. There’s both passion and intrigue in plenty as they both discover the real people beneath the society masks. Meanwhile, in 2004, Colin has been forced to allow a movie to be filmed on his beloved family estate, while Eloise is facing the looming deadline of the end of her fellowship abroad.
I really love Willig’s blending of historical spy adventure with romance in all of these books. This entry in the series felt a little lower on the adrenaline than some others, which is fine by me, a little higher on humor and a bit less spicy on the romance – just as much passion, but less explicit. I’m like both ways just fine, but I think the more conservative descriptions fit the feeling of the books a little better. Eloise and Colin’s story has been spread out slowly over the course of many books while the historical couples each find their match in one, but this book requires Eloise to give some serious thoughts to her personal and professional goals. Kate Reading does a good job of reading – mostly delightfully British, but with plenty of French and American accents thrown in for good measure. This is still lovely escapist fiction, perfect for those looking for a historical romp.