As promised, here is my love letter to the wonderousness that is Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series. As a History and French Grad, who wrote my dissertation on the effect of the French Revolution on the nobility of the Touraine* I have a real affinity (if not always affection – see the footnote) for this period of history. Add into that the fact that I love time-slip novels (you know, books with two connected narratives in two different periods), romances, thrillers and humour, and there’s pretty much everything that I like in these novels that you can managed to combine in the same book.
To set the scene: American Eloise Kelly is history grad student working towards her PhD. At the start of the first book, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, she has arrived in England to research her dissertation – which is on British spies. She knows all about the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian, but soon stumbles on a document that everyone has missed – one which contains the identity of the Pink Carnation – the most elusive and influential British spy of them all. The books follow Eloise’s research as she uncovers nests of spies – on both sides – starting in 1803 and going all the way through til 1807. The stories take in not just France and England, but Ireland, India and Portugal. There are governesses, spy schools, double agents, triple agents, free agents, soldiers, privateers, ladies seminaries, exploding Christmas puddings, root vegetables, amateur theatricals, not so amateur theatricals, illegitimate children, drug smuggling, jewel theft, good poetry,very bad poetry and much, much more.
And then there’s romance, all types of romance: friends to lovers, enemies to lovers, employer/employee, (slightly) later in life romance, the list continues. In fact I think the only one that is missing is accidentally/secretly pregnant – and that’s my least favourite trope, I’m good with that. Although Eloise is always the modern day strand, the focus of the nineteenth century story changes each book – with the Pink Carnation hovering in the background until you reach the final book. So if you don’t like one heroine, the one in the next book will be someone different (although you’ll probably have met her before).
I’ve loved this series. I borrowed the first book from the library, and, as is traditional, it sat in the library book bag for some time. Then I read it and liked it, then the next and the next. As the series has gone on, I’ve loved them more and more. The early books got solid threes on Goodreads then it moved to fours, then fives.**
I don’t actually own the whole series at the current moment – the earlier books were published in the UK and I picked them up at the library or on Kindle. Then they stopped and I started picking up the US editions because it was cheaper than the kindle editions (and we all know I love proper books). So now I’ve read all of them, I want to go back and read again from the beginning and see if I can spot any clues more in the earlier books to what happens in the later ones – and I know they’re there, because I’ve read interviews with Lauren Willig where she says her subconcious puts bits in that she only realises later are key to later events! But as I don’t own hard copies of them all (as you can see from the pictures) I can’t at the moment, so I suspect there’s some purchasing in my future!
You can start your Pink Carnation journey with the first book on Kindle, Kobo or ePub, from Amazon or Waterstones or it may even still be in your local library. Foyles don’t have the first book – but they do have some of the later ones as well as Ms Willig’s standalone books. Go! Enjoy! If you start this weekend you could be in Portugal in a few weeks…
* Using primary sources, spending weeks of the sunniest part of my year in France holed up in the departmental archive in Tours because I hadn’t got my act together to do the research earlier, and then discovering when I got home that really I could do with yet more information, not that I really knew where I would have found it or what to do with it if I had it. I still see my 2:1 as something of a miracle!
** It’s at times like these that I think I must either have been a really harsh grader back in the day, or I’ve got soft in my old age, or I’m reading more really good books. In 2012, when I read the first Pink Carnation book I only gave out 7 five star ratings out of 205 books read (3 percent). In 2015 43 from 368 – or 10 percent. This bears investigation. I smell a future post…
10 thoughts on “Series I love: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation”