Dear. Ms. Willig,
I kind of lost track of this book earlier in the year when it was released in hardback. Now, I can make up for that at the trade paperback release. Since it’s been almost two years since I read book 4 (Crimson Rose), it took me a little while to get back into the swing of things but things finally “clicked” again at roughly the 1/3 mark and after that, I was finally involved with it.
By now, aficionados of the series know the drill. The story will switch back and forth from the modern day back to the golden age of floral spying – the early nineteenth century when England and France battled to see who would rule Europe. Eloise Kelly is still delving into the memoirs, letters and other papers in the hands of the Selwick family who, two centuries before, were part of an elaborate spy ring. Grad student Eloise is nowhere ready to being writing her dissertation on the subject but she is moving ahead in her romance with the current owner of Selwick Hall, Colin Selwick. As she starts to read the letters of Lady Charlotte Lansdowne, Eloise begins to uncover a plot that threatened England in a way that would have rocked the country. And which was foiled by the pluck and daring of Charlotte and her long lost cousin, Robert the Duke of Dovedale. But once they save the country, can these two save their romance?
Honestly, the first 1/3 of the novel didn’t impress me much. The modern sections come off as too chick-lit-y. The relationship between Colin and Eloise is awkward – which does make sense as they’re still settling into it – but that doesn’t help me get involved in their relationship. I was cringing more at Eloise’s overly overt PDAs then cheering her on.
When Charlotte and Robert show up, at first they interested me but very quickly, I began to wonder what Robert saw in Charlotte. Later, their relationship changes – thank goodness – but in the early stages, little about them grabbed me. As well, there is a lot of extraneous nothing that gets described in detail and which I found myself skimming. The dialogue seemed to me to be headed in the direction of a Julia Quinn novel where the characters talk at and around each other in a circular motion that didn’t seem to want to end. Around and around and around to say the same thing again until I feared I would lose all interest in continuing. There is also a fair share of ‘too modern’ parlance in the historical section. Charlotte has “had it up to here.” Miles states “what he said.”
I actually think the spy stuff is a cool plot and neatly folded into what were probably real concerns at the time. Had something like this really been carried out, the upheaval to the government would have been immense and long lasting. Points to Robert and Tommy for calling for help when they realized the breadth of the plot was beyond their scope to deal with. I also like that Charlotte and Henrietta take part in saving the day, and not just to make suggestions that others act on but in being there, on the spot to lend a hand.
As for the overall arc of characters, Charlotte changes the most, going from someone who lived in books and saw Robert as a storybook hero to a (more disillusioned) young woman who sees the real person he is. She also begins to stand up for herself both against her intimidating grandmother and against Robert. First when he tries to warn her off of one of the villains then when he tries to end-run her into marriage. Robert changes some but not as much as Charlotte.
Where the book excels for me is in how Robert and Charlotte’s views of each other change. Both initially saw the other as their idealized person. Robert was a knight in shining armor -complete with trumpets blaring in Charlotte’s head – while she was his vision of sweet womanhood – gentle, ladylike, butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. She showed him she had a backbone of iron and the will to match while she learned that he could save the day and triumph over evil – yet both also see that the other is merely human, subject to weakness, foibles and feet of clay
She did have her doubts and initially was devastated that he might leave her but she stood her ground, stuck to her guns and got the kind of relationship she wanted with no linger doubts about it. But this ended up being another sticking point for me. Charlotte sticks up for herself and what she wants but what does Robert do – beyond not going back to India? Hauls in the unicorn scenario again and leaves jam tarts all over the garden? What does this truly prove? That he’s given in before Charlotte does?
But while the historical parts of the story eventually pick up speed for me, the modern parts just never jelled. Eloise moans about how cold it is in Selwick Hall and they disagree on movies. There’s a red herring tossed at us about what Colin does that is too quickly cleared up. Then – with almost nothing that really happens, this part of the story is over. When it’s all said and done, I’m left with the feeling of a tiny ripple in a teacup. Maybe Great Events will happen to them in the next installment.
I wonder what is in store, if anything, for Tommy. I also like that, even though I had to puzzle through who some of the characters were – initially – you didn’t feel the need to haul everyone and his maiden aunt out as proof of love, fidelity and fecundity.
This is definitely not a starting place for newbies to the series and I would advise long standing series readers to brush up on past characters before diving into the book. I just wish that it had lived up to the two previous “Pink Carnation” books I’ve read. C+