The Garden Intrigue

Written by Lauren Willig
Review by Ellen Keith

Historian Eloise Kelly is back, still working with a treasure trove of primary sources for her dissertation on English spies immersed in the intrigue in France between 1789 and 1815. Her latest research subject is Augustus Whittlesby, an Englishman in league with the Pink Carnation in France in 1804. Whittlesby is most effectively disguised as a terrible poet who pays court to Jane Wooliston, aka the Pink Carnation. To gain entrance to Napoleon’s residence, Malmaison, Whittlesby teams up with American widow Emma Delagardie. Emma has been charged with writing a masque for the first consul’s, now emperor’s, entertainment, and Whittlesby gallantly volunteers to assist.

Willig captures perfectly the 19th-century woman’s plight. As a widow, Emma is afforded a bit more freedom than a single woman, but just a bit. Her cousin comes to Paris, charged with bringing her home. As Napoleon’s stepdaughter’s best friend, she is invited to join his court, but that too brings its own confinement. In the present day, Eloise wrestles with a similar dilemma – to accept a head teaching fellow position back at Harvard or to stay in England with her boyfriend Colin (he of the treasure trove of primary sources). Willig provides a fascinating look at Napoleonic France in addition to the 19th and 21st-century love stories. Napoleon doesn’t take center stage, but his narcissism is palpable, nonetheless. Although lighthearted, the series has a vein of seriousness running through it; Willig knows her history.