The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

Written by Lauren Willig
Review by Teresa Basinski Eckford

American graduate student Eloise Kelly is in England to research her dissertation on “aristocratic espionage.” When a descendant of the famed spy called the Purple Gentian gives Eloise access to family papers, she is thrilled to find a letters recounting his adventures. Maybe through him she’ll learn the identity of the elusive Pink Carnation.

From there the story moves into the past, where twenty-year-old Amy de Balcourt returns to France from exile, determined to join the League of the Purple Gentian, led by its eponymous figure of romance and daring. Though half-French, Amy blames the Revolution for her parents’ deaths and wants to bring Napoleon down.

Amy meets and falls in love with the Purple Gentian, aka Richard Selwick. The latter is dashing and intelligent, so his attraction to the oft childish Amy had me questioning the romantic element of the story. The secondary characters fared far better, notably Richard’s mother, Amy’s cousin Jane and their chaperone, Miss Gwen. Occasionally we glimpse Eloise’s own growing romance with her benefactress’s grandson.

A doctoral candidate in history, Ms. Willig has crafted an amusing and intriguing tale that brings the early nineteenth century to vibrant life. There can be little doubt she has done her research. However, I found the point of view control less than stellar, and there was some rather awkward prose, while the device of the letters didn’t really work. The story came across more as a journal than correspondence.

Ms. Willig’s aim was to write a historically accurate romance novel, and she succeeded, though a couple of minor continuity errors jumped out at me. Despite these niggles, I truly enjoyed this debut novel, a charming romp into the fictional past—and so, I believe, will fans of both chick lit and historical romance.