I had a four-day weekend for Memorial Day, and I was finally able to get a lot of reading in. I started and finished 3 books and started a 4th. Now that’s more like it!
The Seduction of the Crimson Rose is Lauren Willig’s 4th installment in her historical romance Pink Carnation series (think Scarlet Pimpernel). The story centers around Mary Alsworthy, beautiful yet still on the shelf after 3 seasons. Even more galling is that her little sister stole her fiance out from under her, making a genuine love match, and has generously offered to fund a 4th Season for Mary. Desperate to avoid this humiliation, Mary agrees to a mission offered by the Pink Carnation, a job that will provide her enough money to pay for her own Season. Her mission: to ensnare the dreadful Black Tulip, a French spy. Her mission requires her to work closely with Lord Vaughn, a haughty, mysterious nobleman whose own loyalty is questioned and whose wife died under mysterious circumstances many years ago.
The problem with books in a series is the amount of time between the publication of each book. The first one was published in February 2005. The second and third books were published in 2006, and the 4th one in February 2008. I don’t remember when I read the first one, but I read the second and third installments over Christmas 2006. As a result, it has been over 1.5 years since I read a Pink Carnation book. My memory is good, but it’s not that good. And I wasn’t devoted enough to the series to re-read the previous books in preparation. As a result, I found myself having to search my memory for who the characters are and trying to recall the previous plots. That difficulty may have colored my perception of this book.
This book was just ok. I feel like everything was a little to light in this book: the plot, the characters, the action. The book was fairly long, so it seems that there were a lot of words without much actually going on. Willig wrote that she was writing this book while starting a new job, and frankly it shows. I felt like I should have swooned over the mysterious, dark Vaughn, but…eh. I did feel a little bit for the humiliated Mary, but since I’m not ravishingly beautiful and not usually the belle of the ball, I couldn’t empathize overmuch with her situation. As mentioned before, my memory of the previous books isn’t great, but it seemed that the other books focused a bit more on the ostensible reason for the plot: the spy ring. That element was really missing from this book. It appears that more attention was given to developing the romance between Mary and Vaughn, but even that seemed to come out of left field a bit. Suddenly, he loves her!
Overall, I really like the series’ concept: Eloise Kelly, a modern Ph.D student, researches 19th century flower-named spies (the Scarlet Pimpernel and Purple Gentian) for her dissertation, discovovering the identity of the mysterious and elusive Pink Carnation in the process as well as possible romance. Each book tells the story of a different adventure for the Pink Carnation and the Pink Carnation’s assistants, and the action moves between the 19th century and modern England. I also like that each story depicts a woman’s active role in protecting her country. These books are historical romance (light on the smut though). Willig is a real-life Ph.D and knows her stuff. This book, however, is not up to her previous efforts. Hopefully the next one will be, and maybe I will even re-read the other books in the series before it comes out 🙂