The Betrayal of the Blood Lily
With this latest installment in the Pink Carnation series, Lauren Willig takes us beyond the front lines of the Napoleonic Wars, off to British India.
Penelope Staines, nee Deveraux, has always been a flirt, but when word gets out that she was unsupervised in a bedroom alone with Lord Frederick, marriage is forced upon them. To escape the scandal, Freddie gets appointed as Special Envoy to the Resident Hyderabad, a territory in India. Theirs is certainly no love match, as becomes increasingly obvious as he spends more and more time playing cards and getting drunk and ignoring his wife.
It’s more than just aristocrats and debauchery in exotic places, though. Major Alex Reid, the Staines’ guide to Hyderabad, is investigating the role of the Marigold, a spy nom de guerre, in the disappearance of weapons and alliance with a French military official working with the natives in planning a revolt against the British. Penelope is interested too, and while an illicit attraction between her and Alex grows, someone isn’t pleased with their involvement, and suspicion falls on Alex’s brother – and Penelope’s husband.
India isn’t the most unusual historical locale, but it’s far from the most common, either. I, for one, know little about the organizational and political atmosphere of British India in the early nineteenth century, and Willig lays it out for us smoothly and subtly. Still, it was a lot. It’s a fascinating setting, and has as much rich historical detail as the previous books.
Penelope is an interesting character. She’s had minor roles in the past, but never did anything that endeared her to me; she’s sarcastic, a bit manipulative, and unsentimental. She just never seemed like a particularly nice person to me. However, we really get to explore her character in this book. She’s far more complex than she first appears, and I loved getting to know her. Her relationship with Alex is also a bit unusual. It’s a reversal of typical gender roles, with her being the seductress and he the less experienced in romantic relationships. It’s a more mature relationship, as the specter of adultery is never far off. This isn’t a smooth rake losing his head and heart over a virginal young society miss; it’s a married woman falling for a man who is not her husband. For that reason, a number of readers may not like this book, but I thought this story line provided a glimpse into the shades of gray surrounding an issue so many see as black and white.
Meanwhile, in modern-day London, Eloise and Colin are progressing along nicely. It’s Valentine’s Day, and Eloise is working to get Colin’s sister Serena into a relationship of her own. However, Colin’s mysterious family past comes to light, complicating things. I would have liked some more romance – it’s V-Day, after all—but it added another dimension to Colin’s past.
The Betrayal of the Blood Lily is the sixth in this series, and while the Pink Carnation herself doesn’t play much of a role in this book, I expect we’ll be returning to her soon. Now this is purely speculation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Jane’s future love interest was introduced in this book. I can’t wait for her story to see if my suspicions are correct.