The Garden Intrigue
We are now on the ninth book of Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series, which is almost hard to believe, given that I remember buying the first one however many years ago that was. Looking back, it’s interesting to see how the series has evolved, both in terms of story and in Ms. Willig’s writing. With both, she’s only gotten better.
We return to Paris and Napoleon’s court in The Garden Intrigue, where Augustus Whittlesby has been an agent of the Crown for a decade, longer than anyone else. How has he managed to remain undetected? By being a truly awful poet, observing and collecting intelligence and reporting it to Jane Wooliston, the Pink Carnation herself, through very bad love poems. After ten years of being a mockery of Napoleon’s court, Augustus has gotten tired of being the love-struck (and very, very bad) wordsmith. He also has begun to fall for his muse, Jane.
Jane’s good friend Emma Delagardie has a bit of a crush on Augustus, meanwhile, despite the fact that she is one of his loudest critics. When she is asked to write a masque for her long-time friend and her mother, Hortense and Josephine Bonaparte, she reluctantly agrees to Augustus’s help. His offer is not for poetry’s sake, though; there is a rumor that Napoleon’s admiralty will be testing a device meant to assist in Napoleon’s life-long dream of invading England.
Back in “contemporary” times (2004), academic Eloise Kelly and her boyfriend Colin Selwick are inundated by a film crew at Colin’s family’s estate, against his wishes. Meanwhile, Eloise’s fellowship is coming to an end, and a job offer back in “the other Cambridge” might pull her away from England– and Colin.
One of Ms. Willig’s greatest strengths as a writer is her distinctive, witty, and intelligent style. As many times as I’ve tried to describe her style, the words are never quite right — unlike her own word choices. She has a vocabulary I envy and knows just how to use it for the best possible effect.
The growth and development of Emma and Augustus’s characters was well paced, subtle, and sincere. I do think that there should have been a bit more transition between Augustus’s affections for Jane to Emma, but for the most part the characterization of each of them was rich and multi-layered. Emma, in particular, had a subtle growth and depth to her that I appreciated and enjoyed. On the surface, she is a flamboyant character who enjoys champagne and feathered headdresses, but is in truth much less silly than she appears. The same is true of Augustus, who is a parody of a romantic poet that actually is weary of his charade and wants to be taken seriously by someone.
The series has become a bit more polished and the writing more sophisticated since we first met the Pink Carnation. (It is worth noting, though, that even as a debut writer, Lauren Willig was significantly more polished and sophisticated than many other writers.) The next book is, according to the author’s website, about Miss Gwen, Jane’s formidable chaperone. This is nothing if not unexpected, but I trust Ms. Willig to make it an interesting and exciting story.