The Passion of the Purple Plumeria marks the tenth novel in Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series, documenting the lives and loves of British spies in Napoleonic Europe under the valiant eye of Eloise Kelly, a modern-day American of whose dissertation such spies are the subject. Living temporarily with her boyfriend Colin in his English country house, Selwick Hall, Eloise’s journey through the archives of history and the world of the Pink Carnation bring her to the story of the elusive spy’s second-in-command, Gwendolyn Meadows. Valiantly rigid and masterfully standoffish, Gwen has maintained for herself a life of adventure and independence within the league of the Pink Carnation, brandishing a parasol with a hidden blade and defying a life of commonplace domesticity – just as she had dreamed of doing over the four decades of her life. When the Pink Carnation’s young sister goes missing from her school with a classmate, Gwen is quick on the girls’ trail. With her is the missing classmate’s father, Colonel William Reid, a former member of the East India Company’s army. Recently returned from India, William is determined to reconnect with the daughter he sent away a decade before, but when the trail of the missing girls begins to lead in different directions, Gwen and William will have to work together to unravel the mystery. Complicating matters is the new alliance forming between Napoleon and an Ottoman Sultan, and the rumor of a hoard of jewels gone missing from India. As Gwen battles the feelings blossoming for William beneath her chilled, prickly exterior, she must keep an eye on the enemy and, as always, be on the watch for the welfare of her charge, the young and mysterious Pink Carnation.
The Passion of the Purple Plumeria combines countless subjects and genres into one delightful novel; its love story compliments its mystery, and its historic story melds wonderfully into the contemporary interludes. With so many different elements to take in, the reader might expect to be consumed by one over the others, but Willig handles all of her material with such aplomb that each scene offers its own enjoyable energy. I relished that the book’s love story followed a middle-aged hero and heroine, something altogether a bit uncommon in the genre; the relationship between Gwen and William was temperamental and heartwarming, with a certain poignancy brought on by the weight of the lives they had lived separately, each with their own secrets and scars. Gwen was a feisty character and one who occasionally veered into the territory of being somewhat of a challenge; her icy exterior felt, at times, frozen solid, but she had a special, irrepressible inner fire that kept me rooting for her even in her moments of stubbornness and folly. She felt like a truly unique, perhaps somewhat unlikely heroine, and that itself might be her greatest triumph. She was vastly entertaining, and her haughty airs combined with William’s roguish sarcasm made for witty dialogue and memorable chemistry.
Although it’s done through the device of fiction, The Passion of the Purple Plumeria had the invigorating feeling of a particularly exciting history lesson. Willig’s attention to detail set the stage for a truly absorbing story, and her lively prose was pure fun to read. I loved the narrative’s quick wit and expansive sensibility, both in the present-day and historic scenes. They each took on their own unique appearances under the sureness of a reliably entertaining tone. Smart and utterly charming, The Passion of the Purple Plumeria is the sort of escapism that keeps historical fiction readers coming back for more.
Title: The Passion of the Purple Plumeria (Pink Carnation #10)
Author: Lauren Willig
Genre: historical fiction, romance, mystery
Release date: August 6, 2013
Source: Penguin Group (C/O)
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