Pros: Mary and Vaughn are beautifully written, and their conversations are a joy to read.
Cons: Chapter shifts and transitions are sometimes abrupt.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Review book courtesy of Penguin Books
Mary Alsworthy is determined to enjoy another London Season without any financial assistance from her brother-in-law and former lover and now brother-in-law, and so she accepts Lord Vaughn’s request on behalf of the Pink Carnation to infiltrate the inner circle of the Black Tulip. A French spy who enjoys black-haired women, The Black Tulip has been the Pink Carnation’s quarry for a while. While Mary’s calculated wiles bring her into the Black Tulip’s presence, her growing feelings for Lord Vaughn are a distraction that the two of them may not be able to afford. Can they thwart the Black Tulip’s plans, or will the nation face disaster?
Lauren Willig’s The Seduction of the Crimson Rose wasn’t quite what I expected, but I thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless. Based on what I had heard about the series prior to receiving this book for review, I had anticipated more political intrigue. While there was intrigue, at times it felt as if it took backstage to the blossoming romance between Mary and Lord Vaughn. (The story has a lot of elements in common with the romance genre.) Mary’s role in the intrigue does feel very appropriate for the time period, given the prevailing attitudes about a woman’s place, and so the story not being quite what I expected didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the story.
Ms. Willig has a sense of humor that has a lot in common with the illustrious Jane Austen, and I was grinning or laughing through most of the book because that humor shines through the characters’ dialogue and even some of the situations that they are put in. Both Mary and Vaughn are creatures of their time; Mary is determined to make a good match, while Vaughn is determined to stay a bachelor. When the two of them verbally fence, their skill and slightly caustic wit are delicious to watch, and I must admit I enjoyed those conversations more than I probably should.
Woven into Mary and Vaughn’s story is Eloise Kelly’s. A young grad student, she is researching the Pink Carnation and her network of spies to finish her thesis. I enjoyed the glimpses of a darker side of competitive academia, but for me the shifts between Mary’s and Eloise’s stories were fairly abrupt, and when they occurred at highly suspenseful moments I found myself completely confused by the shift in perspective. This likely won’t be a problem for every reader, but for me it ruined a lot of the tension that would build up before each shift and I would have to let it build up again.
Despite the transitions, the plot was thoroughly engrossing. As the story progressed, it seemed as if the odds would prevent a happy ending. My poor husband went to sleep without me, because I simply HAD to know how it ended. It seemed like every time I thought that Mary and Vaughn had the situation under control, something would happen that would force one or both to start problem-solving again from a different angle.
“The Seduction of the Crimson Rose” is actually the fourth in the Pink Carnation series, but Ms. Willig has written them so that the reader doesn’t need to have read any of the others to grasp the meat of the action. I suspect that if I had read the other books, there would have been elements and threads from the other stories that would have made it even more interesting, but even without the previous books I could barely put it down. The background information was skillfully layered in, so there was no large chunk of information to digest and try to remember.
I absolutely loved the wit and humor throughout this book, and especially the way that Mary and Vaughn fenced with each other. When that is paired with a plot that keeps me wondering, I simply can’t put the book down. And even though “The Seduction of the Crimson Rose” is the fourth book of an expanding series, Ms. Willig does a wonderful job of providing the context that the reader needs to understand the story. I just would have enjoyed smoother transitions between Eloise and Mary, because those abrupt shifts startled me out of the intensity of the action. All the same, I just might have to pick up the rest of the series because this one was so much fun for me!