I was in college when my cousin Kelly (who is responsible for a large swath of my personality as I spent a good chunk of my childhood trying to impress her) gave me a copy of The Secret History of The Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig for Christmas. I was working at Borders at the time, and Pink Carnation was one of those books that I would always breeze past, back track, read the description of, consider buying, and then not buy, because, I don’t know. I was mostly really into teen vampires at that moment, even though I was 22.
But a Kelly endorsement will send me out to do something faster than just about anything else. Kelly is the reason I drink belinis, as she insisted I try one when I was 16 (yet another line in my belief that my family ruined college binge drinking for me. When you’re drinking high end champagne cocktails at 16, it’s hard to go back to jungle juice and cheap keg beer. I did it, but not with as much relish as my friends.), why I still hold Jagged Little Pill up as one of the top 10 albums of all time, (Shut up. It’s great.) and not the only reason, but a big reason I always did theatre.
So I first read The Scarlett Pimpernel, as Pink Carnation is meant to be a sequel to that. I loved it and tore into Pink Carnation. I loved everything about it. I loved it’s twisty dual narrative, it’s outright silliness, it’s obvious ripping from Jane Austen and of course it’s lovable world of characters, both in the modern day and in the 1800s.
Basically the Pink series revolves around 2 main stories, the modern day story follows Eloise Kelly, a Harvard PhD Candidate who heads to England to work on her dissertation on British Spies during the Napoleonic Wars. Eloise is particularly interested in The Pink Carnation, who was the most effective spy, having never been unamsked and doing all kinds of cool history stuff that I knew very little about. Eloise meets Colin Selwick, a descendant of The Purple Gentian (The guy between The Pimpernel and The Carnation) and they have wonderful romantic comedy plot.
As Eloise and Colin fall in love, Eloise learns the stories of many of the people surrounding The Pink Carnation, who is actually Jane Wooliston, a young woman who’s kind of the best.
The penultimate Pink book, The Mark of The Midnight Manzanilla came out this past week and I devoured it on Sunday. And I realized one of the things that I love the most about these books, is just the amazing number of characters and their diversity. Not actual diversity, they’re like almost exclusively wealthy white Brits, because of the book’s setting, but their personality diversity. If you read Pink Carnation, and weren’t super into it’s main couple Amy and Richard, Amy as a flighty run into danger without a plan kind of girl and Richard as a dashing masked hero, that’s cool, because up next is The Masque of The Black Tulip, where you get Henrietta and Miles, a take no crap tomboy type and a bumbling analyst. Or maybe you want a brassy outrageous outspoken heroine and a dashing soldier hero? Then Penelope and Alex of The Betrayal of The Blood Lily are for you. Do you like ironic double entendre and a healthy dose of cynicism in your romance novel? You should probably try Mary and Vaughn of The Seduction of The Crimson Road. More into bookish fantasies that actually come true? You should read The Tempation of The Night Jasmine and get to know Charlotte and Robert. What about kooky screwball misunderstandings? Definitely The Deception of The Emerald Ring and Geoffrey and Lettie. Want some tangential connection to the founding fathers and bad poetry? The Garden Affair gives you Emma and Augustus, and they’re all over that. Or maybe you want to see second chances at love? Both The Passion of the Purple Plumeria and The Orchid Affair, where heroines Gwen and Laura and heroes William and Andre will deliver.
The new book felt like kind of a mash up of some of the others. Heroine Sally is a meddler who doesn’t think before acting, and hero Lucien is a mysterious duke who returned after years abroad. This makes Sally deeply similar to both Amy of Pink Carnation and Lettie of Emerald Ring, and Lucien is a whole lot like Robert from Night Jasmine with hints of Alex from Blood Lily.
But my favorite, absolute favorite thing about this series is that everytime I finish one of the books I declare it my new favorite. Then I think about it for a minute and remember that nope, The Mischief of The Mistletoe is definitely my favorite, despite not having an Eloise and Colin plot. Instead, our heroine, Arabella is friends with Jane Austen, and it’s a companion piece to Nigh Jasmine which allows us to check in with characters who were around but we didn’t really see in that one. And also it treats us to the pure adorable fun of Reginald Fitzhugh, more commonly known as Turnip, who’s previous adventures included clumsily trying to seduce a French spy who thought he was the Pink Carnation and making out with Penelope one time. Spending a whole book with him was really great.
Basically, I love these books in all of their weird silly glory. I love it’s sprawling cast and less than epic nature. I love that they’re about people stumbling around and foiling plots, but mostly just falling in love with the wrong people.
I’ve also always thought that the series would make a sick CW show.