Of course, timing is everything. Right after I create and post about my anti-HEA book display I go and read a HEA book. Hahaha.
The Orchid Affair is the newest Lauren Willig "Pink Carnation" novel and there's no way I could pass it up. I read it in under three hours and I have a pretty signed bookplate from Lauren. Fangirl, yes?
The new heroine in The Orchid Affair is not so new to us. Back in The Masque of the Black Tulip we were introduced to some trainee spies at Richard and Amy's spy school, one of them being a rather prim governess by the name of Miss Grey. Fresh from training, Miss Laura Grey has been inserted by the Pink Carnation into the household of one Andre Jaouen, cousin of Fouche and employed by the Prefecture de Paris, as Mlle Laure Griscogne, governess to Jaouen's two children. Laura has her own history in France, Paris in particular, and what seems like a simple assignment - observe and report on Jaouen's activities, particularly those relating to Bonaparte, Delaroche, Fouche, etc. - becomes far more complicated and dangerous than Laura expected.
Lauren excels at making her heroines different from one another and Laura is no exception. She is the oldest Pink Carnation heroine at 32 (I believe Mary was previously the eldest at about 23 or 24) and the most educated and worldly. She is also the heroine who, if thrown out into the world, could survive easily by her wits and intelligence making her an excellent agent for the Pink Carnation and a heroine you really want to root for. Once the major action of the Regency plot heats up, you really, really want Laura to succeed in her mission and have a good ending (being a Pink Carnation book, you do have some idea of how the book will end right from the beginning, but you still want it to happen and would be disappointed if Laura didn't get her man). Jaouen is a great addition to Lauren's heroes: a father, serious, educated, haunted, and he has his own secrets.
While some of the earlier Pink books felt more like Regency Romps, there is more urgency to the plotline of The Orchid Affair and, Augustus Whittlesby and his terrible, overblown poetry aside, it is a darker book. Lauren doesn't skimp on the realities of torture in post-Revolutionary France and, while dead bodies have shown up in previous books, the violence is more nuanced and necessary to the action of the book. There is more at stake in the denouement than just information, state secrets, and international espionage with masks and flowers.
I find myself far more interested in the Regency spy plots than in the framing story of modern-day PhD candidate Eloise, although it is through Eloise that we access the Regency plots. I think this is because we only see bits and pieces of the Eloise-and-Colin-have-a-relationship development even thought the framing story usually ties in thematically with part of the book; in book 3, The Deception of the Emerald Ring, Geoff and Letty wind up married as part of a mistaken-identity-botched-elopement and have to learn to overcome one anothers' prejudices and assumptions, while Eloise has to overcome some of her assumptions about Colin in order for their relationship to move forward. In the The Orchid Affair, Eloise gets to spend a little more time with Colin's air-head mother and decidedly sleazy step-father/cousin. I actually got to like Colin a little more in this book, probably because of his rotten family (family is a large part of the Regency plot).
The Orchid Affair was, as expected, as very fun book to read. Coming off a very hectic and disorganized three weeks of moving, not being able to find things, writing very large checks, and heaps of stress it was nice to curl up with a spandy new book, a pot of tea, and the cats to read the evening and night away with characters old and new, flowery spies, and dastardly villains. I can't wait until next January for a new installment!
Pink Carnation Heroine Standings:
Laura and Letty are having a face-off over who is the best Pink heroine; Laura is pretty clever but Letty is really stubborn and can create excellent distractions. Arabella is looking on to see if she can capitalize on the disagreement (if Pen doesn't beat her to the punchline). Mary thinks she is better than all this, Charlotte is reading a book, Hen is practicing her scales (and making sure Miles doesn't eat all the ginger biscuits), and Amy is far too busy training new spies to notice.
The Pink Carnation is, of course, observing the whole thing. Silently taking notes.