Procrastination, thy name is Chris. I had finished Lauren Willig's The History of the Pink Carnation and The Masque of the Black Tulip in less than a day since I borrowed them from Oz a few weeks back, but I was too preoccupied with other matters (like the naming of dogs and the purchasing of blue hair dye) to write. I suppose some books can wait to be reviewed. But here, my first historical romance review. Reviews, I mean.
I started out with Ms. Willig's Pink Carnation only because it's logical to begin with the first book in any trilogy, even if it was the plot of the second book that I liked better. Still, first things first. Meg Cabot calls the book a "genre-bending read" since it has two love stories in one. Not quite genre-bending in my book (nor highly original: think Possession, The Conjurer's Bird or, if you want to stick to the historical romance genre, Remembrance), but still very much worth the read if you like this sort of thing. And I do. So, yay.
Pink Carnation introduces us to Eloise Kelly, who is England to finish her dissertation on aristocratic espionage. Research, research, meets descendant of one of her topics, earns access to private journals, meets dashing but snooty grandson, sparks. Anyway, she learns about the identity of the Pink Carnation via the letters of Amy Balcourt, who wants to join the league of aristocratic spies (not because it was fashionable at that time). Amy meets the dashing Purple Gentian, meets his alter-ego Lord Richard Selwick, sparks. Also, they foil Napoleon's plans to invade England. See, I have no qualms of spoiling it all this way because we all know how these things end anyway. But more importantly, the book also introduces us to Richard's sister Henrietta, and his best friend Miles Dorrington.
Which brings us to Ms. Willig's Black Tulip. I liked Pink Carnation fair enough, but it wasn't outstandingly memorable. I must confess that I read the genre for the romance, not for its historical accuracy, so I do look for something unique about the main pair. In Pink Carnation's case, I was unforgivingly comparing it to Jude Deveraux's The Raider, whose characters, I thought, had more charm and appeal.
But Black Tulip is one of the very few romance novels I've ever read that featured a pair who were actually friends--and that in itself is memorable. It convincingly chronicles how Henrietta and Miles grow from childhood friends to lovers amidst the spying and the double-dealing going on. They argue, they get jealous, they kiss, they get confused. Wonderful pair, rerally. True, Pink Carnation had more of the spy stuff, but inevitably, it was towards Miles and Hen's tandem that I gravitated. My only (tiny) complaint about Black Tulip was that it had more of Eloise and Colin (the said dashing yet snooty grandson, who by this time isn't at all snooty, but of course we knew that). I guess I just wanted more Miles and Hen.
Despite my complaints, Ms. Willig writes fine historical romances. She shies away from the simpering female stereotype so common in this genre and manages to create situations where you don't question why her heroines don't always follow what society expects of them. And when it comes to historical accuracy, I don't think I'll be second-guessing Ms. Willig, who is a candidate for a PhD in history at Harvard. I could, you know, read up on this interesting period, but like i said: procrastination.