The Masque of the Black Tulip by Lauren Willig is an even more enchanting read than its predecessor, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. Using the lore of Scarlet Pimpernel-esque spies of the Napoleonic Era, Willig has fashioned a dollop of brainy chicklet that counterbalances the topsy-turvey adventures of a Bridget Jones-esh grad student with the romantic and flowery ton of the early 19th Century.
Best of both worlds? Well, counting some irresistibly dashing and rakish spies, some cravats, some sprig muslin and a healthy dollop of innuendo-ed wit, I would say definitely so.
The icing on this layer cake? Willig's astute sense of humour. My kind of humour.
I think the sentence: Miles contemplated leaping into the fishpond had me snort a generous load of tea up my nose.
Take Turnip Fitzhugh: the foppish frump who reminds one of the flappable Percy Blakeney ..... when NOT the dazzling Pimpernel.
Take Henrietta Selwick ( think Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey ) : daring and romanticized little sister of the cherished Purple Gentian, whose mind wavers somewhat between the ghostly and sentimentalized notion of a "Phantom of Donwell Abbey", her steadfast loyalty to her favourite stuffed toy ( Bunny-the-bunny ) , her growing love for her brother's best friend, the charming CHARMING CHARMING !!! ( sorry... can't help myself ) Miles Dorrington, and her eager dreams of being in cahoots with the idolized Pink Carnation.
Take Miles: not quite the hero, not quite the fop: somewhere unceremoniously in the middle.... enamoured and well-intentioned..... a bit of the side-kick, a bit of the leading man.... but meddling in each extreme fleetingly so he retains innocence and more than enough charm.
( Aren't the names deelish? And she had me at Geoffrey Pinchingdale-Snipe ).
Willig subscribes to the school of Austen and LM Montgomery and some of the harlequin-esque romance novelists of our day ( Julia Quinn for one ). She adds to this a healthy dose of educated sensibility ( she is a phd candidate in history at Harvard ).
I quite enjoyed this book. It made me laugh and caused my heart to sing... and provided those warm little moments that stuffed a surreptitious "Ahhhhh " in my throat which melted every last centimetre of the unseasonable snow we have outside.
Did they unmask the Black Tulip and thwart the most dastardly of plans..... ?!?! oh well, probably but who cares ?!?! You don't read these things for espionage and wonder and hidden notes and codes slipped by firelight and over glistening satin at lavish parties. You read these things to find out whose going to end up with whom..... and how fast.
The Regency period is just one big circle of romantic possibility. And Willig is more than a capable matchmaker.