REVIEW of The Masque of the Black Tulip (Pink Carnation #2) by Lauren Willig

Masque of the black tulipGrad student Eloise Kelly is in England researching the network of spies surrounding the English hero, the Pink Carnation, when dreamy Colin Selwick invites her to investigate the archives at his ancient manor house. In between trying to ascertain whether Colin is flirting with her and enduring the slings and arrows of outraged locals, Eloise stumbles across some old letters. They tell the story of Henrietta Selwick, the sister to the Purple Gentian, who is determined to be a spy in her own right.

The novel weaves back and forth between the modern narrative and the early 1800s tale, giving Henrietta and her lovelorn swain Miles the preponderance of airtime. An archvillain named the Black Tulip is on the loose in England, concealing his (or her?) own identity while casting about to discover the identity of the Pink Carnation. Miles Dorrington, a blond, athletic, stand-up sort of fellow, is tasked by the government with unmasking the villain. At the same time, his friend Richard tasks him with squiring little sister Henrietta around the ton. Much to his consternation, Miles finds his attraction to his best friend’s sister developing at an alarming rate. To make matters worse, the effervescent Hen(rietta) is in correspondence with the Pink Carnation, making herself a target the Black Tulip won’t be able to resist.

I enjoyed this book far more than the first in the series. Henrietta was exceedingly more endearing than the previous heroine Amy (and there were even a few scenes where Amy showed up to remind you how dippy and annoying she was). Miles was a reliable though not overly expressive hero (of the Freddy Standish variety, from Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion). While there was still some risque content, this novel was not quite as over-the-top in that regard as the initial book. Lauren Willig always delights with her literary allusions and witty turn of phrase, and I enjoyed the dual storyline with the modern and Napoleonic time periods.

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