Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Flowers...Spies...Spies posing as Flowers...Posies of Spies...

1908 edition
So one of my all-time favorite books is the Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy. If you haven't read it, shame on you, go run right out and find it. The sad thing is that the Baroness (yes, that is actually the author's title) didn't write much more. There is a sequel to the Pimpernel, but it's not readily available and lacks the 'pzazz' and excitement of it's predecessor.

Several years ago, in my rambles through the fiction section of my favorite bookstore (Joseph Beth), I came across a series by an author named Lauren Willig. She took the concept of the Scarlet Pimpernel and created a new set of books based on the idea of English spies during the French Revolution and beyond. Sir Percy Blakeney (the original Pimpernel) is present in the series, and he hands over his spying dynasty to the next Flowery Hero in Willig's first book The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.

Here is what I love about these books:

1) Historical facts match real history. There's nothing worse than..."ummm, that historical figure wasn't alive yet during the time in which you've chosen to set your story." Willig has clearly read and researched and is a great writer. Get this, she has a bibliography for each book on her website filled with both primary and secondary sources. The ol' writer of research papers in me loves that!

2) There is a mystery (or several) in every book that isn't immediately 'solvable' to the reader. I can't stand when there is an obvious answer to the riddle for hundreds of pages but the author refuses to admit that the plot lines aren't complicated (or interesting) enough for hundreds of pages. Willig doesn't commit this faux-pas. There is actually a modern storyline (a young woman doing research for a PhD thesis) as well as the plot unfolding in history, it always makes for a page turner. Although each story is about a different main character or characters, there is always some relationship to the stars of one of the other books-siblings, friends, etc... This gives some continuity and context that I enjoy.

3) Romance and Substance. If I read a book that contains not an ounce of real plot or internal struggle or real-life hardship (i.e. Shopaholic), then there's something missing from the reading experience. Willig's books are funny and romantic, but there is also some real issue at the heart of the action. The character development is really good, by the end of a book you understand and sympathize with characters that you detested at the beginning.

4) Beautiful cover art. I know the old adage "don't judge a book by it's cover," but these are lovely on the outside. I will say the newest one looks different and not as attractive, I'm going to see if it's the same artist.

This is the first in the series of seven.
4) They're long enough for real enjoyment. Being a quick reader, I am often disappointed with short books,  large print, etc... these do not disappoint, except for the obvious sigh when the rollicking good story is over.
Anyway, I'm greatly looking forward to these two new books by Lauren Willig that I am admiring in their substantial, hardback, papery goodness (not Kindle format).

Released in January, the cover seems
different but the story looks exciting as ever!

A Christmas book, released in October 2010
(that I wish I had known about in December).

1 comment:

  1. OK, you have convinced me. Those look good!

    Also, what are those books that you've been trying to get me to read again? I really need something to get me out of the reading slump and James Joyce just isnt doing it for me...