Friday, April 22, 2011

The Orchid Affair

By Lauren Willig

Three Things I Liked About The Orchid Affair:
1. Reappearance of old characters.
2. Von Trapp syndrome.
3. (Double-agents)²

The Orchid Affair gets two stars for overall quality – in comparison to, you know, the rest of literature – but three stars for improvement on the Pink Carnation installment, The Mischief of the Mistletoe, which I reviewed back in December. My previous sentiments still stand: I continue to enjoy the premises and new installments, but the series without a doubt peaked at book two and Lauren needs to learn how to retire a good thing before it goes sour. She’s really starting to grasp at straws to keep the series going. For the first time, neither one of the main characters in The Orchid Affair has made even the smallest cameo in a previous Pink Carnation novel; they’re tied to the series with tenuous threads. You have to push through the first chapter of the book on faith that the relevancy will soon be made clear. It is, but that doesn’t mean Lauren shouldn’t wrap this series up with expediency and start looking for a new topic.

Also, if this book is any indication, the Pink Carnation covers, which used to be quite elegant and pretty, are taking a turn toward mass-market paperback romance gaudiness that I really can't support.

Miss Laura Grey has been a governess for 16 years and she’s sick and tired of it. In an attempt to seek adventure before the last bloom of her youth fades into middle age, she enrolls in the Selwick Spy School (which readers will recall our original Pink Carnation heroine, Amy, founding back in the first book) and 6 months later is pronounced ready for her first mission. Much to her dismay, it requires her to go undercover as none other than a governess, a position even her new nom de spy “the Silver Orchid” does little to glamourize. In the household of André Jaouen, right-hand man to Delaroche, Bonaparte’s sinister minister of police, Laura puts her newly honed skills in subterfuge and intrigue to the test, to some far-reaching and surprising (to her) results.

The Orchid Affair doesn’t quite hold a candle to the first two Pink Carnation books, but I consider it a step up form recent installments. For one thing, there were no secret messages conveyed via Christmas pudding. The plot also had its finger back on the pulse of the political intrigue surrounding England and French relations in the aftermath of the French Revolution, which had been at the heart of the original Pink Carnation novels. Furthermore, Laura was the right blend of acerbic humor, independence, and sentimentality that Lauren Willig employed so well in crafting my two favorite Pink Carnation heroines, Amy and Henrietta. For another, André’s affection for his children, his still heart-felt loss of his first artist wife, his double-agency, and, yes, even his spectacles, gave André a sort of vulnerable and heartfelt quality that has been lacking in Lauren’s recent male leads, who’ve all been a bit too Dashing White Horse and Manly Heroics for my taste. I enjoyed their romance, too, as reminiscent of Von Trapp syndrome – governess falls for the father of her wards – which I may have a particular weakness for, having spent countless hours memorizing the script and score of The Sound of Music during my formative years. Finally, The Orchid Affair saw the first on-screen cameos of the Pink Carnation herself since Book 1, as well as appearances by other original characters such as Miss Gwen, The Purple Gentian - Lord Richard Selwick, and Whittlesby, brilliantly undercover as a vocal and atrocious poet.

On another note, the Eloise Kelly and Colin Selwick (great grandson of Lord Richard Selwick and bearer of the Selwick archives) frame-story gets more and more far-fetched with each book. Thos time, their main conflict involved permissions to film a Shakespeare-goes-rap musical at the Selwick estate – really???? 

Books Read This Year: 37
Top 100 Progress: 42/100

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