The Purple Gentian Sucks

The following rant is a review of “The Secret Life of the Pink Carnation” by Lauren Willig. Please do not read this if you want to read this book unspoiled, because I will throw all caution to the wind and put in a whole damn lot of spoilers, because I am somewhat irritated.


Oy. There were parts of the book I did enjoy. You can’t help but like a book about masked Englishmen running about and causing the French much trouble. No matter how bad it is, there are bright points. It’s like a bad pizza, really. The crust might be like cardboard, but the cheese is tasty, y’know? It was intensely girly, and it is a romance novel, so be wary before you pick it up. If you don’t care for Random Acts of Heavy Petting and Smuttage, this isn’t the book for you.

First, the villian was lame. When he captures the Purple Gentian, he suddenly develops this French accent, out of nowhere. Lame. Then we discover Delaroche (the villian) is heavy into torture devices, and has a “secret” interrogation room, complete with an iron maiden, that is really rather kinky. The Purple Gentian is chained to the wall, in a room full of medieval devices. Kinky, I’m telling you. I don’t mind a kinky villian, but one with a faux French accent that has suddenly sprouted? Lame. I can’t get behind a book with a lame villian. Chauvelin is so cool, and this guy is just so… lame. So when you want a Frenchy villian, pick Chauvelin over this guy.

Second, the frame story was distracting. Eloise wasn’t interesting as a character, and I didn’t really care about her dissertation. I just wanted them to get on with the spying and the sneaking around and the hairbrained plans to rescue people and/or discover secrets. Who cares if her Jimmy Choo boots get ruined in the mud? Pick me, pick me, I don’t! And the author’s attempts to set her up with Colin Selwick were very dull, and again, I just didn’t care. On with the spying and the Napoleonic era already. Gawd!

I have read my fair share of Scarlet Pimpernel novels (obviously!) so I found the masked Purple Gentian a little lacking. More than a little lacking. Despite the fact he started his nefarious career of Frenchy interference in the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, it is obvious that he learned nothing at all from Percy Blakeney. For one, the Purple Gentian (the alias for Richard Selwick) runs around Paris in an outfit of black, complete with black mask and black hooded cloak. Could you be any more obvious?? Percy never runs about in a cloak and mask! He always tries to blend in and not be noticed! Masking yourself either reveals that A) you’re really into Carnival time, or B) you’re a total wacky freak, or C) you’re a bloody SPY. Brilliant. Granted, he did run about at night, but if anybody at all catches a glimpse of him, any boob would know, gee, that guy’s up to something, maybe I should contact my nearest Evil French Authority and let him know.

Plus? The Purple Gentian wears the same cologne as Richard Selwick. You would think he would either wash his citrus-y perfume off when we went a-spying, or picked a different fragrance. Seriously.

Another example of why the Purple Gentian sucks: He drops his missions for Random Assorted Pettage and Smuttage. There were two or three times in the book where he’s trying to gather information and he STOPS to grope and kiss Amy. (She’s the heroine-ish girl of the book, or so we are expected to believe.) Upon finding Amy hiding out in a study where he’s supposed to be looking for important papers, and hearing the stomping of incoming people, he grabs Amy and hides behind the drapes with her. So what do you do when you’re hiding behind the drapes and trying to avoid being seen and possibly captured? You make out. Right. Of course. Carpe girlem, I guess. Then there was the Scene of Pettage on the boat on the Seine. In front of the boatman. They weren’t below deck or anything, it was just out in the open. Neither of them seemed to care that they were outside, in front of someone else. Then there was the scene where Amy and Richard both end up in the Chauvelinesque villian’s bedroom, and they end up on the bed together, engaged in Heavy Gropeage. ON HIS BED. The bed of the villian. La, what cheek! I admit this is amusing, but honestly, I doubt Percy would have ever tossed Marguerite onto Chauvelin’s bed for some Smuttage and Assorted Smooching. (If nothing else, think of the hygiene. You don’t know your villian’s bed habits. You don’t know where he’s been! He’s a villian for Christ’s sake, he could be into some highly kinky and unhygienic activities! This is not the place for smooches!!!) So, right, nothing gets discovered there, because they are too busy smooching and blabbing at each other, and then they get arrested. Smart.

There was a funny part where Amy finally figures out that Richard is the Purple Gentian. She smacks herself around about it and her friend and chaperone are all, “Dude, we knew that yesterday. What the heck took you so long? You’re the one who’s been smooching him and smelling his totally obvious cologne. Dork.” Hee hee.

And the identity of the Pink Carnation? I won’t spoil that, but you won’t care. Seriously, it’s not a big deal. You spend so much time with Amy and Richard and Smuttage that the Pink Carnation seems a strange intrusion. The book should have been titled, “The Exhibitionalist Tendencies of the Purple Gentian,” or, “A Book of Smuttage Featuring A Masked Englishman.”

Anyway. I don’t know if I’ll read the sequel. Haven’t decided yet. I think before I do, I will have to read 3-4 Scarlet Pimpernel novels, because he doesn’t suck.

4 Responses to “The Purple Gentian Sucks”

  1. Kay Says:

    First of all this story was written for a more feminine audience. Second, Richard is not a lacking hero, the only difference between Richard and Percy is the way they act in society. They both fall in love with equally clueless women, I mean look at Marguerite. She never knew her husband was the Scarlet Pimpernel when she had all the signs in front of her. Delarouche is not kinky if anything that scene protrayed some humor while still being historically correct. He was making a reference to how Richard fell in love with a woman not trying to be kinky with the iron maiden. As for the sex between Amy and Richard, that was normal for a young couple in love. You try keeping your hands off of someone you are totally in love with. I really think you should give the others a try before you totally give up on it because it was as entertaining and perfect just like the Scarlet Pimpernel!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Ted Says:

    This sort of novel is not normally my thing…but I got my hands on the book at a steep discount. Overall, I recommend it…and agree with many of Stoli’s comments. I thought the villian was not well-developed and didn’t hate him…if fact, the only reason I wanted him to die was in hope that somebody more fiendish might replace him. Also, these people were likely the most spastic oafs ever to mumble and stumble through the written page. The first couple of trips and toe-jambs were pretty funny (I like that kind of slapstick and would even laugh at a well-placed queef or two…which might have made the book stronger)…but after a while I cringed everytime somebody stood up…it was like Ace Ventura pulling the endless flat-tire joke. I suppose the romance sessions were a bit like that gas-passing I was looking for…it’s there, hanging in the air, now you have to deal with it. Good news…you can safely fast forward through it without missing the story…when Richard’s brain hints at switching to the alternate command post, I recommend you look forward a couple of pages and find the place where they stop…all you miss is technique the author likely prefers…and a real guy shouldn’t need that sort of lame instruction. The bump in the boat was not believable…I mean I’ve seen dogs go at it on a pier, but these were supposed to be high-bred people with manners, not two goats in a marketplace…and I didn’t miss the part about Amy’s bodice being ripped (I’ve heard the Fabio-graced paperbacks are called bodice-rippers). At least I now know what a bodice is and can therefore look a bit more wordly in pleasant conversations with my wife…on second thought, that new-found knowledge might get me in a bit of trouble so I think I’ll continue to feign stupidity on bodices. I have to admit I like most of the rest of the book, though, and think it an excellent effort by a first time writer (though Point of View changed back and forth at distracting velocity…I don’t expect to see this major party foul as the author expands her bag of tricks). I prefer more swashbuckling and strategy, but was driven forward by the incident where the crone poked Napolean with her umbrella. That was hugely funny, but nobody seemed to mention it after it happened. The most believable part was that everyone seemed to dislike the French…even the French characters. That does not require tremendous effort to suspend belief. I’ll pick up the author’s next book and give it the ten page test before I bring it to the cashier. BTW, one major suggestion…if it’s about a sword fighting hero, then don’t put a picture of an ugly (yes…sorry…she’s not hot…my wife would say she has pretty features, which pretty much means ugly to a guy) woman on the cover. It significantly reduces the likelihood that a guy will pick it up and peruse the first chapter (I mean, I looked both ways up and down the aisle to make sure nobody saw me look at the book). I had to buy another hardback I didn’t want just to get the book through checkout. Seriously, it was just like when my wife sends me in for tampons. Consider a broader audience and jettison the old-time, lilac-scented and somewhat rubensesque looking women on the cover.

  3. Aemilia Says:

    Hehe. Wow, comments. I’m not used to comments. How bizarre is this?

    First, I am a guuuurrrllly girl, so I would have been the audience meant for this book. Yes, I talk a lot about football, but I have the boobage to cement my girliness.

    Second, that’s funny stuff, Ted. It never occurred to me that a guy would want to read the book. I don’t see why not, of course, I just never thought about it. I haven’t picked up the author’s latest, and I don’t plan to, but I’d be interested to know what you thought of it. Yes, you, Ted, and you too, Kay.

  4. Maddie Says:

    I’ll admit, it was a bit lacking.
    Sometimes you just have to read something lacking depth, you know?

    I actually read Willig’s books backwards – I picked up ‘The Deception of the Emerald Ring’ while traveling, and found myself endeared to it’s hero and heroine, Geoff and Letty. Admittedly, I didn’t understand certain carry-throughs (like Miss Gwen and her umbrella, or what the hell Eloise was doing there), but I enjoyed it over all. I suggest that one. Forget about Richard (lame) and Amy (embarrassing), and have a go at the third installment.

    To summarize my thoughts on ‘Pink Carnation,’ I’d best be able to re-use embarrassed as my word of choice. I’ve read some bodice-rippers in my time, and own, uh, several Harlequin historical romances, but the debauchery at sea was almost too much to handle. I mean, seriously? I’m tolerant of a lot, but wow. As debased as culture is today, you still couldn’t get away with something like that. Although, I suppose the ferryman got a good show…

    Amy drove me absolutely batty, but Jane was insufferable. The whole ‘Oh, didn’t you know?’ shtick was frustrating and unbelievable, when looked at critically. Although I did find the descriptions of their childhood antics amusing. As for the back and forth relationship between Richard and Amy (and the other pairings in Willig’s novels), I minded it more in the first novel than I did in the third. Without giving much away, the relationship between Geoff and Letty is much more engaging than the sniping between Richard and Amy. And on a personal, completely biased note, I found Amy to be as dumb as a stick (mostly for her nasal incapacity – oh really, he smells the same?).

    The cover art works perfectly, I think. It’s light, fluffy and lacking any real depth, which corresponds with Willig’s historical Chick-Lit. Sure, it doesn’t lend to rapier-wielding spies, but I think that was the point. Those of us who are in it are in it for the tight breeches and sordid love affairs, not the… spying, or whatever. I mean, you are in it for the spying, but mostly because you day-dream about your own dashing gentleman. It’s intended for girls. I’m not sure if it’s printed in every edition of the book, but Willig includes an Author’s note and ‘Conversation with the Author’ in which she admits that it’s a girly indulgence. And I’m okay with that.

    Long story short, read the third book first, and the other two only if you have to. And know what you’re getting yourself in to.

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