Every now and then I decide to explore genres outside of fantasy and science fiction. A couple of years ago, I stumbled across Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation Series, a regency romance. Now when I say romance, I mean: well-written, plot driven, believable heroines/heroes, and minimal R-rated content. Willig’s writing style is fun and fast paced, she focuses on characterization and plot development. The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla is the 11th entry in the Carnation Series.
Themes Explored: independence, Halloween, the supernatural satire, societal conventions, grief, romance, love, letting go
Synopsis: It is October of 1806 and Sally Fitzhugh quickly tires of another year of London high society. Mainly she despises the insipid commentary about the bestselling novel The Convent of Orsino, which has sparked a vampire craze. Soon rumors begin swirling that the reclusive Duke of Belliston is an actual vampire. Sally cannot resist a dare to prove such accusations false. While attending a ball at Belliston Square, she boldly walks into the Duke’s gardens and meets Lucien.
Lucien, his grace the Duke of Belliston, has returned home to seek answers regarding his parents’ death. According to society, everything from sorcery to high treason contributed to the scandalous murder. His fearsome reputation as a nightwalker serves him well in this pursuit, until a young woman is killed. And on her neck is a set of fang marks. Is Lucien really a vampire or something more nefarious at work?
Review: The Pink Carnation Series is similar to the The Scarlet Pimpernel series by Baroness Emma Orczy. Both follow English aristocrats defying convention and becoming involved in spy rings/revolutions. Ms. Willig uses a split narrative, each book follows an aristocratic spy and charts the romance between Eloise Kelly and Colin Selwick. Eloise is working on her PhD and the dissertation is about English aristocratic spies during the Napoleonic Wars. Each book follows whatever spy Eloise happens to be researching. Colin is an English landowner whose ancestors are the spies Eloise is investigating. They hit it off (eventually) and each successive book builds upon their relationship. Anyways, I will not review their part of the story as it will ruin the previous 10 books.
Sally has a pet stoat named Lady Florence Oblong. As a fan of ferrets, I fully approve of any heroine with a similar pet. Some historical/regency novels tend to have either stilted or formal language, which drags down the plot. Lucien and Sally come right off the page thanks to some lively exchanges. Ms. Willig always makes me feel like I am experiencing the narrative right next to the main characters. I ended up reading the book in one evening because I had to know what happened next. Also, I love spoof novels. The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla reminded me of Northanger Abbey. Both novels poke fun at two prolific literary trends: vampires and Gothic thrills. As with the rest of The Pink Carnation books, the novel is well paced and the characters are highly relatable.
Colin and Eloise only had a handful of chapters. They deserve a standalone novel, or at least a novella. I hope Pink XIV contains more “modern” scenes. While I appreciate the heavy character development, I felt the plot was a little thin. The story was excellent; I just think it needed more substance. Some of the supporting characters-Lucien’s former tutor- came across as thinly veiled vehicles for information dumping. Not that this is a problem, I just would have liked more robust minor characters. If your looking for some light hearted diversion, I highly recommend checking out the Pink Carnation Series.
The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, NAL Trade, 2014, ISBN: 9780451414731