06 May 2010

Reading Romance: The Masque of the Black Tulip, by Lauren Willig

Lauren's Willig's novels, starting with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, aren't marketed strictly as romance, but rather as chick lit. They're actually Regency-set historical romance. And pretty darn good romance, too, judging by The Masque of the Black Tulip. Several years ago, I tried to read Pink Carnation, but found it . . . silly. I recently read a review of the most recent Willig book and it sounded quite good, so I gave Willig another whirl. What a good idea that was! (pats self on back) You can read about the entire series at Willig's lovely (pink!) website.

Masque is the second book in the series, and it picks up the story of modern history graduate student Eloise Kelly, who is in England researching early nineteenth-century espionage. The story moves back and forth between Eloise and the lives of her subjects, both of which tend to be romantically complicated. While Eloise's romance moves slowly--she is becoming attracted to the young lord whose ancestors she's studying--the story of the romantic interludes of her Regency-era subjects takes up the bulk of the novel.

The heroine, Henrietta, is an easy-to-like young woman who dabbles in espionage. The hero, Miles, is charged with keeping her out of trouble whilst fighting (though not very hard) his own attraction to her. Miles is a strapping, sigh-inducing hero, and the pages light up whenever he appears.

Although there are some brushes with too-stupid-to-live moments, none of the characters descend fully into idiocy. If I recall correctly, the heroine of the first Pink Carnation novel, Amy, was rather silly. She makes an appearance in the second novel, and is just as irritating as she was in the first. But Willig seems to have avoided this problem in the second novel, with a heroine who, though occasionally foolish, is, in the end, worthy of the to-die-for Miles.

I'm hooked now and just finished The Seduction of the Emerald Ring. The Crimson Rose book is on hold at the library, so that's next. Oh, do yourself a favor and start at the beginning. Although the series can be read out of order, it's difficult to follow Eloise's love affair unless you start with Pink Carnation. Or skip the silliness and start with Black Tulip.

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