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The Garden Intrigue by Lauren Willig

Long-time readers already know that I'm a fan of the Pink Carnation series by Lauren Willig. I was immediately captivated by the historical plot involved in the most recent volume in the series, The Garden Intrigue, because it involves the deliberately awful poet, Augustus Whittlesby, a spy who sends his messages to England buried inside such insipid and tedious poetry that the French Ministry can't really be bothered to read it. He was featured a bit in the prior book, The Orchid Affair, where it became apparent he'd formed a bit of a tendre for the Pink Carnation, and I was pleased to see him get his own book.

Augustus ends up having to work closely with an American woman named Emma Morris Delagardie - the young widow of a Frenchman whose endeavors were loosely based on the real-life farming exploits of the Comte de Feuillide, the ill-fated husband of Jane Austen's cousin, Eliza Hancock. (The Comte lost his head to Madame Guillotine during the French Revolution. But I digress.)

Emma Morris Delagardie is a tiny scrap of a woman with immense intelligence and a crush on Augustus. With the encouragement of her friend Jane Wooliston (aka the Pink Carnation), Emma works with Augustus to craft a masque to be presented to Napoléon, who has just gone about declaring himself Emperor. Emma, you see, has connections to Josephine and her daughter, and has been asked to write the masque. Augustus, who is trying to sniff out a weapon of unknown capabilities, has the ability to write, and a need to get invited to the Bonapartes' estate.

I was initially slightly less charmed by the contemporary story of Eloise Kelly and her boyfriend, Colin Selwick, if only because it seemed obvious that someone was digging through Eloise's research on the Pink Carnation, and it seemed like it might be a particular someone we've met before. Willig did a nice job, however, of keeping that story line to minimum as the book progressed, and of adding a surprise turn of events and "big reveal" as the story came to a close.

I am now quite anxious to read the next book in the series, which ought, in a fair world, to be coming out in the next month or so. However, Willig is instead launching a new series, which begins with The Ashford Affair, so her publisher has pushed the next book - featuring Jane Wooliston's rather terrifying chaperon, Miss Gwen (squee!) - to August. Pfffft.

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