Saturday, April 17, 2010
Everyone warned Miss Penelope Deveraux that her unruly behavior would land her in disgrace someday. She never imagined she'd be whisked off to India to give the scandal of her hasty marriage time to die down. As Lady Frederick Staines, Penelope plunges into the treacherous waters of the court of the Nizam of Hyderabad, where no one is quite what they seem - ”even her own husband. In a strange country where elaborate court dress masks even more elaborate intrigues and a spy called the Marigold leaves cobras as his calling card, there is only one person Penelope can trust....
Captain Alex Reid has better things to do than play nursemaid to a pair of aristocrats. He knows what their kind is like. Or so he thinks -- until Lady Frederick Staines out-shoots, out-rides, and out-swims every man in the camp. She also has an uncanny ability to draw out the deadly plans of the Marigold and put herself in harm's way. With danger looming from local warlords, treacherous court officials, and French spies, Alex realizes that an alliance with Lady Frederick just might be the only thing standing in the way of a plot designed to rock the very foundations of the British Empire.
The sixth in the Pink Carnation series, I was glad to to see that the wonderful Kate Reading is back as the reader in this audiobook, for I had missed her voice in the last one. We pick up the series which is centered in India. Penelope Deveraux who we meet in the last book, The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, (which, I admit, I found the weakest of the series to date) is now married to Freddie Staines, an obnoxious "Regency prep" (love that description I came across recently) who she had to marry since she "compromised" him out of sheer boredom to get out the hum drum everyday life of London during the Season. All her friends were falling in love and getting married and Penelope was feeling a bit left out. So she flirted her way into marriage - and Freddie was available and eager for her. He seemed as good as any other bored London buck that was hanging around. Unfortunately, once married, they had to remove to India for a time to let the scandal of their marriage die down. Oh, Penelope, could you have been more foolish?
I found myself not really liking Penelope all that much at first. I didn't have much sympathy for her. She got herself into a fine mess. She was selfish and frankly - she deserved what she got. I didn't like her high handed, impetuous manner. Most of the time, she never said what she really felt and I just found her rash and obnoxious. When was she ever going to just be herself and stop all these games? Thankfully, by the end of the book, true love softens her towards life and I grew to like her - a little. Penelope has not had it easy, and much of what she does is due to her neglected childhood. She's never really been loved by anybody and it shows with her attitude. Finally, in India she meets her match.
SPOILERS UP AHEAD!
In India Penelope meets Captain Alex Reid. He is assigned to escort Penelope and her husband Freddie to Hyderabad where Freddie is going to be in residence as some sort of official. Frankly, these kind of details were lost upon me. The main story was Penelope and Reid. They are attracted to one another, yet also repulsed by each other. Penelope is somehow convinced that Reid is some sort of spy that may be planning to commit treason against the Crown, and Reid is just trying to get this wayward, bored and disarmingly pretty married woman out of his mind, since she is the wife to an official he is assigned to. No matter how much he's dying to kiss her and take her into his arms, his honor will not allow it. But, she's working on him. She is daring and provocative - constantly. They spend a great deal of time together, he escorts her about, while her philandering husband seeks company with everyone but his wife. Freddie takes a mistress and installs her right in the same house with Penelope (the cad!) and then (hallelulah!) gets himself killed! I clapped! Yay! Penelope is rid of him! I won't say how. You'll have to read it yourself, but as Penelope and Reid grow closer, it was inevitable that Freddie would be killed off somehow (as in soap operas). For Penelope and Reid to ever find happiness, she has to be free of Freddie, and divorce was unacceptable - and she couldn't be Reid's mistress! But, just because Freddie is dead that doesn't mean the coast is clear for Penelope and Reid, in fact it become the opposite!
Reid's character was not as fleshed out as Penelope. This is really more Penelope's story. He's a soldier with the proper soldier's honor and pride about him that you'd expect. He is handsome and dashing outwardly, but he has the burden of guilt about him as well. Born legitimately to his married Scottish and Welsh parents, he does not face the same rules and prejudices his half siblings are subject to. His father was quite the ladies man, with numerous children born to his Indian mistresses. Reid loves his siblings and is close to them, yet he is powerless to change the rules of Indian society and the unfair doctrines set up against non-whites. Reid is the conscience of the story - the noble backbone used to point out the injustices that occured in Colonial India until their independence. He does what he can, but in the early nineteenth century, one man can do nothing to change the rules. The basic gist of Reid is, he does not want to make the same mistakes his father made, siring illegitimate children all over India. Yet, he'd like to marry eventually and have children, but the thought is unappealing without love, and the only woman he seems to have fallen in love with is married! What a conundrum!
To further complicate matters, Reid is trying to find out if his half-brother, Jack, is the renegade spy working with the French, the Marigold. Penelope is trying to find out who the Marigold is too - was the Marigold behind the death of her husband? There are plenty of twists in the plotline, including a spectacular death defying moment with a cobra. No sign of the Pink Carnation in this book since it's all in India, though she is alluded to.
I enjoyed the story and this new evocative setting brought a freshness to the series, not to mention there is sex again! It's not PG rated, if you get my meaning! *grin* Reid and Penelope have a three day interlude which was wonderful for them, but then reality steps in to end it. The first half of the book is slow going, setting up the poltical background of why Freddie is in India with his petulant bride, but the second half picks up mightily as the story becomes more engrossing - and Penelope becomes more likable. It was hard to put down.
Ms. Willig's descriptions and background of India in the period are first rate and she excels in conveying the sensuousness of the settings - the heavy dampness of the humidity, the scents, the fauna, the exotic atmosphere - India. I felt I was there with Penelope and Reid riding together alone or in the Nizam's palace watching the dancing and the danger. The reader experiences it all first hand.
On the contemporary side, we're still following the romance between Eloise and Colin which is not nearly as interesting as it was in the earlier books before they were a couple. Now that they're together, and Colin is Eloise's boyfriend, their storyline has fizzled and has no pizzazz. Eloise is still convinced that Colin is hiding something from her, but I don't buy it. She's barking up the wrong tree and causing needless trouble and anxiety to herself. She's also trying to fix up his sister, Serena with someone so Colin will spend less time worrying about his little sister and more time on Eloise! But there is the interesting tidbit of information that Colin's mother is married to a much younger man who is his aunt's grandson! More to develop there, I'm sure!
I enjoyed The Betrayal of the Blood Lily, though I'm eager to get back to London and more about the Pink Carnation herself. Penelope grew on me, but she's a prickly heroine. Though her relationship with Reid was a thorny one, I enjoyed seeing her change for the better once she fell in love. I knew she was capable of falling in love and becoming a good person, she just had to find the right man who loved her back.
Now that I've read all the books written in the series to date, I realize how much I love this series as a whole, it's one of my favorites. I highly recommend it for the historical aspects, but also the humor and romance in it as well. Although some of the books have been hit or miss, the series has everything. It's well researched and written, entertaining and also has the contemporary aspect to it with the Eloise/Colin storyline, I'm glad I discovered it, a real treat!
3.5/5 because I found it so hard to finally like the heroine!