The Masque of the Black Tulip (Pink Carnation Series #2)

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Overview

...But now she has a million questions about the Pink Carnation's deadly French nemesis, the Black Tulip. And she's pretty sure that her handsome onagain, off-again crush, Colin Selwick, has the answers somewhere in his archives. But what she discovers in an old codebook is something juicier than she ever imagined.

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The Masque of the Black Tulip (Pink Carnation Series #2)

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Overview

...But now she has a million questions about the Pink Carnation's deadly French nemesis, the Black Tulip. And she's pretty sure that her handsome onagain, off-again crush, Colin Selwick, has the answers somewhere in his archives. But what she discovers in an old codebook is something juicier than she ever imagined.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
In this sequel to her delightful debut novel, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, Lauren Willig brings all the exuberance of a swashbuckler movie to the page -- action, romance, intrigue, swordplay, and history.

As modern-day graduate student Eloise Kelly goes through the Selwick archive, she uncovers the story of Lady Henrietta Selwick, who ultimate unmasks the identity of the Black Tulip, France's deadliest spy circa 1803. Henrietta had been angling to become involved in the war effort against Napoleon ever since her brother's exploits as the Purple Gentian; her cousin Jane spied most productively as the Pink Carnation. This left both Henrietta and Miles Dorrington, her brother's best friend, at home, on the shelf, and dying for action. How Henrietta deciphers secret messages and how she and Miles track down the notorious spy, all the while falling in love, makes for a wonderful romp through history. Ginger Curwen
Publishers Weekly
Willig picks up where she left readers breathlessly hanging with 2005's The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. After discovering the identity of the Pink Carnation, one of England's most successful spies during the Napoleonic wars, modern-day graduate student Eloise Kelly is hot on the trail of the Black Tulip, the Pink Carnation's French counterpart. While researching the archives of dashing-but-grumpy Colin Selwick (a descendant of the Selwick spy family), Eloise learns that spy Purple Gentian (Richard Selwick) safely retired to the countryside; meanwhile, the Pink Carnation continues her mission with the help of Richard's younger sister. Spirited Henrietta Selwick discovers that the Black Tulip has resurfaced after a 10-year silence with the intent of eliminating the Pink Carnation. Miles Dorrington (Richard's best friend) works for the War Office and is directed to unearth the deadly spy. As he and Henrietta investigate, they try to deny their attraction for each other-and avoid becoming the Black Tulip's next victims. Hero and heroine can be quite silly, and there are overlong ballroom shenanigans aplenty; like last time, Eloise and Colin's will-they-won't-they dance isn't nearly as interesting as what takes place in 1803. No matter. Willig knows her audience; Regency purists may gnash their teeth in frustration, but many more will delight in this easy-to-read romp and line up for the next installment. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this sequel to The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, Harvard Ph.D. candidate Eloise Kelly travels to the Selwick home in England to look at the family's manuscript collection in hopes of learning more about the British spy the Pink Carnation. This time, the research and the story focus on Henrietta Selwick, the sister of Richard Selwick, the renowned (and fictional) Purple Gentian, and his best friend Miles Dorrington. Henrietta is currently serving as a courier for the Pink Carnation, and Miles continues to work at the War Office, trying to detect French spies and protect England from the wrath of Napoleon. Both want more adventure in their lives, and they find it when the War Office determines that the Black Tulip, one of France's most dangerous assassins, is out to kill the Pink Carnation and the Carnation's associates, including Miles and Henrietta. Though it has its moments, The Masque of the Black Tulip does not live up to the earlier book. There is another sequel planned, but the many loose ends and abrupt conclusion here will leave listeners frustrated. Kate Reading does her normal masterful job with a less-than-successful story. Libraries will want this title to meet demand. Danna Bell-Russel, Library of Congress Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
After her pleasant debut chronicling England's most elusive spy (The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, 2005), Willig is back with a second installment, this time featuring the Black Tulip, France's deadliest secret agent. Harvard graduate student Eloise Kelly is searching the archives in hopes of learning more about the Pink Carnation for her much delayed dissertation. Instead, she finds the Napoleonic-era correspondence between 20-year-old Lady Henrietta Selwick and the spy, which reveals that after a two-year silence, France's Black Tulip is planning murder. Unfortunately, no one knows the Black Tulip's identity. Lady Henrietta, who longs to be a spy, decides to unmask the secret agent before he or she strikes. Unbeknownst to Henrietta, the war office has asked Miles Dorrington, Henrietta's best friend and soon-to-be-beau, to solve the case. Is Lord Vaughn, the well known rake who favors masquerade balls, the Black Tulip? Or is it the beautiful Marquise de Montval, she of the immodest necklines? Or could it be the unlikely "Turnip" Fitzhugh, the foppish dandy? Willig's delightful plot takes Lady Henrietta to spy school, to the brink of a ruined reputation and on to romantic happiness. It's clear that alone or together, Henrietta and Miles are a force to be reckoned with. As for Eloise, the protagonist who sets off the novel within a novel, she is so little used that when she does appear, she seems to interrupt the espionage adventure. Perhaps in the third installment, the author will devote more time to this deserving 21st-century archivist. With such appealing characters and plots, one fears that Willig, currently a Harvard Law student and History Ph.D. candidate, will never getthose degrees.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780451220042
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 10/31/2006
  • Series: Pink Carnation Series , #2
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 194,338
  • Product dimensions: 5.42 (w) x 8.09 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Lauren Willig

Lauren Willig is a law student and Ph.D. candidate in history at Harvard University. She is the author of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.

Biography

Although she may not have realized it at the time, Lauren Willig had her life pretty clearly mapped out when she was a mere nine-year-old. That's when she completed her first "novel" -- 300 handwritten pages of a Nancy Drew-inspired mystery titled The Night the Clock Struck Death featuring not one, but two teenage sleuths. (Twin detectives, if you please!) She sent it off to Simon & Schuster -- who promptly sent it back. "I was utterly crushed for at least a week," the young author admits.

Crushed, perhaps, but apparently the pull of becoming a writer was considerably stronger than the sting of rejection. Several years later, while she was in grad school, Willig began work on another novel -- although she wasn't sure which novel it would be. "There were three contenders: one, the Pink Carnation; another, a mystery novel set at Yale; and the third, a historical novel set around a group of Luddites in 1812. The Yalie mystery novel nearly won out... but the image of a masked spy on a rope tipped the balance the other way, and The Pink Carnation was born."

A witty melding of espionage thriller, swashbuckler, and the kind of classic "bodice-ripping" romance novels she first discovered at the tender age of six, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation was published in 2005. The premise is irresistible: A modern grad student researching her dissertation in London stumbles on the identity of a mysterious English spy from the Napoleonic Wars. With its clever book-within-a-book format, Willig's novel was an instant sensation. Almost immediately, she penned the sequel, The Masque of the Black Tulip. Willig was off and running with a hot and sexy – not to mention bestselling -- series.

Although the Pink Carnation books build on one another, each story focuses on a different pair of lovers and can be read as a stand-alone. Willig tries to weave in any information from previous installments that might be key to understanding the characters or plot. All her books have become Romantic Times Top Picks. In 2006 Lauren was nominated for a Quill Award.

Good To Know

Even before she committed her stories to paper, Willig was amusing herself with her very own fiction in the privacy of her head. "I remember lying in bed, staring up at the underside of my canopy, composing complicated narratives complete with dialogue, generally based on whatever movie I had just seen," she told The Readers Place.com. "Star Wars spawned weeks' worth of bedtime dramas in which I starred as Princess Lea's best friend. Who would, of course, wind up with Luke Skywalker as co-ruler of the Universe -- you know what they say, if you're going to dream, dream big."

According to Willig's official biography, she is a Native New Yorker. However, she admits that this isn't entirely true being that she was actually born in Philadelphia -- a fact that her "real" Native New Yorker siblings aren't quick to let Lauren forget.

Some fun and fascinating outtakes from our interview with Willig:

"Like my modern heroine, Eloise, I spent a year in England doing research for my dissertation (mine is about Royalist conspiracies during the English Civil Wars in the 1640s), and living in a little basement flat in Bayswater. Unlike Eloise, on my very first week in London, I ate a bad kebab, and got so sick that I wound up briefly back in the States, on the same medicine they give people who have anthrax poisoning. Not exactly an auspicious beginning...."

"I still don't have a driver's license. Having grown up in Manhattan, there was never any need of it -- other than as a means of getting into bars, and learning to drive seemed a bit extreme just to get a drink. Of course, that was before I moved to Cambridge for grad school and realized that in other parts of the world, you can't just walk into the middle of the street, stick your arm up into the air, and, lo!, immediate transportation appears. Since I really don't want to have to learn how to drive, I've decided the only remedy is just to live in Manhattan for the rest of my life."

"Many years ago, at my Yale college interview, the interviewer took one look at my resume, and announced, ‘You can't be a writer.'

Getting a little panicky -- since no one takes kindly to having their life's dream flung in their face -- I blurted out, ‘Why not?'

‘Writers,' he said firmly, ‘are introverts. You,' he indicated the long list of clubs on my resume, Drama Club, Choral Club, Forensics, interschool plays and public speaking competitions, ‘are not.'"

"It is true; I've never been able to resist a stage. There are embarassing videos (which may have to be confiscated and burnt at some point) from various family weddings, where I, as a wee child, coopted the microphone to serenade the wedding guests with off-key renderings of "Memory" (from Cats). It's a wonder I lived past the age of ten without being murdered by a bride wielding a sharpened cake knife. Point me to a podium, and I can talk indefinitely (and usually do, as anyone who was with me in the Yale Political Union can verify). I simpered through Gilbert & Sullivan Society productions, taught drama to small tots through Yale Drama Hands-On Theatre Workshop, and was chairman of a debating society in college. And those were only the official performances. Recently, I appeared in a toga and bare feet (well, really a chiton, but why be picky?) in front of a hundred-odd people at the law school to argue a mock Athenian trial. And, yes, those pictures will also be confiscated and burnt -- as soon as I find out where my camera-happy friends hid them."

"I've always had trouble with the ‘writer as introvert' trope. I argued then, and still believe now, that the performative arts and creative writing have a great deal in common. After all, music, drama, public speaking, writing... all involve words! My interviewer wasn't too impressed by that argument, but there is a bit more to it than that. Singing and public speaking create an enhanced awareness for the rhythm of language. As for drama, how better to get inside one's characters' heads than to walk in their footsteps? Frequently, while writing, I'll tumble out of my chair (literally -- my chair isn't all that sturdy) and act out bits of a scene for a more concrete grasp of a character's movements. Most of all, acting, singing, and writing all involve the desire to get out there and share a story, a desire that can't be balked by the threat of rotton tomatoes, or even bad reviews."

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York and Cambridge, Massachusetts
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 28, 1977
    2. Place of Birth:
      Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    1. Education:
      B.A., Yale University, 1999; M.A., Harvard University, 2001
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One London, England, 2003 I bit my lip on an “Are we there yet?”

If ever silence was the better part of valor, now was the time. Palpable waves of annoyance emerged from the man beside me, thick enough to constitute an extra presence in the car.

Under the guise of inspecting my fingernails, I snuck another glance sideways at my car mate. From that level, all I could see was a pair of hands tense on the steering wheel. They were tanned and callused against the brown corduroy cuffs of his jacket, with a .ne dust­ing of blond hairs outlined by the late-afternoon sun, and the white scar of an old cut showing against the darker skin on his left hand. Large hands. Capable hands. Right now he was probably imagining them clasped around my neck.

And I don’t mean in an amorous embrace.

I had not been part of Mr. Colin Selwick’s weekend plans. I was the fly in his ointment, the rain on his parade. The fact that it was a very attractive parade and that I was very single at the moment was entirely beside the point.

If you’re wondering what I was doing in a car bound for parts un­known with a relative stranger who would have liked nothing better than to drop me in a ditch—well, I’d like to say, so was I. But I knew exactly what I was doing. It all came down to, in a word, archives.

Admittedly, archives aren’t usually a thing to set one’s blood pounding, but they do when you’re a fifth-year graduate student in pursuit of a dissertation, and your advisor has begun making ominous noises about conferences and job talks and the nasty things that happen to attenuated graduate students who haven’t produced a pile of paper by their tenth year. From what I understand, they’re quietly shuf.ed out of the Harvard history department by dead of night and fed to a relentless horde of academic-eating crocodiles. Or they wind up at law school. Either way, the point was clear. I had to rack up some primary sources, and I had to do it soon, before the crocodiles started getting restless.

There was a teensy little added incentive involved. The incentive had dark hair and brown eyes, and occupied an assistant professorship in the Gov department. His name was Grant.

I have, I realize, left out his most notable characteristic. He was a cheating slime. I say that entirely dispassionately. Anyone would agree that smooching a first-year grad student—during my department’s Christmas party, which he attended at my invitation—is indisputable evidence of cheating slimedom.

All in all, there had never been a better time to conduct research abroad.

I didn’t include the bit about Grant in my grant application. There is a certain amount of irony in that, isn’t there? Grant...grant.... The fact that I found that grimly amusing just goes to show the pa­thetic state to which I had been reduced.

But if modern manhood had let me down, at least the past boasted brighter specimens. To wit, the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Purple Gen­tian, and the Pink Carnation, that dashing trio of spies who kept Napoleon in a froth of rage and the feminine population of England in another sort of froth entirely.

Of course, when I presented my grant proposal to my advisor, I left out any references to evil exes and the aesthetic properties of knee breeches. Instead, I spoke seriously about the impact of England’s aristocratic agents on the conduct of the war with France, their influence on parliamentary politics, and the deeper cultural implications of espionage as a gendered construct.

But my real mission had little to do with Parliament or even the Pimpernel. I was after the Pink Carnation, the one spy who had never been unmasked. The Scarlet Pimpernel, immortalized by the Baroness Orczy, was known the world over as Sir Percy Blakeney, Baronet, possessor of a wide array of quizzing glasses and the most impeccably tied cravat in London. His less-known successor, the Purple Gentian, had carried on quite successfully for a number of years until he, too, had been undone by love, and blazoned before the international press as Lord Richard Selwick, dashing rake about town. The Pink Carnation remained a mystery, to the French and scholars alike.

But not to me.

I wish I could boast that I had cracked a code, or deciphered an an­cient text, or tracked an incomprehensible map to a hidden cache of papers. In fact, it was pure serendipity, disguised in the form of an elderly descendant of the Purple Gentian. Mrs. Selwick-Alderly had made me free of both her home and a vast collection of family papers. She didn’t even ask for my firstborn child in return, which I understand is frequently the case with fairy godmothers in these sorts of situations.

The only drawback to this felicitous arrangement was Mrs. Selwick-Alderly’s nephew, current owner of Selwick Hall, and self-appointed guardian of the family heritage. His name? Mr. Colin Selwick.

Yes, that Colin Selwick.

To say that Colin had been less than pleased at seeing me going through his aunt’s papers would have been rather like saying that Henry VIII didn’t have much luck with matrimony. If decapitations were still considered a valid way of settling domestic problems, my head would have been the first on his block.

Under the influence of either my charming personality or a stern talking-to from his aunt (I suspected the latter), Colin had begun to thaw to nearly human behavior. I must say, it was an impressive process. When he wasn’t snapping insults at me, he had the sort of crinkly-eyed smile that made movie theaters full of women heave a collective sigh. If you liked the big, blond, sporting type. Personally, I went more for tall, dark, and intellectual myself.

Not that it was an issue. Any rapport we might have developed had rapidly disintegrated when Mrs. Selwick-Alderly suggested that Colin give me access to the family archives at Selwick Hall for the weekend. Suggested is putting it a bit mildly. Railroaded would be more to the point. The traffic gods hadn’t done anything to help the situation. I had given up trying to make small talk somewhere along the A-23, where there had been an epic traffic jam involving a stalled-out car, an overturned lorry, and a tow truck that reached the scene of the crime and promptly broke down out of sympathy.

I cast another surreptitious glance in Colin’s direction.

“Would you stop looking at me like you’re Red Riding Hood and I’m the wolf?”

Maybe it hadn’t been all that surreptitious.

“Why, Grandmother, what big archives you have?” As an attempt at humor, it lacked something, but given that it was the first time my vocal cords had had any exercise over the past two hours, I was reasonably pleased with the result.

“Do you ever think about anything else?” asked Colin. It was the sort of question that from anyone else I would have construed as an invitation to flirtation. From Colin, it just sounded exasperated.

“Not with a dissertation deadline looming.”

“We,” he pronounced ominously, “still have to discuss what exactly is going to go into your dissertation.”

“Mmmph,” I said enigmatically. He had already made his feelings on that clear, and I saw no point in giving him the opportunity to reit­erate them. Less discussed, more easily ignored. It was time to change the subject. “Wine gum?”

Colin emitted a choked noise that might have been a laugh if allowed to grow up. His eyes met mine in the rearview mirror in an ex­pression that might have been, “I like your nerve,” or might have been “Oh, God, who let this lunatic loose in my car and where can I dump her?”

All he actually said was “Thanks,” and held out one large hand, palm up.

In the spirit of entente, I passed over the orange and .ipped a red one into his palm. Popping the despised orange into my own mouth, I sucked it meditatively, trying to think of a conversational gambit that wouldn’t touch on forbidden topics.

Colin did it for me. “If you look to your left,” he said, “you should be able to see the house.”

I caught a brief, tantalizing glimpse of crenellated battlements looming above the trees like a lost set from a Frankenstein movie be­fore the car swung around a curve, bringing us into full view of the house. Built of a creamy-colored stone, the house was what the papers might call “a stately pile,” a square central section with the usual clas­sical adornments, with a smaller wing sticking out on either side of the central block. It was a perfectly normal eighteenth-century gentle-man’s residence, and exactly what one would expect the Purple Gentian to have lived in. There were no battlements.

The car scraped to a halt in the circle of gravel that fronted the entrance. Not waiting to see if he was going to open the door for me, I grabbed the oversized tote in which I had crammed two days’ worth of weekend wear, and scrambled out of the door of the car before Colin could reach it, determined to be as obliging as possible.

My heels crunched on the gravel as I followed Colin to the house, the little pebbles doing nasty things to the leather of my stacked loafers. One would have expected assorted staff to be lining the halls, but instead the front hall was decidedly empty as Colin stepped aside to allow me in. The door snapped shut with a distinctly ominous clang.

“You can just take me to the library and then forget all about me,” I suggested helpfully. “You won’t even know I’m here.”

“Were you planning to sleep in the library?” he inquired with some amusement, his eyes going to the overnight bag on my arm.

“Um . . . I hadn’t really thought about it. I can sleep wherever.”

“Indeed.”

I could feel my face flaring with light like a high school fire alarm, and rapidly tried to ameliorate the situation. “What I mean is, I’m easy.”

Urgh. Worser and worser, as Alice might say. There are times when I shouldn’t be allowed out of the house without a muzzle.

“Easy to have as a houseguest, I mean,” I specified in a strangled voice, hoisting my bag farther up on my shoulder.

“I think the hospitality of Selwick Hall can stretch to providing you a bed,” commented Colin dryly, leading the way up a flight of stairs tucked away to one side of the hall.

“That’s nice to know. Very generous of you.”

“Too much hassle clearing out the dungeons,” explained Colin, twisting open a door not far from the landing, revealing a medium-sized room possessed of a dark four-poster bed. The walls were dark green, patterned with gold-tinted animals that looked like either dragons or gryphons, squatting on their haunches, stylized wings poking into the forequarters of the next beast over. He stepped aside to let me precede him.

Dumping my bag onto the bed, I turned back around to face Colin, who was still propping up the door. I shoved my hair out of my eyes. “Thanks. Really. It’s really nice of you to have me here.”

Colin didn’t mouth any of the usual platitudes about it being no problem, or being delighted to have me. Instead, he tipped his head in the direction of the hall and said, “The loo is two doors down to your left, the hot water tends to cut out after ten minutes, and the .ush needs to be jiggled three times before it settles.”

“Right,” I said. He got points for honesty, at least. “Got it. Loo on the left, two jiggles.”

“Three jiggles,” Colin corrected.

“Three,” I repeated firmly, as though I was actually going to remember. I trailed along after Colin down the hallway.

“Eloise?” A few yards ahead, Colin was holding open a door at the end of the hall.

“Sorry!” I scurried down the length of the hall to catch up, plunging breathlessly through the doorway. Crossing my arms over my chest, I said, a little too heartily, “So this is the library.”

There certainly couldn’t be any doubt on that score; never had a room so resembled popular preconception. The walls were paneled in rich, dark wood, although the .nish had worn off the edges in spots where books had scraped against the wood in passing one too many times. A whimsical iron staircase curved to the balcony, the steps narrowing into pie-shaped wedges that promised a broken neck to the unwary. I tilted my head back, dizzied by the sheer number of books, row upon row, more than the most devoted bibliophile could hope to consume in a lifetime of reading. In one corner, a pile of crumbling paperbacks—James Bond, I noticed, squinting sideways, in splashy seventies covers—struck a slightly incongruous note. I spotted a moldering pile of Country Life cheek by jowl with a complete set of Trevelyan’s History of England in the original Victorian bindings. The air was rich with the smell of decaying paper and old leather bindings.

Downstairs, where I stood with Colin, the shelves made way for four tall windows, two to the east and two to the north, all hung with rich red draperies checked with blue, in the obverse of the red-flecked blue carpet. On the west wall, the bookshelves surrendered pride of place to a massive .replace, topped with a carved hood to make Ivanhoe proud, and large enough to roast a serf.

In short, the library was a Gothic fantasy.

My face fell.

“It’s not original.”

“No, you poor innocent,” said Colin. “The entire house was gutted not long before the turn of the century. The last century,” he added pointedly.

“Gutted?” I bleated.

Oh, fine, I know it’s silly, but I had harbored romantic images of walking where the Purple Gentian had walked, sitting at the desk where he had penned those hasty notes upon which the fate of the kingdom rested, viewing the kitchen where his meals had been prepared.... I made a disgusted face at myself. At this rate, I was only one step away from going through the Purple Gentian’s garbage, hugging his discarded port bottles to my palpitating bosom.

“Gutted,” repeated Colin firmly.

“The floor plan?” I asked pathetically.

“Entirely altered.”

“Damn.”

The laugh lines at the corners of his mouth deepened.

“I mean,” I prevaricated, “what a shame for posterity.”

Colin raised an eyebrow. “It’s considered one of the great examples of the arts and crafts movement. Most of the wallpaper and drapes were designed by William Morris, and the old nursery has fireplace tiles by Burne-Jones.”

“The Pre-Raphaelites are distinctly overrated,” I said bitterly. Colin strolled over to the window, hands behind his back. “The gardens haven’t been changed. You can always go for a stroll around the grounds if the Victorians begin to overwhelm you.”

“That won’t be necessary,” I said, with as much dignity as I could muster. “All I need is your archives.”

“Right,” said Colin briskly, turning away from the window. “Let’s get you set, then, shall we?”

“Do you have a muniments room?” I asked, tagging along after him.

“Nothing so grand.” Colin strode straight towards one of the bookcases, causing me a momentary flutter of alarm. The books on the shelf certainly looked elderly—at least, if the dust on the spines was anything to go by—but they were all books. Printed matter. When Mrs. Selwick-Alderly had said there were records at Selwick Hall, she hadn’t speci.ed what kind of records. For all I knew, she might well have meant one of those dreadful Victorian vanity publi­cations compiled from “missing” records, titled “Some Documents Formerly in the Possession of the Selwick Family but Tragically Dropped Down a Privy Last Year.” They never cited their sources, and they tended to excerpt only those bits they found interesting, cut­ting out anything that might not redound to the greater credit of the ancestry.

But Colin bypassed the rows of leather-bound books. Instead, he hunkered down in front of the elaborately carved mahogany wain­scoting that ran, knee-high, around the length of the room, in a move­ment as smooth as it was unexpected.

“Hunh?” I nearly tripped over him, stopping so short that one of my knees banged into his shoulder blades. Grabbing the edge of a bookshelf to steady myself, I stared down in bewilderment as Colin bent over the wooden paneling, his head blocking my view of what­ever it was he was doing. All I could see was sun-streaked hair, darker at the roots as the effects of summer faded, and an expanse of bent back, broad and muscled beneath an oxford-cloth shirt. A whiff of shampoo, recently applied, wafted up against the stuffy smells of closed rooms, old books, and decaying leather.

I couldn’t see what he was doing, but he must have turned some sort of latch, because the wainscoting opened out, the joint cleverly disguised by the pattern of the wood. Now that I knew what to look for, there was nothing mysterious about it at all. Glancing around the room, I could see that the wainscoting was .ush with the edge of the shelves above, leaving a space about two feet deep unaccounted for.

“These are all cupboards,” Colin explained brie.y, swinging easily to his feet beside me.

“Of course,” I said, as if I had known all along, and never harbored alarming images of being forced to read late-Victorian transcriptions.

One thing was sure: I need have no worries about having to entertain myself with back issues of Punch. There were piles of heavy folios bound in marbled endpapers, a scattering of .at cardboard envelopes looped shut with thin spools of twine, and whole regiments of the pale gray acid-free boxes used to hold loose documents.

“How could you have kept this to yourself all these years?” I ex­claimed, falling to my knees in front of the cupboard.

“Very easily,” said Colin dryly.

I .apped a dismissive hand in his general direction, without inter­rupting my perusal. I scooted forward to see better, tilting my head sideways to try to read the typed labels someone had glued to the spines a long time ago, if their yellowed state and the shape of the letters were anything to go by. The documents seemed to be roughly organized by person and date. The ancient labels said things like lord richard sel­wick (1776–1841), correspondence, miscellaneous, 1801–1802, or selwick hall, household accounts, 1800–1806. Bypassing the household accounts, I kept looking. I reached for a folio at random, drawing it carefully out from its place next to a little pocket-sized book bound in worn red leather.

“I’ll leave you to it, shall I?” said Colin.

“Mmm-hmm.”

The folio was a type I recognized from the British Library, older documents pasted onto the leaves of a large blank book, with annota­tions around the edges in a much later hand. On the .rst page, an Ed­wardian hand had written in slanting script, “Correspondence of Lady Henrietta Selwick, 1801–1803.”

“Dinner in an hour?”

“Mmm-hmm.”

I flipped deliberately towards the back, scanning salutations and dates. I was looking for references to two things: the Pink Carnation, or the school for spies founded by the Purple Gentian and his wife, af­ter necessity forced them to abandon active duty. Neither the Pink Carnation nor the spy school had been in operation much before May of 1803. Wedging the volume back into place, I jiggled the next one out from underneath, hoping that they had been stacked in some sort of chronological order.

“Arsenic with a side of cyanide?”

“Mmm-hmm.”

They had. The next folio down comprised Lady Henrietta’s correspondence from March of 1803 to the following November. Perfect.

On the edge of my consciousness, I heard the library door close.

Scooting backwards, I sat down heavily on the floor next to the open cupboard, the folio splayed open in my lap. Nestled in the middle of Henrietta’s correspondence was a letter in a different hand. Where Henrietta’s script was round, with loopy letters and the occa­sional .ourish, this writing was regular enough to be a computer sim­ulation of script. Without the aid of technological enhancement, the writing spoke of an orderly hand, and an even more orderly mind. More important, I knew that handwriting. I had seen it in Mrs. Selwick-Alderly’s collection, between Amy Balcourt’s sloppy scrawl and Lord Richard’s emphatic hand. I didn’t even have to .ip to the signature on the following page to know who had penned it, but I did, anyway. “Your affectionate cousin, Jane.”

There are any number of Janes in history, most of them as gentle and unassuming as their name. Lady Jane Grey, the ill-fated seven-day queen of England. Jane Austen, the sweet-faced authoress, lionized by English majors and the BBC costume-drama-watching set.

And then there was Miss Jane Wooliston, better known as the Pink Carnation. I clutched the binding of the folio as though it might scuttle away if I loosened my grip, refraining from making squealing noises of delight. Colin probably already thought I was a madwoman, without my providing him any additional proof. But I was squealing inside. As far as the rest of the historical community was concerned (I indulged in a bit of personal gloating), the only surviving references to the Pink Car­nation were mentions in newspapers of the period, not exactly the most reliable report. Indeed, there were even scholars who opined that the Pink Carnation did not in fact exist, that the escapades attributed to the mythical .ower .gure over a ten-year period—stealing a shipment of gold from under Bonaparte’s nose, burning down a French boot fac­tory, spiriting away a convoy of munitions in Portugal during the Peninsular War, to name just a few—had been the work of a number of unrelated actors. The Pink Carnation, they insisted, was something like Robin Hood, a useful myth, perpetuated to keep people’s morale up during the grim days of the Napoleonic Wars, when England stood staunchly alone as the rest of Europe tumbled under Napoleon’s sway.

Weren’t they in for a surprise!

I knew who the Pink Carnation was, thanks to Mrs. Selwick-Alderly. But I needed more. I needed to be able to link Jane Wooliston to the events attributed to the Pink Carnation by the news sheets, to provide concrete proof that the Pink Carnation had not only existed, but had been continuously in operation throughout that period.

The letter in my lap was an excellent start. A reference to the Pink Carnation would have been good. A letter from the Pink Carnation herself was even better.

Greedily, I skimmed the first few lines. “Dearest Cousin, Paris has been a whirl of gaiety since last I wrote, with scarcely a moment to rest between engagements.. . .”

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Reading Group Guide

1. The Masque of the Black Tulip alternates between the present daystory of Eloise, researcher and archivist, and the past story ofHenrietta Selwick set in 1803. How do these two stories enhance eachother? What do they suggest about women's roles?

2. How does Lauren Willig create an aura of mystery and suspensesurrounding "The Black Tulip"?

3. In chapters five and six, we are introduced to severalcharacters-Turnip, the Marquise de Montval and Lord Vaughn-who might be "The Black Tulip?" Who do you suspect?

4. How does the ironic tone and humor contribute to the novel?Week Two

5. At the beginning of each chapter, we are given the definition of aword taken from the Personal Codebook of the Pink Carnation. For example,chapter eleven begins with "Quadrille: a deadly dance of deceit." How do these quotations enhance the story?

6. How does Henrietta and Miles' story parallel Eloise and Colin'sstory?

7. In chapter twenty, we switch briefly to the Pink Carnation's point of view. Why does Lauren Willig choose to do this?

8. Were you surprised at The Black Tulip's real identity?

9. At the end of the novel, The Black Tulip escapes. Wheredoes Eloise believe the Black Tulip is headed and who might the Black Tulip meet?

10. Will Colin call Eloise?

11. In the Historical Note at the end of The Masque of the Black Tulip, Lauren Willig explains that "although the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Purple Gentian and the Pink Carnation are all fictitious, there were flower-named spies romping across the Channel." What other historical details contribute to the story's authenticity?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 109 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(64)

4 Star

(27)

3 Star

(13)

2 Star

(3)

1 Star

(2)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 109 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Thoroughly charming

    Having just finished my own dissertation, like Ms. Willig's fictional Eloise, I needed a chick-lit break and found it with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, quickly followed by The Masque of the Black Tulip. These books are absolutely delightful, and the historical detail is well done. As an acknowledged homage to The Scarlet Pimpernel, they leave a bit to be desired - Lady Blakeney (Marguerite St. Just) is never mentioned (at least not in either of the books I've read so far), and Ms. Willig's heroes and heroines don't begin to reach the depths of character that Percy and Marguerite share. (Besides, in the time when these novels take place, the Blakeneys would only be in their thirties and hardly out of the fashionable world - Percy was supposedly the Prince of Wales' closest friend, after all - so why do they never appear in a cameo?)

    Nonetheless, these books taken in themselves are a pleasure, and I applaud Ms. Willig for keeping the romantic mores true to the time - no consummation until the wedding night. (Heroes, heroines and readers are well rewarded for the wait.) That factor alone is so refreshing that it's well worth supporting by continuing to buy the series! In comparing the two books, I found the romance in Black Tulip even more endearing than that of Pink Carnation, although Pink Carnation had a slight edge in the swashbuckling department (which was clearly Ms. Willig's intention, as her hero and heroine in Tulip progress sweetly and convincingly from a brother-sister relationship into grown-up love). I really fell for Miles, and Henrietta is adorable. Richard's behavior toward Miles - challenging him to a duel, which precipitates the marriage between Miles and Henrietta - seeems a bit absurd since Richard, as the Purple Gentian, got into some very heavy petting with Amy before their marriage, and Miles hasn't progressed nearly as far with Henrietta when Richard comes upon them (but I suppose it is possible that an older brother might overreact in such a way, and I'm holding out hopes that the boys will make up in the next novel).

    As for Eloise and Colin, I don't find the interludes intrusive so much as too slow. They shouldn't jump into bed - that would be too out of keeping with the parallel historical romance - but by the end of the second novel, I would have expected a kiss. (As other reviewers have mentioned, there seems to have been a bit too much eye on the potential for sequels.)

    Ms. Willig's style is entertaining and breezy (the historical dialogue sometimes seems a little modern), but her editor needs to do a better job - her sentences do not always cadence as they should, and words are too often repeated in the same paragraph. In a novel of this length, a phrase like "made a sound that wanted to be laugh when it grew up" should be used once - and no more. That said, I couldn't not have spent two more pleasant weekend afternoons than I did with these two books - they are quick reads, and for romantic Anglophiles, a perfect love potion! If you read Baroness Orczy's Pimpernel novels first - in this order: The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Elusive Pimpernel, El Dorado, and The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel - you'll understand Willig's plots better and you'll get a tremendous dose of history, heroism and romance along the way. (At the very least, read The Scarlet Pimpernel.) Meanwhile, I look forward to reading The Deception of the Emerald Ring!

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    It's a great read and part of a really fun series.

    I have enjoyed this installment of Lauren Willig's mystery romance set in two different time periods, yet intertwined. I like the way her characters carry from one book to the other. She also blends the tension and romance well. I have read four of the five and can't wait to read book five and the sixth which is soon due. I also have shared them with friends who enjoyed them as well.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2014

    | Moo.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 5, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Another Amazing Flower

    Second in the series, The Masque of the Black Tulip was just as delightful (perhaps more fun even?) as The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. If you've read Pink Carnation, then you've already met the main hero and heroine of Black Tulip. Henrietta Selwick, younger sister of the notorious Richard Selwick, is funny and bright and even occasionally silly. There's a scene where she hides from Miles Dorrington that it just hilarious. Miles is, of course, the hero of this story. Being Richard's best friend from childhood and very close to the whole Selwick family, he is deeply involved in all things spy. Miles is deliciously awkward and gets distressingly tangled up in things he shouldn't, including Henrietta.

    This was a fun romp full of mystery, romance and humor. A fantastic addition to the series. And don't forget, you get to follow along with modern-day Eloise and her budding crush on Colin Selwick, a descendant of Lord Richard, the Purple Gentian.

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  • Posted January 15, 2011

    Love it!

    i couldnt pull myself away!

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  • Posted July 4, 2009

    Darn!

    I really enjoyed the first book. I was very disappointed not long into this book. I forced myself to finish in hopes that it would get better if I just read a little farther. I still liked the first one enough to give the third one a try.

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  • Posted May 3, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Calgon, take me away ...

    As with my review of The Pink Carnation, I also used this book as a cleanser of the mind. The plot is similar to its predecessor, making me think that Ms. Willig has come up with a formula to her writing - only time will tell. There is danger, romance (opposites falling in love) and the quest to find a secret agent, the Black Tulip. I recommend for those who wish to escape for a time, read the previous book or are interested in historical romances.

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  • Posted March 2, 2009

    excellent series

    this is a great book in an excellent series! i highly recommend it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2008

    Amazing!

    Amazing book that I could not put down! It instantly topped my favorites list. I really loved every moment of reading it! You will not be disappointed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2008

    More Romance than Historical Fiction

    I agree with another reviewer that this was more of a romance novel than true historical fiction. Everything is told from a rather 'flighty' perspective of a female character -- there's no depth to her. The love story was more central to the book (and the main character) than the political intrigue. It was a decent read for a 'bargain book'. I don't intend to read the next book in this series.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 1, 2006

    Dazzling! Pure Enchantment!

    The Masque of the Black Tulip is a pure gem of a novel written in such an intriguing way. The ironic parallels between Heloise and Colin's relationship and Henrietta and Mile's is so clever and unfolds in such a poetic way. Ms. Willig writes with such a Austenesque wit that any historical fiction chick-lit lover is sure to relish.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2006

    One Word: FUN

    Definitely the one word to describe this book would be fun. It's one of those guilty pleasure books that you just cannot put down. Soft core porn?? (in response to the previous reviewer) I dont think I would go that far at all. Maybe it doesnt have the depth that other historical novels have, but it was one of the more relatable and enjoyable ones I have read in a while. It's nice when a historical novel actually has a 'Happily Ever After.' If you like a mixture of genres this is definitely an entertaining read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2006

    A Sassy Fun Read

    Cute book that I found myself laughing through. Though the romance wasn't as capitviating as Richard's and Amy's, I do smile every time the hero and the heroine come together in this book.I cannot wait for the next one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2006

    Wrong Genre

    I started out reading what I thought was a mediocre mystery/spy novel that was trying too hard to be Possession, and then I was surprised when it turned into soft-core porn. Be warned! This book would be more accurately described as a romance novel than historical fiction, so unless you want to read constant references to bulges in knee-britches and breasts popping out of bodices, I would recommend passing this one by.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2006

    Not as good as the first

    The book did not seem to hold my interest like the first book did. I felt that as soon as the book started catch my atention it was over. The plot was weak and the drama between hen and miles was not as thrilling as it was between amy and richard. I am looking forward to her next book though, I just hope it will make me not want to put it down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2006

    wonderfully readable but strangely familiar

    This book is undeniably fun to read. However, I only wish the author had shown a little more initiative, instead of making the book an almost exact copy of her earlier book, the pink carnation. The plot if virtually identical and certain passages read nearly word for word the same. Still, it's an amusing and diverting read, just somewhat disappointing for pink carnation fans who were expecting something new.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2006

    She's done it again!

    Read this book in 2 days! I have a new favorite author. I have always been a Diana Gabaldon fan but can get quite frustrated with her typical 999 page epics. Ms. Willig does a great job of keeping you interested with all the characters and the romance it great! Not too overwhelming but just enough to enjoy the descriptives......Truly enjoyed the escape into 19th century England and France.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2006

    A great sequel

    I really enjoyed The Secret History of the Pink Carnation (which you should definitely read first), and this first sequel was very entertaining. I don't know how many more Pink Carnation books the author intends to write, but I hope she doesn't let her 'day job' of graduate school and law school get in the way. Personally, I think she should write full time! This novel has the same combination of romance, suspense, modern era and Regency period action as the last book. I would like to see more of the modern day characters Colin and Eloise in the next book -- the suspense and tension surrounding them is getting very interesting.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2006

    It gets better and better!

    I read the Secret History of the Pink Carnation and loved it, but the sequel is even better! The sometimes over-silliness of the first novel is nowhere to be found instead, Miles and Henrietta provide great wit and humor, and an extremely sweet romance. The emergence of a new spy, the Black Tulip, also takes the book from simple Scarlet Pimpernel take-off to true historical novel of intrigue and makes you long to see what's beyond the next page. Absolutely wonderful--Well done, Ms. Willig!

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Unputdownable

    Harvard graduate student Eloise Kelly continues to search the English archives to learn more about the mysterious Regency era spy the Pink Carnation (see THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE PINK CARNATION). The History PHD candidate comes across some interesting early nineteenth century correspondence between Lady Henrietta and the elusive Pink Carnation.................. Henrietta learns that France has sent the Black Tulip to England to assassinate the Pink Carnation. No one in the War Office has any idea who the Black Tulip is or whether the person is male or female though most assume the assassin is a male except for the few who knows what sex the Pink Carnation is. Unable to ignore what she found out, Henrietta is determined to uncover the identity of the killer secret agent before that person can harm the Pink Carnation. At the same time the War Office assigns her best friend rake Miles Dorrington to do likewise. As initially the two counter spies trip over one another, they admit their attraction and fall in love, but he wants her out of the deadly contest while she demands to be his partner in every way..................... . This sequel contains much of the same ingredients that made the first book so delightful. The story line stars two likable protagonists with the same objective, but differing views on how and who should achieve this goal. Thus the likable lead couple adds romance and tension while much of the support cast provides humor and even more tenseness to this strong historical espionage. Though Ms. Kelly¿s role seems unnecessary and the final confrontation between spies a stretch considering the talent readers will take immense pleasure from this enchanting thriller and look forward to more flowery espionage romances............... Harriet Klausner

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