Willig (The Seduction of the Crimson Rose) here ups the ante in her Napoleonic-era spy series. It is still 2004, and Ph.D. candidate Eloise Kelly continues to conduct research in the archives of Richard Selwick, aka the Purple Gentian, but now she is also involved romantically with Colin Selwick, the executor of the estate. As their relationship blooms, we return to 1803 Sussex. Charlotte Lansdowne, bosom friend to Richard's sister, Henrietta, lives at Girdings with her cantankerous grandmother. A Twelfth Night house party welcomes home the current Duke of Dovedale, Robert Lansdowne, a distant cousin who was Charlotte's emotional rock when she was orphaned at a young age. Turning slightly from France to intrigue in India, where Robert hied off to 12 years earlier, Willig freshens the pot as Robert initially is on a mission of revenge that involves bacchanalian rites. But, with Charlotte's aid, he helps to thwart a plot of royal proportions. Will Charlotte finally let herself love the man? Or can she not accept that her hero has feet of clay? Another well-written chapter in the series that began with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. For romance collections, especially where the other "Flower" titles have taken root. [See Prepub Alert, LJ10/1/08.]
Honor and romance again take the lead in 19th-century England, as yet another flower-named spy continues this high-spirited and thoroughly enjoyable series (The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, 2008, etc.). The beautiful but bookish Lady Charlotte is thrilled to welcome her cousin, the dashing Robert of Dovedale, home for Christmas to Girdings House. The year is 1803, and Charlotte is finishing her third season still unmarried. But her cousin, the hero of Charlotte's lonely youth, seems distracted by the dissolute young "Eligibles" whom Charlotte's grandmother has invited for the festivities-and a last chance at matrimony. Could Robert, the true heir of Girdings, be involved with that unseemly crew, or could something more be afoot? As fans of Willig's series will immediately deduct, Duke Robert is as pure-hearted as they come, but the two protagonists will end up romantically confused even as they team up to uncover a plot to kidnap the mad King George III. The discovery of yet another relative involved in espionage could strain credibility, but Willig, a Harvard-educated historian, mixes pitch-perfect period details with lighthearted romance for a fresh take on the genre. If not caught up in the fashions and gossip, what else do patriotic young gentleman have to do, after all, besides defend the honor of their countries, or their more or less innocent female relatives? And, in a nod to modern sensibilities, what else do young noblewomen have to do but save them right back? In a witty acknowledgment of such far-fetched conventions, Willig's modern heroine, narrator Eloise Kelly, finds herself wondering if her romantic mystery man, new boyfriend Colin Selwick, has continued his noblefamily's tradition. That both stories will end happily is a given, but Willig's lively writing and amiable young characters make the journey great fun. Smart characters of both genders, fast-paced plotting and a dash of self-conscious humor make this installment a winner.