Ramblings from the Desert

The man who trades freedom for security does not deserve nor will he ever receive either. ~Benjamin Franklin

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Location: New Mexico

Author of the urban fantasy novel, The Music of Chaos, and the paranormal romance, The Canvas Thief.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Masque of the Black Tulip

The Masque of the Black Tulip by Lauren Willig, the second in a series, is one of those books that leaves me feeling like the spouse at a high school reunion, smiling stupidly at references that mean nothing to me.

In fairness, it was a fun book. But it strikes me as too dependent on continuity with the previous book. I'd understand this more if this were the fifth book in the series. A second book in a series shouldn't be that dependent on the first.

The novel is structured around two concurrent storylines, one following modern day history student Eloise Kelly, the other part regency romance, part spy story, centered around Miles Dorrington and Henrietta Selwick (sister to Richard Selwick, the Purple Gentian from the first book). In the present day, Eloise is digging through the archives of Selwick estate (castle, thingy, whatever) looking for clues to the identity to a French spy known as The Black Tulip. The obligatory (and actually kinda cool) love interest is Colin Selwick, descendent of Henrietta and Richard Selwick. In the archives, Eloise finds the story of how Henrietta and her childhood friend Miles Dorrington, unmask the Black Tulip and along the way, find the lurve.

As romances go, it's entertaining, mainly because I'm a fan of the idea of best friends who fall in love. Miles and Henrietta are fun, the dialogue (with one exception at the end) is snappy and clever. (There is a scene at the end that threatens to undo itself by being too clever. It felt like both editor and author were just too tired and impatient at this point to give the dialogue the trimming it needed.)

But the antagonist, the supposedly deadly Black Tulip, is so poorly defined that if you step too far past him/her, all you see is cardboard cutout. For all the suggestions that the Black Tulip is so deadly, there isn't much of a sense of danger. Miles and Henrietta do very little unmasking, except of each other, and in the end, The Black Tulip is more caricature than flesh and blood. The modern day romance between Eloise and Colin is disappointingly [Elrond voice on] "thin" and ends on a sort of cliffhanger. There are several scenes written in the POV of Jane, an English spy working in Paris that seem to serve as "show don't tell" exposition. (Again, if I'd read the first book, Jane's scenes might have been more accessible. But since I didn't know her from Adam, it was just distracting. The entire book feels a bit rushed, as though the author was impatient to get on to book three.

I think, had I read the previous book, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, I might have enjoyed this book more. As it was, it was worth a few chuckles. Overall, an innovative mixture of spy story, chick lit and romance that would have worked better if written to stand on its own.

Monday. Not again. Ugh.


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