Lauren Willig. The Passion of the Purple Plumeria. New York: Penguin, 2013. Print.
All that glisters is not gold…
The Merchant of Venice
The cover of The Passion of the Purple Plumeria looked like a typical historical romance story—and it was. But the title and prologue suggested this tale might be might be more like The Scarlet Pimpernel, a boyhood favorite of mine. Well, it was, sort of.
Gwen and Jane are English spies in France during the Napoleonic Wars. The older Gwen’s cover is as a chaperone to the wealthy Jane. They return to England to learn that Jane’s younger sister Agnes and her roommate Lizzy have disappeared form their boarding school in Bath. Lizzy’s father, a widower and recently retired army colonel, arrives at the same time.
Gwen proves her ability as a spy when she uses her parasol with an embedded sword blade to fight off three hoodlums who attack the colonel and her. Then, nearly half the book puts the intrigue and espionage on hold as it develops the Gwen-colonel relationship. Think Lancelot-Elaine as Gwen finds herself ministering to the injured colonel. If you like romances, this will keep you interested. If not, you will just have to be patient until Gwen and the colonel infiltrate a secret society of opium eaters and finally track down the missing teenagers.
Except for the romance, the story is really more reminiscent of Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, another boyhood favorite. There is a rumor of a mysterious cache of jewels from India, an overwritten gothic novel, and some history sleuths from 2004 who appear in a few chapters. This is a potentially lively tale if you are rooting for the older couple to get together.
The author’s epilogue, which gives some historical background to the story, is the most interesting part of the book. The epilogue does give a sense of Regency England, war diplomacy including Talleyrand and the Turkish Sultan, and the rule of England in India at the turn of the nineteenth century.