Review: The Deception of the Emerald Ring by Lauren Willig

This is the third book in the Pink Carnation series and every bit as excellent as the first two. They’re just… perfect. They’re too clever to be chick-lit, too much fun to be historical fiction and too serious to be romance but they still manage to comprise the best of all three genres.

History student Eloise Kelly is in London looking for more information on the activities of the infamous 19th century spy, the Pink Carnation, while at the same time trying to keep her mind off the fact that her mobile phone is not ringing and her would-be romantic hero Colin Selwick is not calling.
Eloise is finally distracted from checking for messages every five minutes by the discovery of a brief note, sandwiched amongst the papers she’s poring over in the British Library. Signed by Lord Pinchingdale, it is all Eloise needs to delve back in time and unearth the story of Letty Alsworthy and the Pink Carnation’s espionage activities on the Emerald Isle…
That synopsis blows. It’s not really very much about Eloise at all – she features every couple of chapters but not enough to write an entire blurb around her. In fact, I’d have liked a little more of her. I love her sarcasm and little imagined scenarios that never quite pan out, even though she’s very intelligent and scholarly underneath. She’s researching the ring of British spies that rescued aristocrats from the blade of the guillotine in the French Revolution, along with the Scarlet Pimpernel, and that led her (in the first book) to an archive of documents owned by Colin’s family, the man she’s currently obsessing over.
But as I said, that’s not really the focus of the story. It revolves around the people in the documents she’d studying instead. Letty tries to prevent her flightly younger sister’s elopement with Lord Pinchingdale, but instead ends up in a compromising position herself and is forced to marry him. Unfortunately, he believes she contrived the entire plan and so does everything he can to stay away from her. In the mean-time he travels to Ireland to help the Pink Carnation prevent the French sailing over to aid the Irish Rebellion.
There. That’s much better. Amazon should sack their synopsis writer, I swear. Maybe Lauren Willig could do it – she’s easily one of the best writers I’ve ever come across. The dialogue flows so well I could happily believe that the characters were real and ready to jump out of the page.
Jane, thought Letty, seemed determined to out-Vaughn Lord Vaughn when it came to couching speech in obscurity. It was enough to make Letty yearn for good commonplace words of one syllable. Perhaps she should just hold up two cards, saying ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ and demand that Vaughn point to the one that best answered the question “Did you kill the marquise?”
Knowing Lord Vaughn, he would probably find a way to point with ambiguity.
Every one of her books deals with a different character, usually somebody that’s been mentioned only briefly in the previous books. They do continue to pop up in the later ones though – like Miles and Henrietta feature in this one without having a major part. It does take a while to keep who’s who straight, but it helps if you’ve read the previous ones.
Speaking of, I really would read the other two before starting this one. It starts with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, I believe. The historical plotlines would be fine to read book-by-book but for the Eloise subplot, you really kind of need the back story.
Perhaps insisting she take embroidery scissors had been a bit much.
He might as well, thought Geoff disgustedly, slicing off a piece of twine, have laden her with the sorts of magical amulets medieval peasants wore to ward off plague. They would probably be just as effective, and a great deal lighter.
What’s left? Ah yes. The romance. If you’ve ever been to my blog before, you’ll know I have a pathological hatred for romance in books. It usually isn’t necessary and feels like it was lumped in at last minute with a trowel. But after reading The Deception of the Emerald Ring, I’m more than willing to relinquish my Bitter Old Hag crown and embrace the wonder that is Lauren Willig’s romantic sub-plots. They’re just so well-crafted and realistic. Couples don’t just instantly fall in love – they bicker and doubt each other and bitch behind each other’s backs, all while slowly realising their feelings. It’s just fantastic and it has been in every single one of her books I’ve read.
I know that the cover makes it seem like one of those romance books you see in the charity shop for 50p, but I can’t even explain how much it isn’t like that. It’s funny, clever historical fiction with a great romantic sub-plot. There is absolutely no reason you shouldn’t read this.


  1. Ooh, these sound good! I've never even heard of them! It would be nearly physically impossible for me to read this without starting at the beginning so that means hunting down The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. I hate feeling as though I'm on the outside of inside jokes and background!

    Also, this has reminded me that I've never read The Scarlet Pimpernel

    Damn my pesky job getting in the way of all the books I want to read! Is it so much to ask that I be gifted/win enough money to allow me to open a bookshop (without having to worry about whether or not it makes any money…) and read a lot?! Apparently it is!

  2. Hanna says:

    @LAB – The Scarlet Pimpernel is wonderful! I was really surprised my how accessible and action-packed it is. You don't really need it for these books, because they're more about his friends than him, but do read it anyway. Also, he's one of the people in the portraits in The League of Extra-ordinary Gentlemen's library!

    Ohh, I'd love to open a bookshop! If you opened one in Leeds/Bradford, I swear I'd never leave!

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