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The Garden Intrigue by Lauren Willig
Published: February 16, 2012Hardcover, 388 pages
This is not typically the kind of historical fiction that I read, but I thoroughly enjoyed The Garden Intrigue and learned some historical facts along the way!
The years surrounding 1804 were critical ones for Napoleon Bonaparte, who, after having invaded countries in Europe sets his sights on England. He commissions the building of a top-secret prototype of a submarine to blow up the English ships in the Channel. Robert Fulton, the inventor of the steamship has designed and named it Nautilus (the name of the submarine from 20,000 Leagues under the Sea fame!) So that’s the historical setting.
Fast-forward to 2004. Post-graduate student, Eloise, is researching the “Pink Carnation” (aka Jane Wooliston) a British spy living in France in the early 1800’s, when she discovers silly poetry written by Augustus Whittlesby for his muse, Jane, whom he imagines himself in love with. Augustus calls her “the Princess of the Pulchritudinous Toes.” Who could write such drivel? And why? The answers to these two questions are at the heart of the story.
Enter Emma Delagardie, a young American widow living in France, seemingly intent on nothing more than drinking champagne, dressing up, partying and generally having a good time. Her friendship with Bonaparte’s family attracts Augustus and he wrangles an invitation to Malmaison, Josephine Bonaparte’s favorite country home in order to discover the plans for the submarine. Augustus realizes that there is much more to Emma than he imagines and gradually falls in love with her.
This book is funny and fun to read. At one point Augustus says “….what makes you think Madame Delagardie would accept the help of a man guilty of perpetrating unspeakable crimes against unsuspecting adverbs?” Or quoting Miss Gwen, “one flirts with poets…., one doesn’t fall in love with them. And one certainly doesn’t marry them.” The narrator says, “She made it sound like an inalterable law. Somewhere in the Napoleonic Code was buried a provision banning matrimony for all purveyors of verse, to be defined under subsection 62(a)(iii), not to be confused with subsection 62()a)(iv) – minstrels, traveling.”
Lauren Willig’s descriptive powers are amazing! “She could smell ulterior motives on me like cheap cologne.” “Against the fronds of the willows, the woman drifting towards the bridge seemed almost a specter herself, her long gown a whisper of white in the shadow of the trees. She stepped up onto the blue-painted bridge, and the last rays of the setting sun lit upon her, embracing her with the ardor of a lover.” These are but two of her many descriptions.
The Garden Intrigue has all the elements of an interesting story - love, romance, espionage, mystery, history, intrigue, and real people. And a beautiful cover!
There are a couple of sexual scenes as well as religious epithets in the book that the reader should be aware of.