This book is the eleventh in the Pink Carnation Napoleonic Wars spy series. If you have not read any books in this series, I highly suggest you do. They are thrilling, suspenseful, and the dialogue is razor sharp. In this book, we hear about the story of Turnip Fitzhugh's sister, Sally. Sally is in her second Season after graduating from boarding school and her friends Agnes and Lizzie are having their first. The only problem is that as excited as Sally was to begin going to what she thought would be exciting parties is actually quite boring and her two closest friends have moved on without her.
The talk of the Ton is the novel written by Miss Gwen, The Convent of Orsino, and people are seeing vampires, especially after, Lucien, the Duke of Belliston, has returned to the London home of his family. Lucien has the brooding looks of Lord Byron and the sweetness and mysteriousness of Johnny Depp. I absolutely adore him. It is hard not to. He has been absent for twelve years and everyone suspects that he is a vampire because he never leaves his home and is believed to stay awake at all hours. Sally, a sensible creature, does not believe this story, as well as the ones that his family is cursed, he sacrifices chickens, and was chained up in an attic because he was mad.
Lucien, it turns out, was the one to discover his parents, his mother, a young woman from Martinique, and his older father, dead in what is called a "folly", which I believe is some sort of type of gazebo. They had been poisoned by the bark of the Manzilla tree. Lucien's mother was an avid botanist and his father was highly active in the House of Lords. Many believed that his mother killed his father, then committed suicide. After a few years at Eaton, he returns to the family country home, Hullingden, where his Uncle Henry is taking care of it for him until he is of age to do so himself. His aunt hates him, because she wants to be a Duchess and his cousin, Hal, follows him around like a puppy. At the age of fifteen, Lucien escapes to the colonies in search of his mother's family and finds her sister and stays on her plantation, plotting his vengeance on his parent's murders.
At a party, Lizzie dares Sally to go over to Lucien's garden and look in one of the windows and see what is going on. Not one to back down from a challenge, she does, and meets a man who is very much flesh and blood, not a vampire. The two will meet again at his sister Clarissa's coming out party. Clarissa hates him for leaving her all those years ago. While there, Lucien receives a note that promises information he will be interested in. Sally is there when he gets it and insists on going with him because she believes it is a trap by some girl to get herself compromised and win a Duke. When the two go out onto the balcony, they instead find a dead woman with a Manzilla blossom in her hands, his father's snuff box at her feet, and two drawn on "bite marks". Sally convinces Lucien to leave at once before someone suspects him of the murder, and "discovers" the body herself.
Sally decides she must help Lucien, because she sees the way his family walks all over him and he just apologizes for it. She has heard about his parents and he agrees to accept her help, however unwillingly. The flowers, of course, make Sally think of spies, especially after Uncle Henry tells Lucien that his mother was thought to be passing on information to the French. The young woman turns out to be a stage actress and the director of the play is Lucien's old tutor, who mysteriously disappeared right after his parents' death and was suspected of possibly having an affair with Lucien's mother. Love notes from an anonymous "protector" are found in her dressing room, but the director, Mr. Quinten, says she told him she was leaving as she had better prospects. He believed that she had found another "protector".
Soon the gang are all assembled at Sally's home, headed by Miss Gwen. The flowers indicate that the person his mother may have been spying for is the infamous French masterspy, the Black Tulip. Lucien has already gone through his parent's things at the London home, so they decide to fake a betrothal between Lucien and Sally in order to get Miss Gwen access to Hullinden, where she might find more information. The more time Sally and Lucien spend together, the closer they become and the more they realize that maybe they do not want to end the engagement. However, they have spies to chase, murderers to catch, and try to keep the police from executing Lucien for a crime he did not commit.
Sally is quick minded and has a sharp, witty tongue that always has to have the last word. She also insists on helping people whether they want it or not. Sally is a rare woman of her time in that she can take care of herself and is quite fearless and ready to flaunt, to an extent, the rules of society. Lucian is a sweet, good man who, as Sally points out, has been neglecting his duties for far too long and lets people treat him poorly, because he feels that somehow he deserves it. It was an absolute delight to read the story of these two characters. They fit so well together and understand each other in ways that no one else does. I would say that this is my favorite of the Pink Carnation books, so far, but I tend to say that about all of them after I read them. This book, though, was an excellent read and worthy of the series way beyond measure. I am sure I will find myself reading it again, because once was not enough.
I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell