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Book Review: The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla

October 30, 2015

Jacket image, The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren WilligThe Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla
Lauren Willig
NAL
(Library book)

While grad school was amazing, and helped propel me into the career that I now love tremendously, there’s no denying that it put a major dent in my fiction reading. One of the casualties was the Pink Carnation series by Lauren Willig. The last one I read was The Garden Intrigue, and then I got buried under a giant stack of journal articles pondering the nature of digital information, ontology, taxonomy, metadata and other madness.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to catch up on my Pink Carnation reading, and checked The Passion of the Purple Plumeria out from the library. Almost immediately, I remembered why I liked the series so much: the social structures of the Regency, spying, brave heroines who Get Things Done and rescue themselves, thank you very much, all while spitting into the eye of the French. Plus, turns of phrase that had me giggling on the subway, multiple times, to the amusement of my fellow commuters, and the author herself. (Blithering at favorite authors on Twitter is one of the finer pleasures of reading in the digital age.) Starring Miss Gwen, my favorite character in the series, and featuring plenty of snark and derring-do, The Passion of The Purple Plumeria was a terrific welcome back to the series. I would be willing to put a corset on, give up the Internet and learn how to dance a quadrille just to spend a few days in Miss Gwen’s company.

But, because Halloween is tomorrow, this is, instead, a review of the following volume, The Mark of The Midnight Manzanilla. Pink Carnation done up in grand Gothic style (no, not the eyeliner and moping kind, the castles and vampires and brooding heroes kind). Dear reader, I giggled. (On the subway. I attracted indulgent stares.) There was a brooding hero. There was a heroine who had plenty of brains and snark and wasn’t going to let the hero get away with brooding. There was a murder, and there were dark tragic past secrets and drafty castles and cobwebs. It was fun and funny and there were some delicious shivery moments, and some suspense. I held my breath while reading a couple passages.

There was also a stoat.

Named Lady Florence.

Just take that in, for a second.

The vampires and atmospheric drafty castles make this an excellent Halloween spooky read.

Most impressively, for all the winking at the Gothic genre and romance, the story and the characters had heart. With point of view shifts between Sally and Lucien, you get to see the romance develop on a groundwork of mutual respect, on a groundwork of caring. She’s got compassion, not just silly flightiness and swooning. He has a tragic past, yes, but getting to see inside his head gives him a chance to have weaknesses that are human, rather than Tragic Gothic. There’s warmth there, that let me believe in the slow build of romance, and respect it.

And yes, I giggled. A lot.

And thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Series warning; Because of the many recurring characters and references to past events, you really need to have read the series’ previous books to make this one work all the way, especially with the modern frame that sets up each book with an ongoing contemporary story. I really should have read/posted about this well in advance of Halloween, instead of the day before. Need to work on my timing.

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