The Temptation of the Night Jasmine

The Temptation of the Night Jasmine is the fifth installment in Lauren Willig's "Pink Carnation" series of historical fiction novels. The series follows American graduate student Eloise and her search for information on the English & French spies of the late 1700s/early 1800s that all seem to be named after flowers. Turning a bit of fiction into reality for her world, Willig's books exist in a reality where the Scarlet Pimpernel was a real spy for England during the French Revolution, though the existence of other flowery colleagues is somewhat dismissed -- incorrectly, it turns out. Eloise has focused her dissertation on proving the identity of the Pink Carnation, a spy that picked up where the Pimpernel left off. In a stroke of luck, she gained access to archives at Selwick Hall that hold a wealth of secret correspondence to support her theories -- and she got herself a British boyfriend, too. Colin, the descendant of certain flowery spies, was originally suspicious of Eloise's intentions, but appears to have warmed to her, as this book opens with Colin and Eloise marking a month of their relationship.

Fans of the series will know that it's the meeting and courtship of Colin and Eloise that frames the series, but each individual book follows a different couple, though they all have some connections to each other (younger sisters, brothers, best friends, etc.). The historic romance in this book centers on Lady Charlotte Landsdowne and Robert, Duke of Dovedale. When Charlotte was nine, she met her (very distant) cousin Robert, who was fifteen, at a time of family turmoil. Her father, the Duke, was dying and as a result of male heirs and all that, Robert would become the next Duke. Instead, he ran away to India, becoming an officer and leaving Charlotte and her somewhat tyrannical grandmother to retain control of the estate in practice if not in name. For all those years, she had a rather dreamy image of Robert and now that he has returned to England, you can just bet where she's set her cap. Of course, that would be somewhat easier to do if he didn't seem a bit distracted. He returned home to take up residence at his estate and be a Duke, right? Well, actually, Robert returned to England to exact revenge on a traitor who killed his mentor. Until he's done this, he had no idea what the future holds for him, but his pretty young cousin seems to be making a mess of his concentration. The traitor in question has a foppish way of wearing a spring of jasmine on his clothes; since Robert hasn't been in the country for a while, he's completely unaware of the whole thing with spies named for flowers and he doesn't quite realize that he might be stumbling into something that's on a grander scale than he originally believed. By returning to England, he seeks to track down this murderer and to do that, it appears that he has to insinuate himself into the ton, or at least a particularly loathsome segment of it that consists of rather seedy gentlemen. So despite his concern for his cousin's well-being, his feelings for her catch him a bit off-guard and he resolves that the only way to protect such a delicate and innocent girl like Charlotte (from evil fellows like his latest chums and from himself, a man bent on revenge) is to stay away from her. Well, unsurprisingly, Charlotte is not the delicate angel that Robert believes her to be. She might be sweet, innocent, and dreamy, with her head full of the romances in books, but she is not delicate. We readers suspect as much, but she's given a chance to prove this when, as one of the Queen's ladies in waiting, she stumbles upon a potential plot to overthrow the mad king. Ultimately, the Charlotte and Robert must recognize each other for who they really are if there's any hope of a lasting romance.

Fans of the series will sympathize with me when I say that I tend to get a mixed up about all the couples and characters that populate this series. It's always a charming young couple that almost assuredly gets together in the end, but I suppose that's part of the appeal, too. The only trouble, then, is trying to remember who is who when you meet old heroes/heroines in new books where the focus has shifted. Charlotte's best friend is Henrietta Dorrington (formerly Selwick) and while I knew she had been a previous heroine, I had to go look up that her book was The Masque of the Black Tulip and remind myself of those plotpoints. Like I said, things might blend together a bit, but the formula is part of the fun. Willig knows her audience quite well and knows what we want, but she always tosses in some exciting details. This particular book hangs heavily on the idea of the reader appreciating the formula. I was not as delighted with this novel as I was with others, but that being said, I still stayed up until 2.30am on a weeknight to finish reading this book in one sitting. Clearly, Willig is doing something right, even if I still prefer some other couples.

Readers might be keen to know that this the first book that Willig wrote as a full-time author. She originally wrote The Secret History of the Pink Carnation as a student and continued writing, even as she got her graduate degrees and started practicing law, but she's tossed it all in for a full time writing career. I suppose the idea of a fifth book in a series convinced her that the whole writing thing was not a dream. Yes, there is a wide audience clamoring for her easy to read but easy to enjoy romances. Yes, she can make a living off of these delicious romps. Of course, she's gotten a bit more conservative with the romances as she's gone through the series. In the Pink Carnation there was fellatio in a boat on the Thames for goodness sake! Here, we get some making out on a roof in the cold. (Granted, someone else ends up in a scandal, but we don't get that one described for us. And here, we're trying to let two characters get to know the deeper truths about their chosen partner, so perhaps it's best that they aren't tumbling around in boats.) Willig has stepped back from the more sensational things, which is a bit of a shame, as I enjoyed her ability to write whatever she liked as long as it was fun. She still captures the romantic ideas, and she even tempers some of them to focus on what love is as opposed to just infatuation and lust. But I think we could have gotten a bit more lust. Thank goodness the next bit features a redhead who was involved in this book's scandal.

If you enjoy the series, I'm sure you'll enjoy Night Jasmine. (If you haven't read the others, then I highly recommend that you start at the beginning. Thankfully, Willig doesn't waste too much time in summarizing, particularly when every book doesn't necessarily have any bearing on the others.) I continue to be excited for whatever Willig might put on the market and I hope that she continues to produce such delightful novels for a long, long time.

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