The Mischief of the Mistletoe

Mischief of the Mistletoe is the latest adventure in the Secret History of the Pink Carnation series and this time, it's a Christmas romance! For those looking for the usual Lauren Willig fare, you'll find that this installment comes up a bit short, though it's still an amusing holiday read. Normally, Willig bounces between the historical love story that occupies a single book and the modern storyline that ties all the books together, but this time we simply have the love story without cuts to modern counterparts. Perhaps to make up for that, we have an intense reliance upon characters featured from previous books (and if you're like me, you might need a cheat sheet to remember who is who) coupled with a return to events from previous books to get another perspective on events that have already unfolded and match up some secondary characters.

Arabella Dempsey is used to being a wallflower... she's used to being passed over and ignored, though it still hurts when the young man who had previously been flirting with her shows his true colors and marries her much-older, wealthy aunt. As Arabella had served as her aunt's companion for years, it was always assumed that the aunt might eventually adopt Arabella and so leave the girl her money -- and while Arabella isn't exactly a London debutante, it would certainly help, given her father's poor health and three younger sisters to care for. With financial and romantic dreams crushed, Arabella makes a hard decision -- she is going to teach. She gets herself a position at Miss Climpson's institution for young ladies and accepts that her social position is getting even lower for it, but whatever helps feed the family, right? Of course, what she doesn't count on is running into Reginald (aka "Turnip") Fitzhugh, a young man whose sister attends Miss Climpson's and who literally knocks into her and drops a Christmas pudding on her foot. He doesn't remember that he's already met (and danced with) Miss Dempsey, and probably wouldn't remember this encounter either, except that she chases after him with the forgotten Christmas pudding... and then she nearly has it stolen from her by some ruffian. Turnip helps Arabella to her feet yet again and when they discover that the muslin wrapping has a secret rendezvous time written in French, well... let's just say that Turnip won't be forgetting Arabella's name now as they make plans to figure out what plan is afoot. While Arabella assumes it's a young lady making plans to meet a lover, Turnip thinks there might be secret spy goings-on (after all, he may not be allowed to spy for the Pink Carnation, but he certainly tries to deflect attention with his outrageous wardrobe). They may not think they're getting any closer to solving the mystery, though they themselves seem to develop a certain closeness... but can social circles be overcome by the magic of Christmas puddings?

It's a cute little romance, but quite honestly, the main storyline doesn't touch on the weird part. The thing is, Arabella's best friend is... Jane Austen. Um... yeah. I understand that Mischief of the Mistletoe is influenced by Austen's unfinished manuscript, The Watsons, but it's a little distracting to have Jane Austen as an actual character. I know, I know, fiction can do all kinds of things, but there's something about using Austen that just isn't cricket. It's one thing to attempt to finish an manuscript, it's another to involve the lady herself. Willig is quite delicate in her treatment of Austen, though, and doesn't really do anything out of character. Most of her meatier dialogue is modeled from her letters, and otherwise she's simply being a good friend to Arabella, engaged more in observation than any direct intervention.

Fans of Willig will be amused at this small diversion and I will give Willig immense credit for the fact that her next real novel will be published in January 2011. So if this felt thin, we don't need to wait long for another new read. Quite impressive, really, considering that while this is certainly shorter than the usual book, it's much more than just a silly side story! So Happy Christmas and enjoy the pudding (or don't, as descriptions of it here hardly make it seem like a truly appealing treat).

No comments: