All good things must eventually come to an end, and at long last, Lauren Willig wraps up my favorite “chick-lit” series with a serviceable final installment, The Lure of the Moonflower: A Pink Carnation Novel. It traces the modern day wedding of our determined grad student, Eloise, and her British heir-turned-spy novelist fiance, Colin, along with the final (or not so final) adventures of Jane Wooliston, the Pink Carnation herself, and the Moonflower, first seen as a rogue agent at the end of The Betrayal of the Blood Lily and later revealed to be Jack Reid, illegitimate son of Col. William Reid and half-brother of Capt. Alex Reid (the Reid family produces a rather large number of suitors for Willig’s universally feisty heroines). In December 1807, Jane and Jack find themselves in French-occupied Lisbon, racing the clock and Jane’s old nemesis (and ex-lover), The Gardner, to save Queen Maria and prevent the complete overthrow of the Portuguese government by Napoleon’s forces. In true Carnation fashion, Jane and Jack bicker, underestimate each other, rely on one another, and eventually reluctantly admit that they just might love each other, all while saving Europe from mass chaos.
What I have always loved about this series is that it is impeccably researched, and whatever historical liberties Willig takes with events, she thoroughly explains in an author’s note at the end of each book. Moonflower is no different and follows in the mold of Blood Lily and The Deception of the Emerald Ring to introduce us to a lesser known locale and history of the Napoleonic Wars. (Blood Lily took place in India, Emerald Ring in Ireland, and now Moonflower takes place in Portugal.) Though wrapped in gauzy adventure and smoldering glances, exciting bits of Portugal’s actual history emerge to add heft to a fairly light read. And, of course, it’s always fun to see an intelligent (and fashionable) woman kicking butt in a traditionally man’s world.
But here’s the deal. It was time for the series to end. Eloise’s framing plot has become more and more tired in each successive book, and though Willig rallies one last dastardly plot for Eloise and Colin to foil on the eve of their wedding, it feels rather perfunctory. As for the meat of the story, Jane and Jack spend more time rehashing the same inner monologue of “he/she is so irritating, he/she is so sexy, no we are here to work, oh woe is me because I thought he/she got my tragic backstory but he/she doesn’t really understand me but maybe he/she does blah blah blah blah….” than actually adventuring, and it creates this awkward, halting momentum that meanders along in fits and starts. Jane and Jack’s inability to communicate at the most basic level is infuriating, though clearing up a few of those issues would have quickened the love story, and we can’t have that. Clearly prolonged angst is better. The novel lacks some of the real wit and fun of the beginning of the series, and, though it is still a super easy and quick read, it eventually felt like I was reading “one more chapter” just because I could and not because I felt that genuine need to keep reading the story. I have been somewhat disappointed with the last few books in this series, and I have to say that Moonflower is more in line with its more recent predecessors than the first several books in the series.
I will say this for Willig, though: in light of her other books and series, she did not just drop the series that started her career. She wrapped it up nicely, completing the series with Jane herself, who has always been on the side in these novels rather than commanding her own. Jack is an interesting sparring partner, more anti-hero than other leading men have been yet containing an inherently good heart. Willig jumps into a unique location, as mentioned before, and the political intrigue is, if rather surface level, interesting. And the story does feel complete. Willig promised to end her series, and she did in a very serviceable, if not particularly fresh, way.
I think for those Pink Carnation fans out there, it will be a nice, mellow way to end your relationship with the series. So read it, enjoy it, put it on your shelf to probably forget about it, and enjoy the memory (or the rereading) of the sparkling fun and intelligence of the first half of the series.