The Secret History of the Pink Carnation is, first and foremost, chick lit, with historical accuracy taking a backseat. For someone who was supposed to be so smart, she behaved like a twit sometimes—for example, thinking that another character (a well-known rake) is the Purple Gentian, she makes an assignation with him in a dark, secluded space. I thought it was also rather ridiculous that she really didn’t know who the Purple Gentian was until the last minute. The prose of this book is also laughable: when talking about her “feelings” for the Purple Gentian (who she’s only met twice at the time this passage occurs, and both times when his face was covered), Amy thinks: “Oh, but she had been so sure of her feelings for the Gentian! And of his for her. His promise of a necklace of stars had seemed to be a sort of divine seal of approval, marking him out as her official, one and only true love.” Please. Like anyone could be so naive. I only continued reading to find out if Amy would learn from her mistakes. She never did.
The spies don’t seem to sneak around all that much; at one point Lord Richard emerges from the front door of his house in his disguise. He also seems to spend an inordinate amount of time staring at Amy’s behind; in one part, the book literally becomes a bodice-ripper, heavy panting and bad sexual innuendoes included. The politics of the period, and the court of Napoleon, seem like a trip to Disney World. The characters all have modern day behavior and speech patterns. For example, at that time a man would never call a woman by her first name if she wasn’t related to him.
With regards to Eloise, the graduate student who writes her thesis on the Pink Carnation, I found it hard to believe that she couldn't figure out who the Pink Carnation was sooner. Eloise's story seemed like a rude, unwelcome interruption into the main narrative.