The 10th in Willig’s witty series about Napoleanic-era spies focuses on a far-from-drowsy chaperone.
Gwen, lady companion to Jane, aka the notorious English spy Pink Carnation, is enjoying her sojourn in Paris. There, she is not a pitied, unmarriageable spinster but a proficient and daring spy in her own right: She sallies forth at night disguised as a gentleman to learn, among other state secrets, what Napoleon’s foreign minister, Talleyrand, is up to with a certain opera diva, Aurelia Fiorila. Too abruptly, Jane and Gwen are recalled to England: Jane’s sister Agnes has disappeared from her boarding school. At the school, Gwen meets Col. Reid, who’s come from India to reunite with the daughters he sent to England to be educated years before. Now, his daughter Lizzy has gone missing along with Agnes. Reid assumes the girls have taken refuge with his older daughter Kat in Bristol. After journeying there and learning, to Reid’s dismay, that Kat is now taking in laundry and living in a hovel, Reid and Gwen are set upon by brigands. Although Gwen handily fights them off by deploying her sword parasol, Reid is wounded. Mutual attraction smolders as Gwen nurses Reid back to health. Back with Jane's family in Bath, Gwen is alarmed that Jane seems so susceptible to the blandishments of the Chevalier de la Tour d’Argent, who is either a double agent or a charlatan or both. The plot thickens when the colonel and Chevalier escort the two spies to an opera performance starring Fiorila. Gwen chronicles and exaggerates the exploits of her alter ego, Purple Plumeria, in a swashbuckling novel in progress, the Convent of Orsino. A present-day frame story features Colin, a descendent of the Pink Carnation, and his Harvard historian girlfriend, Eloise. The writing is acerbic, arch and funny, but the complex back story demands familiarity with the earlier books.
For fans enmeshed in this intricate world, a welcome installment which those new to the series might find a bit too in media res.