The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig
NAL: August 4, 2015 (Historical Fiction; Historical Romance)
With The Lure of the Moonflower, Willig’s Pink Carnation series comes to a close, and what a satisfactory ending it was.
Jane Wooliston is the Pink Carnation. The spy the spears dread in the French forces. On her latest mission Jane finds herself in Portugal tracking down the mad Queen Maria before the French can use her to their adventure. Aiding Jane is the Moonflower, Jack Reid, a spy of dubious loyalty. But, since Jane doesn’t speak Portuguese and Jack happens to be the estranged son of a family friend, Jane grudgingly accepts that she has to work with Jack and has no expectation that she’s going to like it. Of course, when the mission proves to be none too simple these two are forced to work together and are pleasantly surprised by the results. The Pink Carnation series has been a great favourite of mine since picking up the first book and as much as I’m sad to see the series end, I love that the series ends on such a high note. For the most part, Jane has been elusive throughout the series. Readers have been aware of her, but she’s never really played a large role. In Moonflower readers get to know the great spy and they learn that she is human: lonely and vulnerable just like anyone else.
Jane has been in the spy game for a long time. She’s been the one in charge, the one making the tough decisions; however, her leadership has left her feeling adrift and alone:
But that meant taking charge. It meant making decisions based on the totality of the circumstances, difficult decisions, unpopular decisions. It meant keeping her own counsel, even at times when she longed to our out all her doubts and worries. In order to maintain her authority, she needed to cloak herself in a mantle of omniscience.
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, the poet said. He might have substituted “lonely” (p. 86).
The burden of command has been a difficult one for Jane, and it’s only when she starts working with Jack that she finds someone that she just might be able to share the burden with.
Jack has been, to all appearances, self-serving in his espionage career, changing his allegiance based on financial rewards.
The Moonflower had gone by many names in his twenty-seven years.
Jaisal, his mother had called him, when she had called him anything at all. The French had called him Moonflower, just one of their many flower-named spies, a web of agents stretching from Madras to Calcutta, from London to Lyons. He’d counted himself lucky; he might as easily have been the Hydrangea. Moonflower, at least, had a certain ring to it. In Lisbon he was Alarico, a wastrel who tossed dice by the waterfront; in the Portuguese provinces he went by Rodrigo – Rodrigo the seller of baubles and trader of horses.
His father’s people knew him as Jack. Jack Reid, black sheep, turncoat, and renegade (p. 18-19).
Like Jane, Jack is also more complicated than appearances have led others to believe. Both Jane and Jack struggle with their identity, but Jack in particular has difficulty with it because he is half-Indian and has found not a home with either his mother’s people or his father’s.
Jane and Jack both help the other come to terms with their lost identity; supporting the other when they can, giving them a piece of their mind when it’s needed. This kind of character development was unexpected in this generally light series, and I really loved that Moonflower really ended the series on such a strong point. Moonflower was well-written, retained it’s lightheartedness, while still managing to give readers strong, fleshed out characters and a fast-paced adventure.
Lastly, I have to remark on the romance. As readers of the series know, each installment features a romance and while Jane and Jack were great as individuals, their romance was equally compelling. What was refreshing in Moonflower was the acknowledgement that Jane and Jack had previous relationships. So often in the romance genre, the hero and heroine’s past relationships are not acknowledged or rendered meaningless – this was not the case here. Jane had a liaison with an enemy spy, the Gardner, and it did mean something to her at the time, but it also allows her to recognize how and why her relationship with Jack is so different. Jane struggles with her past relationship, and while Jack is certainly jealous about the Gardner (especially when he arrives on the scene), he’s able to realize that judging her for it would make him a hypocrite:
Jack bit his tongue. Hard. It wasn’t fair for him to condemn her liaison with the Gardner, any more than it would have been fair for him to pretend that there had been no one before her, or that none of them had mattered in their way at their time. They were neither of them youths just out of the schoolroom (p. 344).
The Lure of the Moonflower was a much more mature romance than many of the others in the series, and I loved it for it’s surprising depth.
Fans of Willig’s Pink Carnation series will not be disappointed by this satisfying conclusion to the series. Not only does the Carnation herself get a happily-ever-after, the contemporary story line featuring Eloise is also concluded. I can only hope that there’s lots more to come from Willig, especially if it contains the humour, adventure and romance that has been the Pink Carnation series.
For those interested in the Portugal setting, I’d recommend giving J. Kathleen Cheney’s Golden City trilogy a try. It’s historical fantasy, so the genres not quite the same as Moonflower, but it does feature spies. One to read if you’re looking for something a little different. Start with book one, The Golden City.
If you’re not a fan of the fantasy genre, Shana Galen’s Love & Let Spy is another good follow-up to Moonflower. Not only does it feature a lady spy (Bonde. Jane Bonde.) but this lady spy is similarly disillusioned with the espionage lifestyle. The perfect follow-up for those who liked the romance in Moonflower. See my full review here.
Liked the initial animosity between Jane and Jack? Another on-the-road romance that you’re sure to enjoy is Connie Brockaway’s The Other Guy’s Bride. While this one doesn’t feature spies, it is funny and involves some mistaken identities. See my full review here.