Willig, Lauren. The Betrayal of the Blood Lily. New York: New American Library, 2010.
ISBN-13: 978-0451232052 | $15.00 USD | 497 pages | Regency Romance/Contemporary Romance
Everyone warned Miss Penelope Deveraux that her unruly behavior would land her in disgrace someday. She never imagined she’d be whisked off to India to give the scandal of her hasty marriage time to die down. As Lady Frederick Staines, Penelope plunges into the treacherous waters of the court of the Nizam of Hyderabad, where no one is quite what they seem—even her own husband. In a strange country where elaborate court dress masks even more elaborate intrigues and a spy called the Marigold leaves cobras as his calling card, there is only one person Penelope can trust….
Captain Alex Reid has better things to do than play nursemaid to a pair of aristocrats. He knows what their kind is like. Or so he thinks– until Lady Frederick Staines out-shoots, out-rides, and out-swims every man in the camp. She also has an uncanny ability to draw out the deadly plans of the Marigold and put herself in harm’s way. With danger looming from local warlords, treacherous court officials, and French spies, Alex realizes that an alliance with Lady Frederick just might be the only thing standing in the way of a plot designed to rock the very foundations of the British Empire.
In the series
The Betrayal of the Blood Lily is perhaps the most interesting of the Pink Carnation series to revisit so far. While on the surface, this isn’t the first time Lauren Willig had played with tropes (in fact, at this point, she’s becoming pretty good at subverting them) or creating a complex and sometimes unlikable heroine, there are aspects of this one that set it apart.
The main aspect is the India setting. While the connection was first set up in the previous book and will have implications throughout the series going forward, this was the one I most worried about, due to my concerns about its depiction of colonial India. I do feel Willig does walk that line of mostly staying in her lane of depicting things primarily from the colonists’ perspective, while also allowing the extent of their involvement to be read between the lines, and she avoids, from my perspective, depicting the land or people as “exotic.” I’d be interested to know how Indian readers felt about it, especially in terms of how it sets up the blended Reid family, referencing the prejudices some have faced due to their Anglo-Indian birth.
As for me, I did really like Alex. He’s an honorable soldier, very much a foil for the lecherous men stationed there who play roles in the plot, including Penelope’s husband Frederick. He’s fortunate to have been born within wedlock, but he’s seen the treatment his illegitimate Anglo-Indian siblings have faced and how they dealt with it, and it’s had an impact on him.
Penelope is definitely the star of the show. This book follows on from her unfortunate fall from grace in the last book, where her dalliance with Lord Frederick Staines was discovered. Freddy is hardly an ideal husband, scorning her, and she finds comfort in Alex’s companionship. This is one of those times where I wished she would commit adultery, even though Alex’s honor doesn’t allow it. I was deeply moved by her character, deeply rooted in her self-loathing and self-destructiveness, and how she ultimately comes to find happiness upon navigating through her issues.
The contemporary arc has been very up-and-down for me, but I enjoyed it this time around, especially with some major revelations concerning the modern Selwick family drama. I am still a little annoyed with Eloise jumping to conclusions about things (despite having received a satisfactory answer about Colin’s activities in the last book, she’s still reading more into it than she should), but appreciate that she’s showing so much care for Colin’s sister Serena, who has been through a lot emotionally. Serena absolutely deserves a happy ending!
This is one of the more enjoyable installments in the series, and I like the way the story has become more multifaceted over time. If you’ve (re)read it recently or plan to, definitely sign up for the readalong event on July 29!
Lauren Willig is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than twenty works of historical fiction, including Band of Sisters, The Summer Country, The English Wife, the RITA Award-winning Pink Carnation series, and three novels co-written with Beatriz Williams and Karen White. Her books have been translated into over a dozen languages, picked for Book of the Month Club, awarded the RITA, Booksellers Best, and Golden Leaf awards, and chosen for the American Library Association’s annual list of the best genre fiction. An alumna of Yale University, she has a graduate degree in history from Harvard and a JD from Harvard Law School. She lives in New York City with her husband, two young children, and vast quantities of coffee.
Bookshop (affiliate link)