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Cannonball Read III: The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

By Captain Steve | Books | September 5, 2011 |

By Captain Steve | Books | September 5, 2011 |

Ah, French class. Wherein I almost ate head cheese, celebrated Cinco de Mayo with a potluck involving quiche, and learned exactly 2 phrases. I also saw the 1982 version of the Scarlet Pimpernel involving Jane Seymour, who I previously only knew as Dr. Quinn, and Anthony Andrews, who I knew not at all, but oh, how pretty. And then the premise! I think I’ve discussed on previous occasions my severe hero jones (but only if they can bring the funny. For example, Thor does not do it for me so much.), and the Scarlet Pimpernel is included. I finished the book on a Sunday, watched the movie (I own it. It’s awesome. Judge away.), then ransacked my Netflix Instant for the BBC version. I love you BBC. Never leave me.

Marguerite St. Juste is an actress and patriot during the French Revolution. She runs the arty intellectual set in bloody France and meets Sir Perceval Blakeney, an apparent fop with nothing on his mind other than a good game of cricket. She sees a spark in him, though, and he is obviously devoted to her, so she attaches herself to those coattails. On the eve of their wedding, Percy finds out that Marguerite’s name was on the warrant that sent the Marquis de St. Cyr and his entire family to the guillotine. Percy is devastated by this news, because if she’ll rat out someone that had her brother’s ass whooped, well then, her dearly devoted aristo hubby has exactly the chance of a snowball in hell of keeping his head if she finds out his secret: he runs the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel.

This group of 20 young English aristos is dedicated to saving the innocents from death at their own peril. Since he can tell his wife nothing, he keeps her at arm’s length, letting her see only what others see: an idiot with too much time and money on his hands. Chauvelin arrives in England as the French ambassador and hooks up with Marguerite to attempt to ferret out the identity of the Pimpernel. Marguerite refuses to help him, until, after kidnapping 2 gents of the League, he discovers that Armand, Marguerite’s little brother, is a member. This is all news to Marguerite, and Chauvelin threatens her brother’s life, so of course, she is required to help him, even though she supports the Pimpernel’s cause, finding the revolution distasteful and vengeful.

After Marguerite rats out the Pimpernel after stealing a note from Andrew which states exactly where the Pimpernel wants to meet his minions, Chauvelin finds Percy, passed out in the dining room. He begins to suspect our noble hero. Marguerite, still half out of the loop—which makes at least part of me wonder how this woman could have been the toast of intellectual Paris (Had they offed all the chicks with eyes?)—confesses all to Percy in order to save her brother, after Chauvelin makes no promises. He rushes off to France to save Armand, which, wow, cellphones would have been mad helpful. Marguerite finally puts two and two together and comes up with a semi-reasonable answer, and chases after him with Andrew and almost manages to get them all killed, while Percy demonstrates that he has the largest set on either side of the Channel.

Have I mentioned my undying adoration for the Percy/Marguerite hook-up? I mean, yes, she was truly horrible and wretched, but at least she actually did something. So often, especially in older books, the ladies are there as decoration, which does reflect the times. I mean, Elizabeth Bennett wasn’t supposed to do things. She’s damn lucky she got that walk in, even though she got mocked for it. It’s nice to read a book in which the lady is allowed to have a part. I’m into El Dorado right now, and while Marguerite hasn’t yet made an appearance, I’m hoping she might and in so doing, improve upon my view of her.

For more of Captain Steve’s reviews, check out her blog, Gnomespeak.

This review is part of Cannonball Read III. For more information, click here.

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