A while ago I heard about Jack Caldwell’s new book, which features character from a previous book of his, ‘The Three Colonels’, in addition to characters from Jane Austen’s ‘Northanger Abbey’, and Baroness Orczy’s ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ books. Of these, I had only read NA and so I asked whether it would be necessary to read the others, and Jack Caldwell’s advice was that although reading all of them would add to the picture, it would be advisable to read or watch an adaptation of ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ to give me an idea of the back-story as this book is set in his later years. There are a lot of Scarlet Pimpernel books, but I only read the first one... and then watched an adaptation, because the story of the Scarlet Pimpernel is just so gripping! You can read my thoughts on both the book and adaptation here.
I am so grateful that I was introduced to ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ and I would agree that it really benefits the reading enjoyment of ‘The Last Adventure of the Scarlet Pimpernel’ if you’ve read the first book or watched an adaptation so you have some idea of the backstory. In case you’re not aware of the Scarlet Pimpernel, the story in a nutshell is that he and his band of helpers (the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel) saved many people from being guillotined in the French Revolution. The League’s work lasted for a few years and the people involved went back to their normal lives, had families, etc. Moving on 20 or so years from this, our story begins.
We meet Captain Frederick Tilney, who has had no involvement with the League. We would know him as the brother of the hero of ‘Northanger Abbey’, Henry Tilney. We know Captain Tilney has lively spirits, and can be thoughtless. We also know that there is some question of how he behaved towards Isabella Thorpe. She was certain enough of him to break off her engagement to James Morland, yet a proposal from Frederick Tilney was not forthcoming, which makes you wonder how scrupulous he is in matters of honour, particularly as he was well aware of Miss Thorpe’s engagement for the whole time he was flirting with her. We also know that he is somewhat unfortunate in his home life – his mother is dead and his father money-grabbing and unpleasant. He doesn’t appear to have the warm heart that his siblings have, though here this is explained by him having been disappointed in love years ago, which has led to him being somewhat cynical in his views on the value of women and keeping them at an emotional distance for his own protection. Frederick hasn’t always been the most serious individual – he is only a soldier because his father requires it and doesn’t push himself to do well in his profession, content with coasting.
One of Frederick’s friends is George Blakeney, son of Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney, who were formerly (though secretly) both part of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Through George, Frederick meets the lovely Miss Violet Blakeney. She is only seventeen but has suddenly blossomed into a beautiful young woman and very soon, Frederick finds himself smitten. However, Captain Tilney’s previous carelessness in matters of honour and his lack of discernment in choosing his company has finally caught up with him and he is an unwelcome suitor to her family until such a time as he can prove his worth as an honourable man who will take responsibility for his actions.
‘Sir Percy rose. “Tell me sir: in all of your years, have you been responsible for anything?”When Violet is endangered by an enemy of the Blakeneys from their League of the Scarlet Pimpernel days there may be a requirement for one last adventure for the Scarlet Pimpernel, but will Frederick be allowed to play a part?
I really enjoyed the growth of Frederick in this book. He went from a man who’d take responsibility for diddly squat to somebody who acknowledged his mistakes and took steps to improve himself without resentment.
‘Months of soul-searching had resulted in Frederick firmly blaming himself for this personal disaster.
He knew his reputation had suffered because of his association with dishonourable men but thought nothing of it until it was too late.’My favourite characters in this book were of course the characters I’d already come to know. Tilney is a very minor character in ‘Northanger Abbey’, but ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ is a story which is pretty much a love story between a married couple set against a backdrop of peril and derring-do. Sir Percy still keeps his public and private personas quite a wide way apart and is mentally still very sharp. He maintains his physical fitness, despite the onset of rheumatism which I found quite touching. It must be hard for people who are particularly gifted to feel age starting to get the upper hand. It was also touching to see how Marguerite cared for her husband, their relationship here was lovely.
‘Close friends of the Blakeneys might wonder whether the couple could spare any love for their children, given their total devotion to each other.’I enjoyed going on another adventure with the Scarlet Pimpernel, to see another of his plans, which was very clever, although perhaps a little less convoluted than I’d been hoping for!
I was expecting to see characters from the books I’d already mentioned, but there are many other cameo appearances that I hadn’t anticipated from characters from Austen novels other than ‘Northanger Abbey’. There were brief appearances from some characters you’d definitely know, and longer appearances from others – basically all the most unsavoury Austen characters turn up at one point – Thorpe, Crawford, Willoughby and Lady Susan are among those featured and if you didn’t have some knowledge of their names and the fact that they are the more selfish and cynical of Austen’s characters you might be somewhat confused!
As for Sir John Buford, who is a character from ‘The Three Colonels’, I haven’t read that book yet so I don’t know his character all that well or if Captain Tilney appears in it, but so far, based on this, I am not really a fan of his. I’ll have to read ‘The Three Colonels’ to see if I change my mind about him.
All in all, I found this a very enjoyable read which has character growth, a charming new romance, a marriage which has stood the test of time, with some peril thrown in (which never made me feel uncomfortably anxious). I’d recommend this book and I’d rate this at a 4½ star read.
*I was provided with an e-ARC from the author for my honest review.
Jack Caldwell has kindly offered to give away an e-book copy of 'The Last Adventure of the Scarlet Pimpernel' in either mobi (kindle compatible) or epub format to a commenter here. To enter, just leave a comment on this blog post on what interests you about this story, by the end of the day on Friday 2 September. This giveaway is open to international entrants. Please leave a way for me to contact you in case you are the lucky winner.
Many thanks to Jack Caldwell for the giveaway!