This is my second foray into Pimpernel literature. This is actually the third book chronologically. I'm not sure yet how episodic the story works out...this is evidently taking place after the first novel but I didn't feel like I missed out on anything by skipping the second book. It also didn't really feel like much would have been missed by skipping the first book (although the first did involve more character development of the core characters). I would recommend reading the first novel first, especially if you know nothing about the Pimpernel story, but I don't think it's vital.
This Pimpernel adventure was a fun read and well worth reading. Orczy's writing style is fluid and easy to read and follow and her characters are vivid and interesting. The plot of this book was very intriguing. The Pimpernel is pitted against his enemy from the first novel, the French agent Chauvelin. Chauvelin has been given one final chance from Robespierre to catch the Pimpernell with the ultimatum that the world will either be rid of the Pimpernel or Chauvelin by the end of the adventure.
The plot that Chauvelin comes up with to capture the Pimpernel is fairly diabolical and truly seems foolproof. It stands as evidence of Orczy's creative ingenuity and the fullness of her characters, especially as each intricate detail plays out. It exposes Chauvelin's arrogance and his prideful desire for personal and lasting vengeance. I was very satisfied with the machinations of the plot until I realized that the remaining pages were growing few and I began to anticipate a potentially dissatisfying ending.
Upon finally reaching the climactic wrap up to the adventure, I admit to being somewhat disappointed in the way things played out. Though honestly, I expected an even worse ending based on how tightly she had tied the net around our hero. I saw little hope for an exciting and viable escape (and I doubt it's any spoiler to anyone that the hero had to escape). The solution provided wasn't entirely satisfactory in my mind, but it worked out well enough, especially considering the era in which the events took place.
Before I wrap up this report, I want to comment on one of the things that this novel does that I especially enjoy. In many of the novels I've read, the central heroic character is very close to the reader. We are often either right on the shoulder or even within the head of our heroic protagonist. However, in the case of Pimpernel, Orczy plays with this concept and puts us inside the head of many of the peripheral characters, even some of the very minor characters, but never lets us truly get inside the mind of the titular hero. It reminds me vaguely of the way Conan Doyle keeps us from directly knowing the inner workings of Holmes' mind. In the same way, we find ourself aligned closely with Marguerite's fears and Chauvelin's scheming, but we never align ourselves directly with the heroic thoughts of the Pimpernel. This adds to the suspense in wondering just how he could possibly escape the tightly woven trap laid for him.
I think I enjoyed this book better than the first Pimpernel story, but they were both a lot of fun. I hope to be able to track down more of them to read. They're a great bit of fun for any fan of historical adventure combined with a touch of humor.