The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy, was first published in 1905.
In the midst of the French Revolution, a cunning masked hero rescues would-be victims of the guillotine, but his identity remains a mystery. His friends and foes known him only as the Scarlet Pimpernel. But government agent Paul Chauvelin is determined to find out who this man really is and to put an end to his defiance of the French government.
When I finished reading The Scarlet Pimpernel, I had a huge smile on my face. Full of spies, intrigue, drama, tension, romance, and some fiendishly clever disguises, The Scarlet Pimpernel is a delight through and through. Baroness Orczy weaves a fantastic story taking place during the French Revolution and starring a mysterious hero who rescues French aristocrats right out from under the noses of the people looking to kill them.
The book does start out a little slowly, but starts picking almost immediately after the point of view switches to Marguerite Blakeney. I thought she was a great protagonist, filled with just the right amount of courage, fear, and cleverness. She doesn’t sit back helplessly, but she also isn’t out there wrestling men to the ground, either. She’s basically a normal woman, which is really quite refreshing after reading a lot of female protagonists who are unrelatable and/or male caricatures.
There’s a prominent romance plot tied in with the overall Scarlet Pimpernel plot, but it’s done very well and fairly realistically. It’s quite a sweet romance, and it lends itself well in both explaining Marguerite’s motives as well as making sure everything turns out happily. But the most interesting plot is, of course, the one involving the Scarlet Pimpernel. Orczy really does some fantastic work in it. The secret of the Scarlet Pimpernel may be a little obvious, but the true gem is the complex, fascinating “heist” that takes up the last third of the book. I call it a heist if only because I can’t think of another word to call it. “Mission” could work, I suppose. I figured everything out quite early on, but it was still a delight to watch everything unfold.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Scarlet Pimpernel and it has become one of my new favorite books. I had it read to me when I was little, so I went into the book knowing the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel, and guessed almost everything else correctly, but it was still engaging and a delightful read.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Classic, Historical Fiction
“The Scarlet Pimpernel works in the dark, and his identity is only known under the solemn oath of secrecy to his immediate followers.”
“The Scarlet Pimpernel!” said Suzanne, with a merry laugh. “Why! what a droll name! What is the Scarlet Pimpernel, Monsieur?”
… “The Scarlet Pimpernel, Mademoiselle,” [Sir Andrew] said at last “is the name of a humble English wayside flower; but it is also the name chosen to hide the identity of the best and bravest man in all the world, so that he may better succeed in accomplishing the noble task he has set himself to do.”