Thursday, 24 November 2011

The Scarlet Pimpernel

Level: Adult
Genre:General Fiction > Classic
Obtained: Purchased on AceBooks
Reviewed by: Nic Echo

About the Book:
It is 1792 and the French Revolution is at its height. Hundreds of French aristocrats face the guillotine. However, many are saved by an elusive man known as the scarlet pimpernel. Using wit and disguise, the scarlet pimpernel and his band smuggle French aristos to English shores. Because of this elusive man, Chauvelin, a French republican, travels over to England to gather information. There he runs into Marguerite, a woman who was known for being a French actress and now is the top of England's fashion society. Chauvelin ends up threatening Marguerite with a fearsome either-or. She must gather information for him on the scarlet pimpernel or he will send her brother to the guillotine.

Rating: 8/10
Upon hearing Douglas Sills sing int the 1997 Broadway musical, I was instantly in love and knew that I would have to read the book one day. Although I still adore the book, the musical still holds my heart. For one thing, we get to follow our hero more. Now, I completely understand why Orczy didn't follow him so much. It was meant to keep the mystery of the scarlet pimpernel a prolonged secret. Now, I knew who it was going to be from page one, but I have to agree with other reviewers that it was demmed obvious who it was early on.

Another complaint I noticed a lot of reviewers made was that the book was very repetitive. Again, I would have to agree. Although it didn't bother me personally, I could see many people having trouble getting through it. Now, I can hear a good portion of you arguing that this was written in the 19th century so it is bound to be more wordy. Yes and I expected this and even a decent amount of repetition. However, I felt that half of this book could have been cut away.

The only other issue I had with this book was the characters. The first example I would like to look at is Chauvelin. Now, I first came to know the character through the musical and the 1985 film. In both of these, he seems to show feelings for Marguerite. This did not occur in the book. Perhaps it is shown in one of the many sequels written by Baroness Orczy, but it is not shown in the initial novel. Now, this particular trait did not really bug me. I am fine with or without this love interest. What did bug me about Chauvelin's character was the the fact that he was little more than the villain in the story. He was much more endearing in the musical version where he is more well rounded and you can feel where he is coming from. Again, perhaps we see more of his character in the sequels, but in The Scarlet Pimpernel, he is hardly more than a bloodthirsty fiend.

The other character I found myself disliking in the novel was actually Marguerite. I liked her well enough in the other medias I mentioned, and I also liked her early on in the book. However, for being the "cleverest woman in all of Europe," she seems quite thick. Also, by the halfway point of the book, I was utterly sick of her for it seemed that she did little more than whine. 

Now, I can hear you asking, "It seems there was a lot you disliked so why the high rating?" Well, I usually find there is plenty of good to go with the bad, and even though The Scarlet Pimpernel had its faults, I still found myself enjoying it immensely. Granted, I am a tad bias. Anyone who knows me knows I have a fondness for 18th century fops, but even without that fondness, I found the story compelling and original (especially for its time). I also found a great liking in the fact that the scarlet pimpernel used wit and disguises rather than force and violence. Now, I am not one of those people who are strictly anti-violence, but I have always found my heroes more intriguing when they try to use their mind first.

The other factor I was intrigued by was the mixture of both adventure and romance. I would not recommend this classic for a reader looking for mostly adventure however. Yes, the pimpernel's escapades are riveting and influenced heroes such as Zorro, but I'd say that 65-70%  of the book related more to the romantic portion of the story. I, myself, was intrigued by it, but it may not be to everyone's liking and thus thought it would be worthy to note. Granted, my favourite parts of the book involved the pimpernel and the adventures that surrounded him, especially near the end when Chauvelin is hot on his trail. I don't want to give away the ending for it was most excellent (even if I did manage to figure the twist out). Even with that factor in play, I was reveled in joy and suspense to see how he would save himself, Marguerite, and the others.

So all together, I found The Scarlet Pimpernel to be an excellent read. I may have disliked how some of the characters were portrayed; it could have been less repetitious, and it may be too slow of pace for some, but its story, wit, and adventure made it a wonderful classic that was well loved by this reader.

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