[This post is modified from the original review I wrote after first reading
The Scarlet Pimpernel back in 2008.]
It is 1792, and the reign of terror has engulfed the beautiful city of Paris in a sea of blood. Madame la Guillotine has claimed hundreds upon hundreds of lives, and day by day more of Paris’s leading citizens are being thrown to the jaws of death—each of them guilty of no crime except being aristocrats, the bitterest enemy of the new social order. But now there seems to be a small ray of hope for the innocent French families accused of crimes they did not commit. Many aristos are daily being snatched away from Madame la Guillotine, and the stories are growing stronger and more fantastic—stories of a small band of Englishmen, willing to risk their lives to rescue their fellow men from an untimely death, and of their leader, the mysterious and enigmatic man known as… the Scarlet Pimpernel.
It is against this backdrop that Emma Magdalena Rosalia Maria Josefa Barbara Orczy narrates what has been called “one of the most enthralling novels of historical adventure ever written.” Within the pages of The Scarlet Pimpernel, we meet the elusive Pimpernel himself, the brilliant man who has pledged himself to rescuing innocent human beings from unjust condemnation; his cunning and merciless arch-enemy, the Frenchman Chauvelin, who has in his turn pledged himself to hunting down the man who keeps meddling in the affairs of the Revolution; members of the loyal band of nineteen Englishmen who are willing to risk all for the sake of their brave and bold leader; and above all, Lady Marguerite Blakeney, the “cleverest woman in Europe” and also perhaps the most beautiful, a former actress who led the French stage and who now finds herself caught in a terrifying dilemma that will test all her loyalties and her love.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is perhaps the grandest novel of the French Revolution, with a vivid story that captures both the imagination and the heart. Baroness Orczy is a supremely talented writer, bringing her tale to life with superb wit and passion. On the surface, it is a classic tale of adventure, with all the right elements of conflict, suspense, and drama. At its heart, though, The Scarlet Pimpernel is also one of the most captivating and beautifully compelling love stories ever written. This is a tale that must not be missed.