The Scarlet Code by C.S Quinn

The Scarlet Pimpernel meets Captain Jack Sparrow in this entertaining second novel of Quinn’s Revolution Spy Series (the first was A Bastille Spy).

Excellent leading characters with Attica Morgan – spy, Pimpernel and now grown woman who began life as the daughter of a slave and Lord Morgan. She appears alongside her partner, the pirate Jemmy Avery who rescues not aristocrats, but those (often women) seeking the abolition of slavery.

Against the fall out from the fall of the Bastille, Attica is now fighting against merchants and plantation owners not wanting to end their valuable and cruel trade. Atherton comes in as the ‘Q’ of the plot, giving advice and offering spy accessories of the time as well as seeking the hand of Attica in marriage.  This part of the plot ends somewhat unbelievably but as another book will likely be in the pipeline, the undoubted sexual chemistry between Attica and Jemmy needs to roll on.

The descriptions of the city of Paris at the time, alongside the harbour and the Louvre, were all well written and I was interested to learn about aspects of the revolution and the politics of the time when both the King and his Queen (Marie Antoinette) were still around but still as unpopular. The mob is always an aspect of French revolution and there is a great scene towards the end highlighting this against the backdrop of the extravagant Palace of Versailles (in any citizens mind surely a cause for revolution against the toffs!)

Into the mix is also added the real character of Robespierre, the cunning lawyer who is always a sly man on the edges of wrong but seen to do right (in his own mind at least).  There are factual links to history of the time alongside fictional characters seeking to set a counter plot with Salvatore de Aragon and his courtesan Centime.

The Scarlet Pimpernel is, of course, a totally fictional character who first appeared in a series of historical novels by Baroness Orzcy, first published in 1905. In the novels the Pimpernel is Sir Percy Blakeney- who to many is an unidentified Englishman who rescues condemned French aristocrats from the guillotine.

Here Quinn has turned that idea on its head and added lots of asides. For purists it may not be authentic but as a fast paced read its very appealing and the main protagonists come clearly to our imagination as readers. It made me go and do some background research on the period of French history but also to wonder about the wider issue of spies in the earlier centuries (many of which pop up regularly in historical fiction today).  The issue of slavery certainly puts this book front and centre given the current discussions about the wealth of nations built upon the trade of slavery’s victims.

There is humour and good dialogue and as a personal read easy to get into the book overall. I am sure book groups will enjoy the plot and characters and may be familiar with Quinn’s other work with The Thief Taker series being very popular.

Published by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd in August 2020 as a hardback.
ISBN    978-1-78649-846-5