RogerBW's Blog

The Pimpernel Plot, Simon Hawke 30 September 2022

1984 SF, third of its series. After Percy Blakeney gets trampled to death while trying to leave Paris, our heroes have to provide a substitute Scarlet Pimpernel.

The fiction/reality boundary is quite weird in this one. An introductory section mentions that

those who returned came back with often startling information. Historical records had to be revised. Some legends turned out to have been fact. Some facts turned out to have been legends. Historical events that previously lacked documentation were verified.

so, OK, I can't completely trust the history I know… but these people are in the position of someone who's read a synopsis of The Scarlet Pimpernel but not the book itself. They know that Sir Percy is the Pimpernel; they know that relations between him and his wife have cooled, because of the St Cyr affair; but they don't seem to know that she is in fact trustworthy and the whole thing can be cleanly resolved, so secrets have to be kept. (Spoiler from a novel from 1905, I guess.) What's more, there's no mention of Orczy's many sequels; this Pimpernel stops rescuing aristos after the Comte de Tournay and St Just.

But the "outer" plot is more spy-work: the Temporal Intelligence Agency has a dodgy agent who's got himself back into the field after he was administratively demoted, and he's much more interested in the thrill of covert work and possible death than he is in actually making sure the mission goes off cleanly. There's a lot of army vs spook, differing tolerances of collateral damage and so on.

"Maybe you people should change your initials to CIA or KGB. They did much the same sort of thing before one became a multinational corporation and the other became a monarchy."

What's actually going on… well, I won't say it's impossible to solve on a first reading, but I'll be surprised if anyone works it out. And the more personal aspects are dropped in an over-hasty resolution; Finn Delaney, the eternal sergeant who's ended up playing Blakeney, fancies himself genuinely in love with Marguerite, but all it takes is a quick reminder that he's had anti-aging treatments and she hasn't and he's quite happy to abandon her. Some other guy can come in and live out Blakeney's life.

There's fun to be had, and an enjoyable historical cameo, but while the first book had some fun with its time travel and the second did a good job of character motivations, this one feels much more by the numbers.

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Previous in series: The Timekeeper Conspiracy | Series: Time Wars

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