The first in a series of historical adventure novels.

Publication year: 1905
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1935
Format: Audio
Publisher of the audio translation: Otava
Narrator: Vesa Mäkelä
Translator: Armida Enckell
Running Time: 6 hrs, 5 double sided cassettes

The book is set in 1792, during the French Revolution. The nobles are fleeing France to avoid the guillotine and a mysterious cabal of English noblemen called the Scarlet Pimpernel is helping them. Often the daring leader of the group himself is in disguise and helping the hapless nobles, mostly women and children.

However, the main character of the book is a young noblewoman Lady Marguerite Blakeney, a celebrated French beauty who is married to English Lord Percy Blakeney. She is accused of giving away French nobles to the French police and the rescued French nobles shun her. This was mostly an accident but nobody will give her the time to explain. The rumours don’t seem to affect her standing in England, where she’s in the center of society.

However, Marguerite’s marriage is in trouble. She loves Percy but unfortunately, Percy found out that she inadvertinately caused the Marquis de St. Cyr and his two sons to be killed. Ever since Percy has been distant towards his wife. Marguerite has likewise become disillusioned by Percy’s lazy behaviour.

Meanwhile, Citizen Chauvelin has come to England in order to find out who is the leader of the Scarlet Pimpernel and to catch him. Chauvelin blackmails Marguerite to find out who the mysterious leader is. Chauvelin’s agents have stolen a letter that implicates that Marguerite’s beloved brother Armand is part of the Scarlet Pimpernel society. Marguerite has no choice but to agree.

The plot structure is somewhat different than is usual to modern novels. The main character Marguerite is first seen in Chapter 4 and the other characters discuss about her before she is introduced. The start of Chapter 5 is the narrator telling us about Marguerite’s background and character. The previous chapters are spent telling about the circumstances in France and about Scarlet Pimpernel’s brave exploits until they focus on a small tavern where we meet a group of people, Marguerite among them.

We are told that Marguerite is the smartest woman in Europe in addition to being wealthy and beautiful. When Chauvelin blackmails her, she agrees to help him but secretly she is always looking for a way to get rid of the police officer without endangering her brother. She’s very loyal and quite brave, and when she finds out that her husband is in danger, she disguises herself and follows him.

Lord Percy is outwardly a lazy dandy but even in conversation he’s quick to maintain that image and to deflect any chances of heroism or dueling. He maintains his cover so well that even his wife doesn’t know him. He feels that he can’t trust Marguerite.

Chauvelin could have been just doing his duty to his country but he’s depicted as a cruel and viscous man who is hates the Scarlet Pimpernel especially and often uses underhanded techniques to capture him. The French as also described as villainous because they want to execute innocent children who had had the misfortune to be born noble.

The plot is fast-paced and has unexpected twists. It centers on spying and intrigue rather than violence. Once again there was surprisingly small amount of misogyny in the book, compared to some modern books. Unfortunately, it had quite a lot of antisemitism, describing a Jewish character awfully and the other characters felt free to treat him very badly.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t happy with the translation. I fully admit that it could be because the translation was done in 1935 and it has simply gotten old. Still, some idioms are translated literally and I found some of the inflections strange. Also, both he and she are translated “hän”. This is, of course, literally correct but makes listening the text a bit difficult at times. Most of the time it’s possible to deduce from the surrounding context just who is doing or saying something to whom. However, these days it’s customary to change the he/she to a name or to woman/man to make the text make coherent to Finns.

However, I enjoyed the story a lot and I’m already listening to the next translation.