Everyone who has read the first three books in Orczy's Scarlet Pimpernel series will know what to expect in ELDORADO, the fourth installment of the Pimpernel's adventures rescuing innocent folk from the guillotine in the French First Republic in the waning years of the 18th century. As in the earlier books, we find the evil leaders of the Revolution imposing a harsher and more deadly rule on the people of France than the deposed monarch ever did. We find Sir Percy Blakeney and his English accomplices skulking through the alleys of Paris in disguise, bent on spiriting "aristos" and "suspects of treason against the Republic" out of France to the safety of England--and thumbing their noses at the Revolutionary government in the process. We find Lady Blakeney ever more madly in love with her multifaceted husband, who can be an effete dandy in an English drawing room one day and a consummate master of disguise in France the next evening.
As with her other novels, Orczy has written a gripping story of intrigue, betrayal, capture, and miraculous escape. ELDORADO is a fun read, but it is also a superficial one. All of the interest lies in the development of the plot. The characters remain their usual, flat, undeveloped selves; their actions, their emotions, and their thoughts remain predictable. The leading characters are, in fact, exaggerated stereotypes: Sir Percy of the bold, imperturbable, and unconquerable adventurer who does much good for others in the course of his adventures; Lady Blakeney of the adoring wife whose feminine weaknesses sooner or later require her husband's intercession to rescue her from the clutches of the villains; and Monsieur Chauvelin of the unrepentant, revenge-seeking villain. Come to think of it, with characters such as these, ELDORADO lacks only a tinkling piano and a railroad track to be a first class melodrama.
Orczy's writing is in no way inspirational. Her descriptions of scenes read much like the directions for the settings of stage plays. The dialogs of her characters are highly repetitious at times. To achieve that "1790s effect," she throws in a few archaic words now and then, things such as "decatombs" and "lanthorns"; unfortunately, she uses the very same archaic terms in all of her novels, and the reader tends to become a bit bored with their frequent recurrence. The range of Orczy's vocabulary, while quite adequate for an adventure novel, is hardly inexhaustible, and reading all of her Pimpernel novels does expose one to much linguistic repetition.
The recurring theme of feminine frailty is alive and well in ELDORADO. While we do have a new twist in that it is one of the Pimpernel's men who intentionally betrays him to Chauvelin, that betrayal results from the man's blinding love for Mlle. Lange, who is thus portrayed as the unwitting cause of all the ensuing troubles. Furthermore, as in an earlier novel, Lady Blakeney goes herself to France and again requires rescue by Sir Percy.
While the strength of the novel lies entirely in its plot, one thing in particular challenges my credulity. During his imprisonment, Sir Percy is as closely guarded and watched as was Marie Antoinette before she was led to the guillotine. How our hero manages to write three different secret letters to his wife and comrades without Chauvelin noticing the missing sheets of paper is nothing short of miraculous.
I also remain curious as to the title. "El Dorado," of course, refers to a land of jewels, silver, gold, and other riches. There are several possible "riches" in this novel: the safety and beauty of England to which our adventurers must try to escape, the glory of true love between Sir Percy and Marguerite, the esteem in which Sir Percy holds his honor, perhaps even the sense of adventure which Sir Percy shares with the Spanish Conquistadores who sought "El Dorado" in the New World. Perhaps it alludes to the glory of freedom to which Sir Percy aspires from his dank, claustrophobic prison cell. Nonetheless, the full significance of the title continues to elude me.
Inasmuch as ELDORADO is characterized by recurring themes, recurring characters and recurring dialog, why have I given it four stars? As we've noticed, it does have a new plot twist, but mainly it's just a rollicking read. How can Sir Percy possibly escape this time? How can he save himself when Chauvelin holds the lives of his wife and his brother-in-law hostage? Is this the end? Will the Mountie rescue the damsel from the railroad track before the racing train is upon her? (Oh, sorry. That was from a different melodrama.) Come to Orczy's novel wanting to be entertained by an adventurous swashbuckler who defies death in near-impossible situations, and you'll find your reading time well spent. Come seeking any other outcome, and you may be disappointed.