REVIEW: Dark Angels by Karleen Koen
Dear Ms Koen,
Anyone who’s ever seen the film “Restoration” will have an idea of the glory, beauty and depravity of the reign of Charles II. The court of the Merrie Monarch was filled with those fighting to get ahead, stay ahead, make an alliance or catch an eye — either that of the King or one of his powerful advisors or many mistresses. Your book drops us right into the center of the action.
Alice Verney is a young woman intent on achieving her dreams. Having left Restoration England in the midst of a messy scandal, she has been living in Louis XIV’s Baroque-mannered France for two years. Now she is returning home to England and anxious to re-establish herself quickly. First, she will regain her former position as a maid of honor to Charles II’s queen. Then she will marry the most celebrated duke of the Restoration, putting herself in a position to attain power she’s only dreamed of. As a duchess, Alice will be able to make or break her friends and enemies at will. But all is not as it seems in the rowdy, merry court of Charles II. Since the Restoration, old political alliances have frayed, and there are whispers that the king is moving to divorce his barren queen, who some wouldn’t mind seeing dead. But Alice, loyal only to a select few, is devoted to the queen, and so sets out to discover who might be making sinister plans, and if her own father is one of them. When a member of the royal family dies unexpectedly, and poison is suspected, the stakes are raised. Alice steps up her efforts to find out who is and isn’t true to the queen, learns of shocking betrayals throughout court, and meets a man that she may be falling in love with–and who will spoil all of her plans. With the suspected arrival of a known poison-maker, the atmosphere in the court electrifies, and suddenly the safety of the king himself seems uncertain. Secret plots are at play, and war is on the horizon–but will it be with the Dutch or the French? And has King Charles himself betrayed his country for greed? The long-awaited prequel to Koen’s beloved Through a Glass Darkly, Dark Angels is a feast of a novel that sparkles with all the passion, extravagance, danger, and scandal of seventeenth-century England. Unforgettable in its dramatic force, here is a novel of love and politics, of romance and betrayal, of power and succession–and of a resourceful young woman who risks everything for pride and status in an era in which women were afforded little of either.
After reading Dark Angels I can state for a fact that I would rather be in a room full of agitated green mambas than at the courts of Charles II or Louis XIV. At least then I’d know who my enemies were and if they were getting ready to strike me. Spite, envy, malice, lust — these people had most of the seven deadly sins covered.
Alice — she’s young, she’s arrogant, she’s used to leading and having others follow, her pride exacts a heavy toll on her and it takes a tragedy to yank a knot in her but she finally begins to grow up and mature.
Richard is a hero steadfast in his devotion to the one he thought he loved, to his family and to his King. It makes his switch to Alice mean something and shows a promising future for their marriage, much more than if he’d just simply shrugged his shoulders and given up his “true love” for Louise.
Henri Ange — I needed some fricken’ closure on this dude. At least something to show he’s being hunted down and will, at some point, pay for what he did. And what happened to young Walter? Do we assume he got away or not? He and the others at the brothel make me weep for all the thrown away children of this or any age.
Jerusalem Saylor — was she a Puritan? I amazed as I can’t see that first name for the mistress of a Cavalier family. I loved her remembrances of Richard as a young boy and felt for her bittersweet acknowledgement of his maturity as a man. I also loved the description of Tamworth. It’s the kind of place to settle down, raise a family, be at peace with the world. I was a bit lost about Annie (at Tamworth). Who is this girl and what are her feelings for Richard?
Poor John and Barbara — at least they had some happiness. But this is the hard reality that all women faced during each pregnancy. On average 1 out of 4 died, I think I remember reading in Antonia Fraser’s “The Weaker Vessel.”
It was nice to see some tricks played on Barbara Villars. She’s not one of my favorite historical personages mainly for her treatment of Charles’ Queen. As for Catherine of Braganza – didn’t she put up with a lot? But Charles did stand by her and refuse to consider a divorce when the country so desperately wanted it, the spector of dying without an heir was still a horrible memory of century past and knowing his brother, due to religion, would not be a popular monarch. I appreciated seeing a favorable rendering of this most put upon Queen.
Madame – was she poisoned or was it merely a ruptured bowel gone gangrenous? Either way, it was such a sad, short life for this beloved sister of Charles and James. I think your portrayal of Charles is probably spot on — genial, lusty, willing to be lead by little Charles but also loyal to those who’d shown loyalty to him.
This heroine is hard to like for a lot of the book. She’s ruthless, determined, proud yet fiercely loyal to those she loves. Imagine “Forever Amber” with a better ending. A rich, meaty historical 500 page+ treat and B grade.