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REVIEW: Dark Angels by Karleen Koen

Dear Ms Koen,

dark-angel.gifAnyone 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.

~Jayne

available as an ebook at Fictionwise or in paperback or hardback at Barnes and Noble

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

22 Comments

  1. Marg
    Sep 06, 2007 @ 05:45:59

    I’ve had this on my list for ages now! One of these days I will actually read it!

  2. Barbara B.
    Sep 06, 2007 @ 05:59:28

    WOW! I absolutely love this historical era. I loved Through A Glass Darkly, too. Thanks for the heads-up on this book. I didn’t even know it had been written.

    Thanks for the review, Jayne. Now I’ve got to rush over to Fictionwise and buy the book.

  3. Jayne
    Sep 06, 2007 @ 06:06:00

    Oh Marg, I’ve got so many “have to read this,” “mean to read this” books on my shelves it’s not funny. I know where you’re coming from.

  4. Jayne
    Sep 06, 2007 @ 06:07:23

    Barbara I was going to ask if anyone had read her other books in this series, sequels aren’t they? I was a bit put off by the descriptions of “Through a Glass Darkly.”

  5. Barbara B.
    Sep 06, 2007 @ 08:26:19

    Jayne, now I’m curious. What aspects of the story were you put off by?

  6. DS
    Sep 06, 2007 @ 08:32:09

    I’ve been waffling on this one. Audible has this available for download, unabridged–18 hours long. I have had Through a Glass Darkly for years and somehow never been inspired to read it. The third one is supposed to be reprinted in 2008.

  7. Jayne
    Sep 06, 2007 @ 08:34:39

    Barbara, it’s the whole lengthy saga thing. And the fact that from what I’ve read, the heroine doesn’t really have a very happy ending in store for her. Is there much romance in the book? Or just lots of struggle and heartache?

  8. Jayne
    Sep 06, 2007 @ 08:35:34

    DS, that’s interesting to know about the reprint of book two. When I started looking at these two, I saw that it wasn’t currently available and that the used copies were going for a pretty penny.

  9. vanessa jaye
    Sep 06, 2007 @ 09:01:50

    One of these books (or maybe both. heh) is buried in my tbr boxes, which have yet to be unpacked. I was caught by the cover art, and the back blurb, but haven’t read a review on either of them till now.

  10. Barbara B.
    Sep 06, 2007 @ 09:53:41

    You’re right, Jayne. The book didn’t really have a happy ending. Is the book even listed as a romance? I don’t remember a lot of struggle, but there was certainly heartache. Honestly, I was just fascinated by the characters, particularly the grandmother. The heroine fell in love and was married, but no, the book didn’t follow genre romance rules. It was more like a coming of age story for the heroine.

  11. Jayne
    Sep 06, 2007 @ 10:06:42

    Isn’t the cover gorgeous? And the hardcover one is nice too. I’ll be honest and say I debated buying the ebook version for ages then finally decided to take the plunge with a paperback so that I could return it if it didn’t take my fancy. Needless to say, I’m not returning it!

  12. Jayne
    Sep 06, 2007 @ 10:08:08

    Hmmmm, Barbara. That’s what I was afraid of. Though I think you’re right and it’s not really marketed or promised to be a romance. I just like a little romance in my historical fiction even it it’s just a tad. Maybe one day I’ll give it a try…

  13. Leslie Kelly
    Sep 06, 2007 @ 10:20:59

    Jayne…is the Barbara you mentioned in the review the same heroine from Through A Glass Darkly? I never read Now Fade To Face so I wasn’t sure who she ended up with.

  14. Jayne
    Sep 06, 2007 @ 10:25:17

    No, it can’t be the same person. If you reread the paragraph, I think you can see why. I believe Alice is the grandmother of the heroine of “Darkly.”

  15. Leslie Kelly
    Sep 06, 2007 @ 12:38:17

    Ahh–gotcha. Thanks. I loved TAGD and will check this out.

  16. Emma
    Sep 06, 2007 @ 18:12:31

    Alice is indeed the grandmother of Through a Glass Darkly’s heroine. I really did love TAGD, though I have no idea whether it would stand the test of time were I to re-read it today. In TAGD, Widow/Grandma Alice’s marriage is spoken of as though it were the grandest of romances and happy-ever-afters — so I’m most excited to read this one.

    Alice is such a cool character in TAGD — one of the only sympathetic women in it (especially in contrast to her horrific daughter) — so I’m puzzled and intrigued by the idea that she isn’t very sympathetic throughout most of this novel! I’m curious as well about why it took Koen so long to put this book out, especially since TAGD was such a smash hit. Did she write some other novel in between TAGD and Dark Angels that I somehow managed to miss?

  17. Lynne
    Sep 06, 2007 @ 19:41:57

    I almost bought this book on Saturday. Now I wish I had! :-)

  18. Janine
    Sep 06, 2007 @ 22:35:23

    Emma, I haven’t read any of Koen’s books, but there was another novel in between Through a Glass Darkly and Dark Angels; a sequel to TAGD called Now Face to Face. It came out a decade after TAGD.

  19. Jayne
    Sep 07, 2007 @ 06:38:35

    Emma, Alice definitely matures over the course of DARK ANGELS. She starts out as a very opinionated young woman who thinks she knows it all. Her opinion should be the only one that counts and all her friends among the maids of honor should defer to her and what she thinks is best. And if anyone dares cross her, her pride kicks in and she will not forgive anyone not doing as she thinks best. She loses one dear friend and it takes a life or death situation to get her to the bedside of the other.

  20. DS
    Sep 07, 2007 @ 08:56:32

    I just checked Amazon and Now Face to Face is currently available for pre-order in paperback for $10.85 in the US. It’s due to come out 1/8/08

  21. Emma
    Sep 08, 2007 @ 22:14:14

    I guess I’ve got to track down Now Face to Face! Thanks for the heads up on that one!

    Cheers,
    Emma

  22. Louise Wdowczyk
    Sep 20, 2013 @ 13:28:54

    I’ve read Through a Glass Darkly as well as Face To Face and I absolutely loved both books…..I only wish that Karleen Koen write a continuation of the second book…..I feel that I want to know more about the characters……….please, please write another book to wrap up the story ……as I feel there is too much left UNLIVED about all the characters in the book……I want to know more about their lives….. the second book Face to Face, the ending just left me wanting more…………………..

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