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REVIEW:  The Dark Palazzo by Virgina Coffman

REVIEW: The Dark Palazzo by Virgina Coffman

Dear Ms. Coffman,

During my junior year of high school, I happened to take AP European History. I recall many things from that course, but what I chiefly remember is the section on the French Revolution. Perhaps it was my general interest in all things French during that phase of my adolescence, but I seem to remember that I was especially fascinated with the Revolution more than any other section we studied. I sympathized with the sans culottes. After all, I too felt oppressed on a daily basis by the petty authoritarianism of high school politics. I was of the opinion that there was nothing as perfectly natural as wanting to behead aristocrats, an opinion I maintain to this day.

The Dark Palazzo by Virgina CoffmanI was honestly baffled by my fellow students who sympathized with the aristocracy. It seemed absurd to me. Not only were they not aristocrats, but they never would be. None of their ancestors were aristocrats and in all likelihood, should they ever travel back in time, they would have undoubtedly have been one of the unwashed masses cramming the sewage littered streets leading into the Place de la Revolution. I, at least, had the awareness that I was more likely to be Madame Defarge than the Scarlet Pimpernel.

The reason I mention this long ago high school memory is because as much as I love my dukes and earls in my historical romances, I’m a bit disturbed by their sheer number. There’s something I find ideologically disturbing in how the French Revolution gets cast as some Great Tragedy in the annals of history as opposed to something more akin to our own American Revolution. I don’t really understand why the French are always the villains, especially considering that from a philosophical perspective the ideals of the French Revolution were not so very different than America’s, today or yesterday.

Flash forward to me sifting through books at the annual library book sale. I just so happened to pick up your book, The Dark Palazzo. I guessed it was a gothic based upon its cover and, although I had never heard of you before, I also suspected it was a romance. I think I paid $1 for it. And boy, am I ever glad that I did.

The Dark Palazzo is, in many ways, the quintessential gothic. It begins as Rachel Carewe, daughter of the British Ambassador to Venice, disembarks on the Grand Canal her companion, Miss Dace, in tow. Miss Carewe has come to Venice to live with her long-estranged father who she hasn’t seen for the better part of a decade. Around the time that Rachel was twelve, her French mother took her back to France when she returned to her own people. Unfortunately, she did so right before the Revolution. Since that time, Rachel has endured many trials and tribulations, not least of which was a stint in the Conciergerie and the death of her mother.

The novel is set during that strange period of time when Napoleon was not yet Emperor, but merely the general of the Revolution armies. The Venice that Rachel enters is one that is decadent, decrepit, and divided between the Austrian Empire and the shoe-less soldiers of the French army as it pushes its enemies back beyond their borders. Venice is teetering on the brink, caught between two ideologies and the armies that represent them. It is awash in spies and displace aristocrats from various countries. At the center of all this is Rachel’s father, Sir Maitland Carewe—called the British Lion by the Venetians—holds the dubious distinction of maintaining Venice’s precarious balance between the various European forces now encroaching upon its borders.

It’s into this political bumble-broth that Rachel must navigate, gondolier or not gondolier. For herself, Rachel desires some kind of peace and quiet. A sense of home that has been deprived of her since the first sallies of the Revolution. Alas, because this is a gothic, this is not to be. Her father’s home is no haven to Rachel, run as it is by the housekeeper, Signora Teotochi, a beautiful and cunning woman who appears to resent Rachel’s appearance and position as lady of the house.

As for her father, Sir Maitland Carewe has changed. He’s aged. No longer the Lion she remembers him being, Carewe’s formidable personality seems to have diminished in the decade since Rachel last saw him. With the exception of her English companion, Miss Dace, there are none who remember her. When she goes to seek out her father’s First Secretary, a man who has known her since earlier childhood, she finds that he has been replaced and no one, apparently, has any idea what has happened to him.

Before long, it is Rachel’s own identity that is being questioned. Signora Teotochi has planted seeds of doubt her father’s mind. Every dinner becomes a test of her memory of the past. More strange still, there’s a man loitering about the canals outside the Carewe Palazzo. Calling himself Messire Livio, the gentleman seems to be some kind of tarnished gentry, slight and bespectacled. But behind the spectacles and the slightly effete mannerisms, Rachel suspects is a different sort of man, someone who seems to be hiding. But what Messire Livio interest in the Carewe household is, is not certain.

I very much enjoyed this book. As I said, it is in some ways quite a traditional gothic and there are not that many surprises when it comes to the plot in this respect. Yet, what I found compelling about this book, more than the ubiquitous mystery at the center of Venice, was how France, the French, and the French Revolution were treated.

Part of Rachel’s character arc is realization that she does not belong in Venetian society, nor British society either. The Revolution has changed her. Not simply because of the deaths and destruction she has witnessed, but the ideals behind it. She has spent her adolescence and young womanhood in a place that does not demand she submit her will to any father, husband, or step-mother. The strictures of Venetian life began to chafe at her, and slowly, Rachel comes to the realization that she is not English, cannot be Venetian, and is, most shockingly of all, a citizen of the Republic of France, one and indivisible.

Parallel to this personal journey, is Rachel’s falling in love with the mysterious Messire Livio.


[spoiler]Messire Livio, it turns out, is a Corsican spy, sent ahead of Napoleon’s armies to make a treaty with the Doge behind Austria and the Council of Ten’s backs. Livio is not an aristocrat and he may not even be a gentleman. Technically speaking, he isn’t even French. The fact that it is this man, not a British spy or a British aristocrat, who plays the hero, is really the thing that is different about this book. I’m not entirely sure if the history is correct, AP European notwithstanding. And certainly, it takes an idealistic view of the Revolution. However, not anymore idealistic than the view most historical romances take of the British army.

I think this totally unexpected viewpoint of history is best summarized by the last paragraph of the novel which goes as follows:
“And we three started out across the lively square of San Marco. The great red and gold banner, the Lion of St. Mark, beat at its talk staff. Beside it was the bright Tricoleur of France, to guarantee, as I hoped, the liberties of Venice. After a few minutes, Livio and I looked at each other and smiled, and we were thinking not of the painful past, but of the future, of those glorious years to come in the new century.”


The love story and mystery are all superbly done and since this is an older novel, there isn’t much sex. But what shifts this book into a remarkable category, is the sheer novelty of the treatment of the Revolution, which I think I have never seen before. For that fact alone, I would recommend this book. Fortunately the romance and the mystery are worth reading in and of themselves, especially if you like late 1960’s gothic novels as much as I do. B+

Digital editions are now available on Kindle and at Barnes & Noble for $2.99.


Friday Links of News & Deals: Amazon the Bully, Readers in need of help (me), and How to get an ebook refund

Friday Links of News & Deals: Amazon the Bully, Readers in...


Bayou Arcana Promises

Bayou Arcana is due out in the UK shortly. I can’t find it in the U.S. but it is a “southern gothic” horror anthology that brings together an all female team of artists and all male team of writers. From the Guardian:

“There is a certain sensitivity that you find in women’s art that just does not appear in a lot of guys’ work,” says James Pearson, who edited the anthology, which follows the story of escaped slaves taking refuge in a swamp.

“The way that they interpret the horror has an added depth to it – and that is part of the experiment. It’s actually a really sensitive approach to quite visceral subject matter.”

The article is worth a read as it addresses the marginalization of women in comics and what people are doing to try to change that, including big mainstream publishers.


Branko Collin’s translates part of a Dutch academic paper wherein researcher’s study the unrealistic portrayal of medicine in medical romances:

Cornelis Langeveld has looked at medical romances and whether they “give a realistic picture of medical practice”.

“The doctor novels which were studied give an unbalanced and distorted view of medical practice. The medical information was sometimes incorrect, partly due to lack of knowledge by the author, partly due to incorrect translation from English. The reality of medical practice was not represented accurately in either of the series investigated, although the medical information in the ‘Doctor novels’ [Harlequin] series appeared to be accurate more often than that in the ‘Dr. Anne’ [Favoriet] series.”


An inquiring reader emailed me looking for recommendations:

 It seems to me that any romance that mentions the French Revolution deals with the horrors of the Reign of Terror. But what about the wonderful, heady, sexy early days of the revolution–Liberte, fraternite, egalite, before everything went pear-shaped?

Other than Janet Mullany’s “Dedication” (rewritten/reissued in 2012 from Loose-Id) and Pam Rosenthal’s “The Bookseller’s Daughter”, are there any romances that specifically treat the French Revolution as something other than an opportunity for sexy aristos to lose their heads (French) or perform heroic rescues (English)?


On Tuesday, Robin posted a rebuttal to John Scalzi’s claim that readers who complain about price are mean and entitled. Oh and Scalzi argued that publishers have always viewed their readers as customers. Of course they haven’t and nothing supports this more than the Publishers Weekly post with quotes from the CEOs of major publishers identifying that the biggest effort will to be get in touch with the reader directly:

David Young of Hachette:

Connecting with consumers by understanding consumer behavior, deepening the connection with readers, and engaging them in new ways around books through effective social media and digital marketing campaigns. The launch of Bookish in early 2012 will be instrumental: a first-rate destination for book lovers, a powerful marketing platform with an original editorial voice, great content, and a sophisticated recommendation engine.

and Robert Gottleib of Trident Media:

Publishers have never had to interact directly with consumers; they have traditionally relied on retailers for handling this relationship. That will have to change in the new business model.

and Susan Kantz of HarperCollins Childrens Books:

Traditionally, we have known very little about the purchaser of our print books. In today’s digital world we can communicate directly with our readers, and they can respond and reach out to us directly.

And of course Jed Lyons of Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, and National Book Network takes the time to characterize ebook devices as the brown paper bag of books:

Right now, it appears that fiction is by far the most popular category, with bestselling novelists leading the charge, closely followed by what used to be called “bodice rippers,” but is now better described as soft-core porn for both male and female readers. The electronic device is today’s substitute for the brown paper bag serving as a dustjacket.

What surprises me is the lack of focus on globalization. If there is anything (beyond going direct to readers) that I would focus on is globalization, leveraging the larger English reading population abroad with no geographic restrictions and reasonable prices.


Over in comic and gaming land, a public relations disaster was taking place when one PR representative sent increasingly hostile and threatening emails to a consumer, Dave, and then to Mike/Gabe at Penny Arcade.  The whole debacle is well summed up here.

“I want to clear my name. I want to get these people to stop bothering me.”

That was the main message from Ocean Marketing’s Paul Christoforo, a former representative for N-Control’s Avenger controller attachment. He gained immediate infamy among the Internet gaming community after a hostile customer service email exchange went viral after landing on popular gaming webcomic Penny Arcade.

In a matter of hours, Christoforo went from being just another customer service agent to a focus of ire for thousands of gamers. Christoforo was featured in mocking images and videos, and the Avenger product he was representing was hit with widespread derision and negative Amazon reviews, forcing the company to publicly drop Christoforo as its marketing representative.

For me, this debacle brings to mind  Dickwolves. Summary of the dickwolves incident was that there was a comic featuring a rape and a guest blogger of Penny Arcade objected.  Rather than acknowledge that the content could be offensive to some, the founders of Penny Arcade (Gabe/Mike) ratchet up the tension by announcing that they will be selling Dickwolves t shirts. Writes Alexander Bevier:

It wasn’t the Dickwolves that were offensive. It was Penny Arcade’s mockery of those offended by the passive reference of rape. The Dickwolf had become a symbol; a metaphor for mocking those sensitive to rape culture.

As Penny Arcade kept producing Dickwolf garments, industry members starting feeling uncomfortable about the company and what the merchandise represented. In turn, PAX–the hub of the gaming community–also was being affected. Would the convention reflect humor over rape culture? Would gaming be perceived as something that makes fun of rape and rape culture?

Penny Arcade does not back down. Someone makes an unfunny joke about targeting Mike’s family. Mike doesn’t think this is so funny (yet is unperturbed that Paul’s family is implicated. You reap what you sow? )  But Mike still says he’ll be wearing his dickwolves t shirt at the gaming conference.

Not that the dickwolves controversy in any way excuses Paul’s behavior but in light of the dickwolves incident, Mike/Gabe appears cluelessly hypocritical.   Fear not Paul, Mike notes that any kerfluffle on the internet will be gone in a couple of days.


According to Smashwords, 65,000 books were pulled from other retailers when Amazon offered placement in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library plan.  Not to fear, says Mark Coker, only 5,000 of those titles were on Smashwords.  Coker also notes that the sales of digital books were high on December 25 and 26:

I’m looking at the early sales results for December 25 and December 26 for the titles Smashwords distributes to Barnes & Noble. For these first two days, sales are running about 225% higher than the daily sales average for November through mid-December.


Demand for eink only devices remains high:

Despite the loss of LCD-based products (relocated into the media tablet category), ePaper-based eReaders continued to see strong shipment growth. In 3Q11 the worldwide total improved to 6.5 million units, up from 5.1 million units in 2Q11, representing quarter-over-quarter growth of 27% and year-over-year growth of 165.9%. IDC expects growth to continue in the fourth quarter thanks to new products introductions and price cuts from the major vendors.


Speaking of Amazon, M-Edge has filed suit against Amazon for being a bully and an infringer.  Amazon was able to strong arm M-Edge into a contract with increasingly unfavorable terms because Amazon referrals represented about 90% of the company’s revenue. As for the infringement part, M-Edge claims that Amazon ripped off the lighted case design for its Kindle Keyboard lighted case and other Kindle cases.  Reading the litany of Amazon’s bad behavior toward M-Edge should be required for anyone who thinks it is smart to put all their publishing eggs in the Amazon basket.



None of these are new but a better curated list of interesting and low priced books.  I’ve noticed that there is a sad lack of contemporaries and paranormals being discounted and it is primarily historicals.  What gives with that?

Read for Free misleading

Another note of caution, in the December 25 post, I listed a number of freebies. Some of those have switched over to being “$0.00 (read for free)”.  The title is actually free, but part of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and you can only borrow one book a month through that program.  If you accidentally buy it thinking it is free, you can easily request a refund.

Refund option

Go to Manage Your Kindle page (you might want to bookmark this page).  Select the title you want to return and click “Request a Refund”.  It’s that easy.


Recommended Books:

  • To Love a Thief by Julie Anne Long * $0.99 * AMZ | BN
  • The Orchard by Theresa Weir * $1.99 * AMZ | BN | S | K

Orbit Books on sale until January 31:

  • The Black Prism by Brent Weeks * $2.99 * AMZ | BN | S | K *highly reviewed*
  • Red-Headed Stepchild by Jaye Wells * $2.99 * AMZ | BN | S | K
  • Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey * $2.99 * AMZ | BN | S | K * This e-book edition of Leviathan Wakes includes a free copy of the book (not a sample or a novella)  The Dragon’s Path (The Dagger and the Coin) by Daniel Abraham
  • The Innocent Mage by Karen Miller * $2.99 * AMZ | BN | S | K

Multi pack books

  • Samantha Moon: All Four Novels by J.R. Rain * $1.99 * AMZ | BN
  • Bootscootin’ and Cozy Cash Mysteries Boxed Set by D. D. Scott * $2.99 * AMZ | BN

For our crafter crowd:

  • Knitting Under the Influence by Claire LaZebnik * $1.99 * AMZ | BN | S | K

Famous Authors:

  • Mystic River with A Bonus Excerpt by Dennis Lehane * $1.99 * AMZ | BN | S | K
  • Justice by Karen Robards * $1.99 * AMZ | BN | S | K
  • Luring a Lady (The Stanislaskis) by Nora Roberts * $1.99 * AMZ | BN | S | K *This is a BN Daily Deal and pricematched at Amazon. I suspect it is a one day only price*

Some low priced backlist titles:

  • Yours Until Dawn by Teresa Medeiros * $1.99 * AMZ | BN | S | K
  • Return of Black Douglas by Elaine Coffman * $1.79 * AMZ | BN
  • Wonderful by Jill Barnett * $1.99 * AMZ | BN | S | K

Indie books that I have purchased:

  • Under Her Skin by Jeanienne Frost Ilona Andrews Meljean Brook * $0.99 * AMZ | BN | S | K * I haven’t read this one yet*
  • Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire * $2.99 * AMZ | BN | S | K * Note: this book contains a ragey hero who, in real life, is likely to start beating the heroine at some point.  The book is total wish fulfillment and I have a review for next week planned.  My question to the DA crowd is whether they have any recommendations for pure romance books in a college setting. I really liked the setting in this book.  Further note, I bought this at Kobo using the $1 coupon code: “KoboDollarOff

Updated to add commenters suggestions:

  • Changeling Moon by Dani Harper * 0 * A | BN | K | S
  • The Unidentified Redhead by Alice Clayton * 0.99 * A | BN | K | S
  • Generational Sins by Samantha Blair * 0.99 * A | BN | K | S  * I just read this on recommendation from commenter Amber Skye.  The opening was really shocking for me but it ended up being interesting. Just … be prepared for a very off-putting beginning.  *
  • Flat Out Love by Jessica Park * 3.49 * A | BN | K | S