Summary: 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?
This is a very nostalgic review—I have read it several times and I must confess that it is a very comforting read every time I open the pages and slip into Charles II’s and Louis XIV’s courts. This is a definitely a novel that you would want to set aside time for, because I read it in one sitting since the story refused to relinquish my attention until the very last pages.
One thing to note quickly though: this is a prequel to “THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY”. However, I read this book first before the original novel and did not have any trouble understanding anything since it focuses on an earlier generation of characters. In fact, I would recommend new readers start with this one as to gain a better understanding of the circumstances/history.
The writing was beautiful in various ways. It flowed very smoothly and Karleen Koen has some beautiful phrases in the book. She also deftly painted a clear picture of the surroundings that I could see images in my head and felt like I was reading a movie at times. She captured the spirit of the Restoration Court and all the larger-than-life personages wonderfully. It was the perfect blend of fiction and reality, and one of the best things besides time travel.
Plot-wise, the book moves along quickly fictional plots unfold alongside historical events happening at the time—the death of Madame, the Secret Treaty of Dover, Charles II’s conquest amongst others. There were always more plots around the corner and secrets to be discovered, and it was a great adventure romping around Charles II’s very rowdy court. Another wonderful thing was actually slipping in believable political intrigue occurring at this time, and understanding why various courtiers and powerful lords would make certain decisions altering England’s history. I really felt that I was in seventeenth century and was glad that I did not have to make decisions or be forced to choose alliances, since I would do a terrible job. Koen really brings the world to life.
And the characters—my appreciation for the fictional characters Koen created (except for one) is limitless. I honestly cannot imagine that Alice, Barbara, Gracen and company did not exist in Charles’ court. The wonderful thing about them is that any of them could have been the main character, and I would have read an entire book about them or from their POV. The ensemble of characters was very strong and all very interesting individuals. They really help bring the period to life, and their adventures and choices and betrayals were all realistic that I was disappointed to remember that they do not exist beyond the author’s imagination. Thanks to these rich characters, it really brings to the life the “lesser people” at court—the maids-in-waiting, the various captains, and even a servant or two. My favourite part of the book was watching multiple maids-of-honour scheme for their own benefit, for their friends and for their future. I honestly did not want Alice’s adventures to end! She was the best kind of character that I read about in a very long time: ruthless to her enemies, clever in biding her time and plotting, not above manipulating others to achieve her goals, has a good grasp about her strengths/weaknesses as well as those around her, and loyal to all those that deserved her friendship. Of course, she wasn’t perfect as she was also rather arrogant and believed she knew best for everyone and everything. But it was very entertaining to read about her and was always a force to be reckoned with as a character.
The only quibble I had with the book was the romance unfolding between Alice and her eventual suitor, but it was hardly a major plotline of the book. In the grander scheme of things though, this is not a historical romance but historical fictions depicting several years in the Restoration era. Therefore I did not mind having a minor plotline devoted to a clunky and underdeveloped romance when everything was so richly portrayed.
Definitely pick up this book if you have the chance, I highly recommend it and I find it to be the best kind of historical fiction out there: informative, fun, intriguing, and mostly realistic.
There were many threads that went on, characters that slipped in and out of the novel, and there was never a time that I was confused. Koen blends reality with fiction perfectly, and to be honest, I cannot imagine Charles’ court without Alice or Richard or Barbara or Gracen or any of the made up characters. They really help bring the period to life, and their adventures are all so believable that I’m disappointed at times remembering that they don’t exist beyond the author’s imagination. One of my favourite things about this novel is that the author does an excellent job of portraying a scheming maid in honour’s life; it’s really the little details about the various members of the court that bring the novel that spark.
The only thing that I felt was icky was the romance between the two leads, but seriously, it was a minor detail in the grander scheme of things. Ultimately I felt all the romances were just subplots, so the lack of development between Alice and Richard (it shouldn’t really be a spoiler, since people usually read the first novel before the prequel and should know that Alice married Richard) didn’t really bother me. Also, they were both strong vivid characters that their romantic life was only a part of who they were–there was so much more going on in their lives than just falling in love with each other, which really makes it realistic! Another thing that some people might quibble about is that there was a lot of quotes or sayings from the bible; it didn’t bother me that much because they were living in a time where God was important in their lives, so I wasn’t too surprised that they would be quoting or saying lessons from the Bible. Still, some other people may find it annoying, particularly if they don’t care for the religion.
Still, all the pros definitely outweighs the minor cons found in the book, and I encourage any lover of historical fiction, or even just really good fiction to read this.