Lori McD's Reviews > Dark Angels

Dark Angels by Karleen Koen
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This book about Alice Verney isn't nearly as wrenching as the two books about her grand-daughter, Barbara (Through a Glass Darkly and Now Face to Face). But it's gripping, none-the-less. As much as I think I know about the history of the British monarchy, the more I discover I don't know.

In Dark Angels, Alice Verney is a 20-year old maid of honor who grew up motherless in the English court, full of intrigue. Her father Sir Thomas is deep in the intrigues of politics, always seeking to better himself and his family by trying to decide which side has the upper hand and ingratiating himself to that power. Alice was destined to marry the Duke of Balmoral's heir, his nephew Lord Colefax, but Colefax practically deserted her at the altar, eloping with Alice's friend and fellow maid of honor, Caro, who was with child. Alice left the court of Queen Charlotte (Charles II's queen) to become maid of honor to his sister, Henrietta's court; Henrietta (called Madame) is married to the King Louis XIV's brother, Philippe (Monsieur). But it's a troubled marriage; Monsieur is and has always been flamboyantly homosexual, and while the couple seemed happy early in their marriage, when Madame and King Louis XIV became lovers, any love Monsieur held for her was lost. Philippe felt betrayed by both his wife and his brother. And so Philippe began to torment his wife in every way possible; his most flagrant torment was his notorious lover, Chevalier de Lorraine, who constantly vied for power with Madame within the royal household and usually won. The torment became even worse, however, when Madame complained to the king and Lorraine was exiled.

Against this backdrop, our story opens with Madam, her maids of honor, and Monsieur's "men" of court (sent to spy on Madam and cause trouble) arriving in Dover. Madame is there ostensibly for a royal visit with her brothers, King Charles II and James the Duke of York; but in truth, she's there to for the signing of the secret treaty of Dover that would unite King Louis XIV and King Charles II to fight together against the Dutch; in return, Charles will become Catholic and Louis will pay him well - well enough to give the monarch some freedom. Charles is constantly kept in line by his Parliament, who carefully dole out money and give the monarch only enough to be a king but not enough to truly rule his country as he wishes. Louis sees it his duty to return England to the Catholic church; but Catholic sentiment is still at an all-time low in England. So not even the wily, determined Alice knows of the treaty.

Alice does get to know Life Guard Lt. Richard Saylor, who accompanies Madam and her "court" from France to England. Alice feels something for Robert, but she won't acknowledge it. She doesn't really understand love, never having truly known it herself, except through her girl friends. Her father, Sir Thomas, has always used Alice however he could to get ahead; her mother died giving birth to her. Besides, Richard is clearly smitten with Louise Renee de Keroualle (called Renee), one of Madame's maids of honor and Alice's friend; Renee is the most beautiful of them all, and she's sought wherever they go. When Alice requires help to rescue the English maid of honor Gracen from the clutches of Monsieur's men, led by Alice's enemy d'Effiat, intent on debauching her in a "Black Mass" ceremony, she calls upon Richard to help. And so Richard joins Alice as d'Effiat's sworn enemy.

Madame is clearly happy in England with her brothers; but when they board the ship for Calais, she starts to get her headaches again. And when Philippe rudely snubs her by not showing up to greet her for her return, the headaches worsen. A new man in Monsieur's retinue, a Henri Ange, starts making headache potions for Madame; Alice suspects Henri - there's something not right about him; besides which, he's in tight with d'Effiat and rumored to be from de Lorraine's own staff. Richard has returned with the group as Charles II's spy, posing as an English tutor to Madame; but when Henri befriends Richard, he thinks Henri is harmless. Then Madame takes ill after more than one potion from Henri; but this time, she's in mortal pain and is crying "poison". Alice and Richard do all they can to help her and to uncover evidence of poison, but the goblets and all other implements are missing. Upon Madame's death, Alice and Richard return to England, where Alice resumes her position as a maid of honor to Queen Charlotte.

Alice is determined to get back at Colefax and to be a duchess. She's decided to become the wife of the Duke of Balmoral, even though he's an old man. She genuinely likes and trusts the duke, though, and she shares only with Balmoral hers and Richard's suspicions of Henri Ange and their investigation of Henrietta's death. Because of the threat of war between France and England, no one in either royal court wants to entertain the possibility that Henrietta was poisoned. Both courts want Henri Ange, who's disappeared.

But when Alice suspects that Ange is in England and that a plot exists to poison Queen Charlotte, who hasn't been able to bear a living child or heir to King Charles II, she again seeks Balmoral's and Richard's help. This opens even more dangerous doors of political intrigue, revenge, assassination, and power struggles in both the English and French courts. And to top it off, Renee is sent to be a maid in Queen Charlotte's court with Alice's sponsorship; it isn't until later that Alice realizes her father has used her to bring Renee to the attention of Charles - to become his mistress. Renee has been asked by the French court to spy on Charles, and it isn't clear whether she will or not. But Richard believes himself affianced to Renee; neither Alice nor Richard can watch as Charles takes every opportunity to press his suit. And Renee seems like a reed in the wind, unable to make up her mind whether to tell the king that she loves Richard (and thereby escape his attentions) or to give in to the flattery that a king's royal mistress is given.

And Henri Ange isn't through yet. He knows that Alice and Richard are his biggest threats. He knows that Richard traveled back to France and uncovered evidence that could incriminate him. Ange takes every opportunity to show that he can slip into the English court at will, unnoticed; but when Richard catches him and duels him in the courtyard, Ange poisons his knife and thrusts it into Richard's side, despite Richard having already defeated him. Alice runs up, takes Ange's knife from Richard and plunges it into Ange. But Ange has the antidote; and while imprisoned, Ange uses his friendship with the Duke of Buckingham, who "hired" Ange to do away with Queen Charlotte, to further his own gain. Even Balmoral is lured into letting Ange go long enough to secure Ange's own lover, incriminating letters, and the coins he was paid by Buckingham. But Ange once again escapes, after poisoning the old duke's favorite sherry.

Through it all, we wonder if Richard and Alice will ever acknowledge their strong attraction before Henri Ange has them both murdered? The book takes us up to a screeching end...

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On my own, I couldn't make the connection between Alice and the Dowager Duchess of Tamworth in the other series. I literally had to look it up through a web search. Once I realized that Alice is Barbara's grandmother, I made the connection between the scheming, court-savvy, strong-willed Alice of this book, who believes that she knows what's right for everyone and when they displease her, they lose her favor forever... until she loses her best friend, Barbara, and finally realizes the folly of her demands AND the scheming, strong Dowager Duchess who tries to rule her family and their destiny in the latter series. But when she's older, Alice is less able to affect the lives of those around her; she's been tempered and worn down by her failed attempts, and Alice sees less because it hurts less to do so.

In this book, Alice was annoying. She's too caught up in knowing all there is to know and trying to tell others what to do. While her loyalty makes her honorable and less treacherous than even her father, Alice isolates herself too easily by standing on principle. She doesn't recognize that she has to bend or break. And she almost breaks.

Unfortunately, the "break" comes too late to mend her fences, and Alice loses her will to live, which seems almost too melodramatic for this strong-willed personality. If it weren't for the skilled writing of the author, Alice would have become completely unlikeable and a caricature. But as it is, we're supposed to see how she's changed, softened, mellowed... opened her heart up finally to realize that she held too tightly to those she loved, not allowing them to breathe. And while we know that Alice and Richard marry and settle at Tamsworth, we breathlessly await for them to acknowledge their love to themselves and to one another.

Not as heartbreaking as her granddaughter Barbara's story, but thank goodness! Still, a well told tale against the colorful backdrop of real history.
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Reading Progress

03/07/2012 page 101
19.0% "Not sure how this is the prequel to the other two books "Through a Glass Darkly" and "Now Face to Face" that ripped my heart out... the tragic story of Barbara Alderly, her unfaithful husband Roger MontGeoffry, her iron-willed grandmother, and her trampy mother. But so far, it's a good story."
03/07/2012 page 101
19.0% "OK, Alice Verney, the main character of this book, is Barbara's iron-willed grandmother. Finally the connection is made!"

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