K's Reviews > Through a Glass Darkly

Through a Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen
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's review
May 18, 2008

liked it
bookshelves: couldntfinish, historicalfiction, marysues, chicklit, should-ve-been-shorter, maybe-it-s-me
Recommended to K by: Yaffi
Recommended for: patient fans of historical romance a la Philippa Gregory

After some grappling and soul-searching, I have finally decided not to finish this book. As Karen said in her review, there's nothing wrong with indulging in a trashy novel occasionally, but 750 pages is a big investment for trash.

This book reminded me of some of the Philippa Gregory books I've tried to read and abandoned, although I did find the characters here slightly more interesting. Barbara, a beautiful (how could she not be?), headstrong (naturally) 15-year-old is engaged to 40-something Lord Roger Devane, whom she loves in a worshipful way, and you just know that she's going to get hurt in this relationship. Although this worshipful unrequited love by heroines has annoyed me in the past, I could forgive it a little -- just a little -- in Barbara because she is, after all, 15. Roger has agreed to marry little Barbara despite their age difference because she comes with property in which he would like to invest. Roger, though mostly a cad, actually does care for Barbara on some level, although his love clearly doesn't match hers (a deeply rooted passion which is based on, uh, his good looks?). It takes them a while to actually get married, because of scheming on the part of various family members with regard to the property and milking Roger. As a result, the book was slower than your typical Harlequin-cum-historical-romance, and I closed it after finally reaching their wedding night on page 250 or so.

Other things that annoyed me included ridiculously heavy-handed characterization. For example, Barbara's cousin Tony, the stupid-but-goodhearted character in the book, continuously leaves off the first words of his sentences in an effort to remind you of his limited intelligence, except for those rare moments where he shines in heroically. His sentences in those scenes are helpfully complete, sometimes accompanied by asides from the author pointing out that this was one of the rare occasions in which he spoke in full sentences. What is that? Is he just pretending to be dumb the rest of the time? I wasn't motivated to read far enough to solve this mystery. Barbara also consistently lifts her chin whenever she's deciding to defy authority. She's lifting her chin -- look out, world!

These types of trashy-pretending-to-be-literary historical romances are also often guilty of anachronism. I found the character of Roger's friend Tommy Carlyle, a flaming homosexual complete with heels, make-up, and sexy young men draped on his arms, extremely difficult to swallow for the 1700s. Look -- I don't know much about that period of history, but I really find it hard to believe that one could be so blatantly homosexual and still function as a part of high society in those days, a group which, in this book, included the British royal family (another hallmark of this type of historical fiction -- of course, they're all best buds with the people in the history books, as Sarah pointed out in her review of "March").

I actually gave this three stars because, if you're a more forgiving reader who likes historical romance, I could see this being a good read despite its flaws. If it had been shorter and tighter, I would have finished it and maybe even enjoyed it. However, if you want a good historical romance, I would suggest "Outlander" by Diana Gabaldon instead.
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Reading Progress

May 18, 2008 – Shelved
July 30, 2008 – Shelved as: historicalfiction
October 11, 2009 – Shelved as: marysues
April 6, 2011 – Shelved as: chicklit
April 6, 2011 – Shelved as: should-ve-been-shorter
May 2, 2011 – Shelved as: maybe-it-s-me
February 13, 2016 – Shelved as: couldntfinish

Comments (showing 1-23 of 23) (23 new)

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message 1: by MAP (new) - rated it 3 stars

MAP Just one comment: actually, because the "fop" was just starting to come into fashion, many men wore really outrageous outfits, including corsets, brightly colored clothes, makeup, heels, and even strange colored wigs. Therefore a homosexual with a flair for fashion may have blended in fairly easily.

Also, while the British upper-middle class was famously moral, the aristocracy had a saying: "Do what you like so long as you don't spook the horses." I don't know specifically how homosexuality would have been viewed among such a set, but really bizarre sexual behavior by men -- and some women, as long as they'd given their husbands an heir -- was mostly looked upon with a nod and a wink.

I haven't actually read the book, I just read your review of it while pondering it (my uni library has a copy) and noticed your comments. :)

message 2: by K (new) - rated it 3 stars

K What you're saying is interesting, and clearly you know more about that period of history than I do. I couldn't help wondering, though, at the sexual flamboyance in what I always thought of as a prudish time. It seemed anachronistic to me in reading it, although if I had more of a background I might not have seen it that way. "Do what you like so long as you don't spook the horses" suggests to me that while attitudes may have been liberal in theory, bizarre sexual behavior probably took place behind closed doors as opposed to being flaunted the way it seemed in this book. If you do read the book, I'd love to hear what you think.

message 3: by MAP (new) - rated it 3 stars

MAP You really should have kept going. This stuff goes completely soap opera off the wall around page 350. It's complete crack.

(which isn't to say that this book should in ANY way be 750 pages long. That's an average of basically half a page per day of the time covered in the book. Ridiculous)

message 4: by K (new) - rated it 3 stars

K Thanks just the same -- crazy though it may be, I don't think I could have forced my way through all 750 pages. But I do look forward to your review!

message 5: by Cassy (last edited Aug 09, 2011 06:10AM) (new)

Cassy Great review! I haven't read this book. Your helpful comparison to Philippa Gregory is steering me away.

message 6: by K (new) - rated it 3 stars

K Thanks! Glad you liked it. If you're not a Philippa Gregory fan, I suggest you stay away from this one.

Karyl Funnily enough, I am a Philippa Gregory fan (not all of her books, though), but I agree 100% with your review. I did manage to finish it, but you're pretty much spot on. It's way too over the top in many ways.

message 8: by K (new) - rated it 3 stars

K Thanks, Karyl! I love it when people agree with me. :) It's also nice to hear that abandoning the book midway was the right decision.

Laura Jennings Wish I'd quit 250 pages in. I'd've been a lot happier. The ultimate nihilism of the book was its downfall, which really doesn't do a lot to make me say "Ooh, it's set in 17th century Europe! Let's read about that! Nothing is ever apathetic and corrupted and pointlessly gilded in that century!" Turbulent time period, social upheaval, changing society, and the best these books ever seem to focus on is rich people with no real problems making ones up for themselves.

message 10: by K (new) - rated it 3 stars

K I think these books, though sometimes pretending to be literature, are ultimately escapist fantasy so the focus on artificial problems of rich people is consistent, I guess, with what the authors/publishers assume the audience wants to read.

message 11: by Mindy (new) - added it

Mindy Reed Ha ha ha! Funny review! I still may give this a try BUT as I'm sure nothing will top by beloved "Outlander" (and as you have pointed out, this won't either) I will go into it with lower expectations lol!!

message 12: by K (new) - rated it 3 stars

K Thanks, Mindy! I'm glad you liked the review. And I hope you like the book better than I did! You never know how a book will hit you, so it's possible you might enjoy this more. Low expectations may help. I think mine were a little too high; I got the recommendation from someone who made it sound a little more highbrow than it was.

Kelley I went half way through this book before stopping. You didn't miss some really awful things later that made this book totally unredeeming. I would think that an author would like her heroine yet that surely wasn't the case here. Poor Barbara was treated to degradations beyond belief that finally forced me to quit a first time. I decided to pick it up again after a break of several months. Yet, it was far worse after the second attempt. I have no attention to make it a third. It was that repulsive.

message 14: by K (new) - rated it 3 stars

K Kelley, I'm glad to hear my instincts were correct on this one. I give you credit for your persistence and optimism and hope it pays off with the next book! ;)

Mandi The reasons you dnf'd are completely valid but I (who was utterly gutted at the end of this book) would've loved your opinion on the ending!!!!!!!!!!

message 16: by K (new) - rated it 3 stars

K Thanks, Mandi! Odds are I won't be revisiting this, but if I do I'll be sure to update my review.

Stephanie Roger was 35, not 40 something.

message 18: by K (new) - rated it 3 stars

K Still a large age gap.

Stephanie Young noblewomen during that time married as teenagers to men much older than them..Marriages were made on political alliances and financial rewards, not romantic love...I think some of the younger readers need a wake up call on what the times were really like then...Koen captures that perfectly although one does need a longer attention span and the ability to ponder carefully and thoughtfully than most are used to today..One must be patient to understand the realities of the book which make it a timeless classic so its not for those seeking a shock and awe quick fix..

message 20: by K (new) - rated it 3 stars

K I'm well aware that young noblewomen married older men at that time, for political reasons rather than romantic love. That's not my problem with the book. My problem with the book was the writing and the characterization. I doubt that this has anything to do with my attention span, which has proved perfectly adequate for longer books that were better written. It's hard for me to see this book as a timeless classic, a category I generally reserve for books of much higher quality. I felt that this book was a glorified Harlequin romance, and not a particularly enjoyable one.

message 21: by Pixie (new) - added it

Pixie It's weird seeing people getting super bent out of shape just because some people don't like a book. :/
I personally haven't read it, but decided to look it up since it came as a recommendation on my receipt from Barnes & Noble the other day based on another book I had purchased.
Might still try to give it a go eventually.

message 22: by K (new) - rated it 3 stars

K Totally with you, Pixie. Not sure why someone would be on a site like Goodreads if they find dissenting reviews offensive. Lots of people did like this book, so if you decide to give it a go, it's possible you will too.

message 23: by Sally (new)

Sally Jurin Roger was 42 when he married Bab.

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