Through a Glass Darkly was a book that lingered in the memory: a lush historical setting, carefully created characters, riveting storyline. Now, twenty years later, I have finished its prequel, Dark Angels, and am happy to report that it is every bit as memorable. In this new novel, Alice Verney is maid-of-honour to Princess Henriette, the beloved sister of Charles II of England. After the monarchy is restored, people who experienced years of turmoil want pleasure and little else, but even at this court there is intrigue aplenty, particularly about the childless Queen Catherine. Alice – an inveterate meddler – becomes embroiled in secrets involving the powerful Duke of Balmoral (whom she wishes to marry) and the mysterious Henri Ange (who could be English, could be French). As the plot gallops along, Alice learns much about herself and her relationships with her father, her friends, and Richard Saylor, the soldier who becomes one of the only people she can trust.
One of the things I enjoyed most about Dark Angels was its elaborate picture of the English court and its various sub-courts (e.g., Queen Catherine’s). The period details are thoughtfully chosen, and the numerous courtiers and servants are distinct from one another. Censorious and stubborn Alice is not exactly a likeable protagonist, but it is a tribute to the author’s skill that we care about her anyway.
It is a rare book where the characters are so real, they could easily be the people you encounter each day. Karleen Koen accomplished this with her first two novels, and now, with Dark Angels, she has done it once again. A note from the publisher says, “I guarantee that you’re in for quite a treat [if you read this novel].” I can’t phrase it any better than that.