Wednesday, February 3, 2010
The beloved heroine from Koen's bestselling Through a Glass Darkly returns in a passionate, unforgettable, romantic tapestry. A widow at age 20, emotionally devastated and financially ruined by the death of her husband in scandalous circumstances, Barbara Devane leaves colonial Virginia for London to confront her enemies and to pursue a deeply satisfying yet dangerous clandestine love.
Having loved Through a Glass Darkly, I was eager to read this sequel, and get back into the early Georgian world of London and Barbara Devane. It is 1720, Barbara, a young widow has left London behind and the scheming court of George I with it's political intrigues and the financial disgrace and woes from the South Sea Bubble of which her dead husband has been named scapegoat. She must leave to mourn her husband, Roger, and she keeps busy learning the ways of growing tobacco, and dealing with a new set of intrigues in colonial Virginia.
The first part of the book was a bit slow going. I thought I'd really enjoy the Virginia sequences, but Barbara's life was unhappy there for the most part. She does make some good friends, one of which is her neighbor, Colonel Perry, an older man who grows to love her. He counsels her in the ways of Virginia and society and helps her get her grandmother's plantation in order. The divine Barbara is like an exotic bird in Virginia with her fine gowns and jewels and writs from the King of England! She is young and beautiful and refreshing to the colonials. She has a near romance with a crooked sea captain, Klaus, that comes to nothing, but the worst of Virginia is the loss of her dear, dear French black page, Hyacinthe, who is kidnapped. This leads to great angst and worry. Much hand wringing and searching for him, but he is not to be found. I felt terrible for Barbara and her maid, Therese, who love him dearly, he is like their child. The loss is great. I was disappointed in the way Hyacinthe's journey to return to Barbara and Therese was so haphazardly handled. We get a good idea of what happened to him, but there are a lot of unanswered questions, I would have liked to know how he made it to London from the West Indies! Because of the loss of Hyacinthe, she decides to free all her slaves and then return to London.
Meanwhile, the other half of the story takes place in London surrounding the Jacobean plot to overthrow King George I, and put James of Scotland on the throne of England. Many of Barbara's nearest and dearest are knee deep in the plot. At first, I was a bit tired of it - another Jacobite uprising! Uggh, I just finished a book about the rising in '45, but this earlier one was interesting for I barely knew anything about it. It came to nothing, but it does give you some background on why so many people at the time resisted the Hanoverian king, it makes sense that they would. One of the main plotters is a young man, Slane, who is posing as an actor, but he's really an Irish nobleman, a "gosling" under King James who has vowed to honor him and work to see him on the throne. Slane eventually becomes a love interest to Barbara, although I wasn't totally into the idea of the two of them being together, I was hoping she'd wind up with her cousin, Tony.
Even though Barbara is in Virginia for the first half of the book, she is still the talk of the town in London. Her cousin, Tony, the Duke of Tamworth is still in love with her and fights a duel over her. He kills a man and repents over it. He decides to once and for all marry and get on with his life. I was sorry to see this, for I had hopes that Barbara and Tony would one day marry, but their grandmother, the Duchess of Tamworth would have none of it, she knew Barbara would be Tony's ruin, which was the reason she sent Barbara off to Virginia in the first place. Eventually when Barbara does return to London amidst worries of a rising and invasion taking place momentarily, she immediately finds a place in the King's court and the intrigues begin again at once. Now the book gets interesting! Before she knows it, she is in league with the Jacobites, though not on purpose, they seem to be all around her, many are her friends. She cannot escape them though she tries to remain neutral. Can she stay that way when her lover is a leader in the plot and her best friend's husband is in the Tower, arrested for treason and will soon be hanged?
One of the highlights of Koen's books are her side characters who are delightful. Most of them are more colorful and interesting than her heroine, Barbara. Alice, the elderly Duchess of Tamworth still has some life in her. She is now regretful of her past mistakes in life and seems to have a preoccupation with bees and her memories. There's always a lot unsaid about Alice and her dead husband, Richard's, marriage. So many tantalizing clues about it, was Richard really a Jacobite sympathizer and Alice talked him out of it? How? I want to read a book on their marriage! I wish the author would write one. Diana, her daughter, and Barbara's mother, is still the cunning siren, mistress of many who uses sex to get everything she wants. She is ruthless in her desire for power and will not hesitate to use her body to serve her purposes. It was delicious to read about how bad she is - she's one of the best things in this book! Tony, Barbara's cousin is a good man, but I feel sorry for him. He will always love Barbara but cannot have her. As he says, he never kissed her in passion. Slane, Barbara's lover is like a secret agent for the Jacobites. He is daring and clever, a romantic at heart, I'm glad Barbara finds love eventually with him, though I didn't find theirs to be a "great love" it was more like she settled on him for he was around and young and handsome and was heroic in her eyes. I didn't like him a lot and was surprised that Barbara wound up with him and fell in love with him.
Was this book as good as it's predecessor? Not in the least. It lacked energy, and the plot was not very compelling until around the last 200 pages of the book. It ended in a strange way with the Duchess thinking to herself, rambling on with her memories and thoughts, kind of odd quoting poetry and scripture. Sort of up in the air, but we are led to believe in the epilogue that all will be well. I was a bit disappointed we don't get to see Barbara's reaction when Hyacinthe returns, a lot is left to the imagination and we don't get details of Barbara reuniting with Slane in Paris, we just hear about it. That's why I didn't feel all warm and fuzzy about their relationship, the author sort of keeps the reader at arms length with it, did she just get tired of writing the book and wanted to finish it off and get it over with?
All in all, it was a pretty good book, but fell flat in parts and I kept wishing through all 700 pages of it that it would pick up. Once Barbara returned to London it got a lot better and the pace quickened, there was more of her mother and Aunt Shrew and the Duchess, but it didn't have the flair and poignancy of Through a Glass Darkly, perhaps others will feel differently. Oh well.