Wednesday, January 18, 2006
The Dark Queen by Susan Carroll
The Dark Queen by Susan Carroll was quite an unusual read for me! Just deciding what to classify this book as has taken me a while. I have seen it classified as historical romance on one website, and yes, there is definitely a strong element of that here, including a relatively standard plot progression, but there seemed to be more of a basis in actual history in the book than you normally see in most historical romances (which tend to feature a historical setting, but not a whole lot of historical content!).
So, how about historical fiction. Certainly, it is strong enough to stand up in that category (and I saw it shelved in fiction when I went to the bookstore yesterday) with many of the key events based on real events, including the horrifying climax. There are however a lot of witches, spells, potions and enchantments that feature throughout the book so maybe we need to have a category called Historic/Romance/Fantasy for this book.
This mix of styles is part of the reason why I enjoyed this book so much!
Ariane Cheney has inherited the title of Lady of Fair Isle following the death of her mother. With her mother gone, and her father off exploring the world (who knows if and when he will return), it is Ariane's responsibility to look after her sisters - the emotionally damaged Gabrielle and the sensitive Miribelle, whilst also looking after the people of Fair Isle, and guarding the secrets that have been passed from generation to generation. For a lot of the ladies of Fair Isle are white witches, in a time where witchery is a crime, and witch hunters have been known to roam the land. Ariane's great skill is healing, Gabrielle's is using painting and art to create magical environs, and Miri's is that she can talk to the animals, and that she has dreams foretelling the future. Due to events that happen before the start of this book we know that Gabrielle has not painted for a while, due to losing her magic because of an encounter with a man. Gabrielle is becoming a much harder person, laying the foundations for the next book, and causing problems during this book for Ariane and her beau, who Gabrielle calls The Ogre.
Enter Justice, Compte de Renard, who has decided that Ariane is to be his bride. Poor Ariane has so much already going on, that another persistent suitor is the last thing she needs. The book opens with the Compte waiting patiently at the church for his bride to turn up, after he has ordered her that she will marry him after only their second meeting. He will take care of all the arrangements. When a straw mannequin dressed in the wedding dress he provided is taken from the carriage, Justice realises that it is not going to be as easy as he thought to bend Ariane to his will. He goes to visit Ariane at her home, and gives her an enchanted ring. He will leave her alone with the proviso that if she needs him, she places the ring on her finger, and holds it near her heart. If she calls him with the ring 3 times, then they must be married. Ariane accepts the ring, along with the guarantee that he will not continue to bother her, with no intention to use the ring once, let alone 3 times! More interestingly though, and more troubling for Ariane, where did he obtain such enchanted rings, and how can he read her eyes and thoughts so easily if he has no knowledge of witchcraft, whilst being able to guard his own thoughts from her at the same time.
However, there are dark clouds on the horizon. The Dark Queen, Catherine de Medici is planning foul deeds, and she is also a witch, a dark witch at that. Before too long Ariane is called to assist a wounded soldier (Nicholas Remy) who was trying to make his way too Fair Isle. He is carrying a pair of gloves that he believes Catherine used to murder his Queen, Catherine's rival. He needs Ariane's assistance to prove it so that he can stop the wedding between Henry of Navarre and Catherine's daughter. Catherine is however determined to get the gloves back, even if that means sending the witch hunters to Fair Isle to flush out the wanted man..even if it means that all the women on Fair Isle have to die.
This was a very compelling read. The romance between Ariane and Justice was well written and satisfying. Seeing Ariane relax and become a normal young lady at times with Justice instead of the Lady of Fair Isle with all her responsibilities was refreshing for the character. There was plenty of intrigue, and the stage has definitely been set for the next two books in the trilogy featuring the two other Cheney sisters, but also with setting up their nemesis in at least one of the two books.
If there was one criticism to be made of this book, it would be that it was a touch too long, but that is minor when compared to the strengths of the rest of the book.
I had never read any Susan Carroll before this book. I will however be on the lookout for more from her, especially the sequel The Courtesan which is not available here in Australia yet. The third book, The Silver Rose is due out in March of this year.
Rating 4 out of 5