Dark Angels: A Novel
by Karleen Koen

Published: 2006-09-05
Hardcover : 544 pages
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Alice Verney is a young woman intent on achieving her dreams. Having left Restoration England in the midst of a messy scandal, she has been living in Louis XIV’s Baroque, mannered France for two years. Now she is returning home to England and anxious to re-establish herself quickly. ...
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Alice Verney is a young woman intent on achieving her dreams. Having left Restoration England in the midst of a messy scandal, she has been living in Louis XIV’s Baroque, mannered France for two years. Now she is returning home to England and anxious to re-establish herself quickly. First, she will regain her former position as a maid of honor to Charles II’s queen. Then she will marry the most celebrated duke of the Restoration, putting herself in a position to attain power she’s only dreamed of. As a duchess, Alice will be able to make or break her friends and enemies at will.

But all is not as it seems in the rowdy, merry court of Charles II. Since the Restoration, old political alliances have frayed, and there are whispers that the king is moving to divorce his barren queen, who some wouldn’t mind seeing dead. But Alice, loyal only to a select few, is devoted to the queen, and so sets out to discover who might be making sinister plans, and if her own father is one of them. When a member of the royal family dies unexpectedly, and poison is suspected, the stakes are raised. Alice steps up her efforts to find out who is and isn’t true to the queen, learns of shocking betrayals throughout court, and meets a man that she may be falling in love with—and who will spoil all of her plans. With the suspected arrival of a known poison-maker, the atmosphere in the court electrifies, and suddenly the safety of the king himself seems uncertain. Secret plots are at play, and war is on the horizon—but will it be with the Dutch or the French? And has King Charles himself betrayed his country for greed?

The long-awaited prequel to Koen’s beloved Through a Glass Darkly, Dark Angels is a feast of a novel that sparkles with all the passion, extravagance, danger, and scandal of seventeenth-century England. Unforgettable in its dramatic force, here is a novel of love and politics, of romance and betrayal, of power and succession—and of a resourceful young woman who risks everything for pride and status in an era in which women were afforded little of either.

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Chapter 1

May 1670
Facing white cliffs in a strait of ocean separating two kingdoms, a fleet of ships lay at anchor. It was the fleet of the kingdom of England, sent to escort precious cargo: a princess of England and France, the most famous princess in Christendom, in fact. Ayacht with a rakish bow slashed through the water toward the best and greatest of these anchored ships; the king on board liked fast yachts, fast horses, fast women. The princess was his sister, and he and those with him could not wait to see her. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the Publisher:

1. What is your first impression of Alice? How does your opinion of her change throughout the novel? What about Renée? In what ways did she surprise you, and in what ways did your initial impression hold true?

2. Alice is a young woman with stringent standards for herself and her friends. On p. 96, she declares that “[she] despised moral cowardice” and that “when she gave her loyalty, she meant it.” To what degree do you see this as a positive trait, and to what degree do you think this strictness in her judgments of people holds Alice back? Could she thrive as she has in the court without these standards? Is she ever wrong in her judgments? What causes these blind spots?

3. Compare Alice’s skill as a courtier to that of her father. Why is it that those around him are consistantly suspicious of his motives, but she can pull strings and manipulate situations a bit more easily? How much of the difference is a result of their gender, and how much is in the approach? In what ways are they similar, and where do they differ?

4. Consider the character of Gracen. Do her actions ever surprise you? What is it that motivates her choices? Do you think she is happy in the end? What does she really want?

5. Do you fault Renée for the choice she makes to become the king’s mistress? Did you see it as inevitable or more complex than that? Is Renée simply a pawn (to Charles, to Thomas Verney, to the French), or has she learned to act with the skill of the courtiers around her? What do you think her future holds?

6. Consider the issue of religion in Dark Angels. What does Catholicism mean to those who practice it and why do the others fear it so? Who do we see that is strongest in their faith, and why? Does fear of persecution ever strengthen faith? What other historical or literary examples of this can you think of?

7. Why does Richard insist that his love for Renée can withstand the pressure of the king’s attentions? What is the point of the stand he takes, and when does he finally see that it is a lost cause? Why does he hold out so long, despite the fact that everyone around him can see the writing on the wall?

8. On p. 258, Thomas Verney says to his daughter, “Life isn’t filled with easy choices. We all of us get our hands dirty after a time.” To what degree do you think this is true in the context of Dark Angels? Does everyone get their hands dirty at one time or another? Is anyone above the games? In a world of moral complexity and constantly shifting power, how can a person maintain their self-respect and still feed their family? Are the machinations and schemes a necessary byproduct of success, or is Thomas just making excuses?

9. Why does Alice so detest the idea of Barbara marrying John Sidney, despite the love she has for her friend? Why is she so intent on finding Barbara a better match, even though it is clear how much she adores him? Do you think Alice would have reacted this way no matter whom her friend chose, or is the disapproval specific to John Sidney?

10. Compare those that are, or have been in the past, mistresses to King Charles: Renée, Frances, the Duchess of Cleveland, Nellie Gwynn. Do they have anything in common besides the king’s attentions? What does each gain or lose by their relationship with him? What do you think he sees in each of them?

11. What meaning does his family home of Tamworth hold for Richard, and why do you think his connection to the place is so strong? Would you have expected Jerusalem Saylor to accept Alice as she does, despite the fact that Alice has been deceitful, even hurting their own family with her manipulations? What does Jerusalem want for Richard? How is it similar to or different from what Thomas wants for Alice?

12. Consider the character of Queen Catherine. Given her role in her marriage, as stated by Charles on pp. 554—555, what is her place in the court? What do you see as the most important role she fills in the lives of those around her? Do you think it is enough to be happy, or is her existence doomed to be sad and empty, that of a political pawn in an always-dangerous position that holds no real power? How is she in a better or worse place than Princesse Henriette, and to what degree are their experiences similar?

13. In describing his imagined life with Renée, Richard says, “I have this dream, she and I side by side in life, turning front to front in lovemaking, back to back in threat, protecting each other” (p. 356). Alice tells him this dream is a false ideal that he’ll break his heart on. Do you think she really believes that this dream is false? Do you believe that it’s false? Or is it just a matter of choosing the right partner?

14. Consider the character of Balmoral. What does he want from Alice? Why do you think he finally proposes? Does he want to marry her? Does he love her? What, if anything, would bring him happiness at this point in his life? What is it that stands in the way?

15. What motivates the men who scheme and manipulate politics in this novel? For whom is it a matter of self-interest, and for whom is it more than that? What drives the politics of Charles’s court? Whom would you trust with your life? Who are the “good guys” here?

16. The poison-maker Henri Ange is the first to comment on the fact that Alice has fallen in love with Richard, taunting her with it before she herself has realized her feelings. Why is he the first to see? Why have those closer to her not noticed her growing affection for the paramour of her friend?

17. What makes Ange take the dangerous step of staying in England to get revenge on Alice and Richard? At what point did his business shift from the hired kills of politics to the personal? Why take the risk?

18. What do you think becomes of young Walter after the novel ends?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "Enjoyable solo read"by Kathy E. (see profile) 04/02/08

I found this book fairly enjoyable. But, I'm a history nerd. I've found from experience that you have to be fond of fictional history to get into books like this. I found the main character believable,... (read more)

  "Hard to Get Into"by Aarti N. (see profile) 11/21/06

I found this book difficult to get into. I thought that the main character, Alice, was a bit of a "Mary Sue" character, who always somehow knew exactly what to do in every circumstance. Some of the sentences... (read more)

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