Sunday, July 23, 2006
The Courtesan - Susan Carroll [July/06]
For something new, me and Marg decided to read a historical fiction novel together. This is the sequel to The Dark Queen, which I read and reviewed recently. Anyways, we are coming towards this from two different backgrounds. As I said with the last one, there is a lot of romance in these books. I don't particularly like romance novels, while Marg on the other hand is a very big romance reader. This should offer two different views on how we took the novel.
Anyways, from the back:
Skilled in passion, artful in deception, and driven by betrayal, she is the glittering center of the royal court - but the most desired woman of Renaissance France will draw the wrath of a dangerous adversary.
Paris, 1575. The consort of some of Europe's most influential men, Gabrielle Cheney is determined to secure her future by winning the heart of Henry, the Huguenot king of Navarre. As his mistress, Gabrielle hopes she might one day become the power behind the French throne. But her plans are jeopardized by Captain Nicholas Remy, a devoted warrior whose love Gabrielle desires - and fears - above all. She will also incur the malevolence of the Dark Queen, Catherine de Medici, whose spies and witch-hunters are legion, and who will summon the black arts to maintain her authority. With the lives of those she loves in peril, Gabrielle must rebel against her queen to fulfill a glorious destiny she has sacrificed everything to gain.
Alive with vivid detail and characters as vibrant as they are memorable, The Courtesan is a sweeping historical tale of dangerous intrigues, deep treachery, and one woman's unshakable resolve to honor her heart.
I really enjoyed the first book in the trilogy. So much so that I gave it to my mother to read, in the hopes that she will one day read something other than Nora Roberts. She had been saying that she read a book by Nora Roberts that wasn't up to par, so I thought maybe she would give this book a try. Me and her rarely ever read the same sort of books. I too enjoyed the first book in the trilogy. In fact, the day after I finished reading it, I went and bought this book, and ordered The Silver Rose. I had good intentions of reading them pretty much straight away but it didn't really happen. By the way....I've enjoyed the Nora Roberts books that I have read!
Anyways, to the review. I think the thing about this book we all have to remember is that it is called "The Courtesan". That betrays what the main character in this book is all about. You see, it is Gabrielle, Ariane from the first books younger sister. Gabrielle has had a rough life. The thing that is essential to who she is at this time in her life is that one "honourable" knight took advantage of her, and Gabrielle has never been able to get over it. If anything, she thinks that it is her fault and she feels the compulsion to take on the scars this man left her with as all she is worthy of. She could annoy me in the first book, but she grows on you in this one, and I actually found myself both wanting to interject to tell her that she's foolish, but I also felt bad for her. She is living in Paris now, a life of a Courtesan. It is not until ghosts from her past make an appearance that she starts to second guess her life. In The Dark Queen, Gabrielle was portrayed as a completely disenchanted character. We knew that Nicholas Remy had fallen for her, but Gabrielle had so many walls built up around her because of her previous bad experience that he was really not allowed to get all that close. Fast forward three years and shift to Paris, and into the French court, and Gabrielle has left behind all that she knows and loves and has become one of the most famous and desired courtesans. Yet behind the glamorous facade, there is a very lonely woman, who is haunted by the ghost of a supposedly dead man - Nicholas Remy. When it is revealed that Nicholas is not in fact dead, but is plotting to get into the French court to try and arrange for his king to escape, it soon becomes clear that Gabrielle and Nicholas are not necessarily on the same side...and yet they are extremely attracted to each other.
I found this novel to have more romance than the first one. I don't even think it was any different, but for some reason it felt like more. Once Gabrielle starts to get her life back on line and give her heart to the man that she loves, they spend a lot of time leading up to and then in bed together. It just seemed like once they made it to the bed, that was a central occurrence for the next little while. The sex scenes are tasteful. For example, there are a few scenes with Ariane and Renard, and we finally learn that he has brown hair - a fact that was left out in the first book, or so most people believe (we had a big discussion about this over at Historical Fiction Forum a while ago!). So, the scenes are not all about the action, like a romance novel, so I didn't find them distasteful, which is always good. I actually wonder whether you are confusing romance with sex? There is definitely a more romantic storyline in this book, and in many ways less of a focus on historical events. In The Dark Queen, one of the key events was the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre, and there are many references back to the events of that day here, but in this book there was more a historical context as opposed to actual historical events. Whilst the sex is there, and there is a section where there is a strong emphasis on the development of the physical relationship between Gabrielle and Nicholas, this is something that was necessary to enable Gabrielle to move on from her emotional and self esteem issues, to go back to finding herself. (Sex and romance are both the same to me. I read books that rarely have any romantic or sexual scenes, so this book had a lot more of everything than I was used to).
A bit more background information. Simon, the witch hunter apprentice from the first novel makes a court approved appearance. It has been prophesied that the Dark Queen's power is waning, and there are moments when she does not seem to have her son the King under her command. Ariane and Renard are married, but Ariane is suffering through some unhappy moments because of her desire to have a child. She also does not like it when her sister runs off, she is protective of her little sisters. Miri follows Gabrielle to Paris in the hopes of keeping her sister safe, and enchants a young boy affectionately called 'the Wolf'. I am hoping we will learn more about him in the third book that centres around Miri. I have made reference in previous posts to the fact that I love a series, so for me it was great to revisit Ariane and Reynard, and the build up is definitely there for Miri's story in The Silver Rose. I do however have one concern for the next book, and that is that I really liked Nicholas's offsider Wolf. It would appear that it is not his fate to end up with Miri, but I really hope that he does get some Happy Ever After.
This is a very engaging novel. I never though I would say it. I didn't like it as much as the first one, but it was still a very worthwhile read. I enjoyed the first book more too, mainly because it was more of an intriguing mix between historical fiction, fantasy and romance. This book was more like straight romance, with a historical context and a bit of magic thrown in. I would say however that this one flowed a bit better. There were the odd occasions during the first book that parts dragged as there was a bit too much infodump. However, on the down side for this book, it felt as though there were a few storylines that were introduced that were either not resolved, or resolved very quickly and conveniently. Maybe this will be resolved during the next book. The thing I have noticed about these books is that I don't feel like you have to read them in order to understand. Susan Carroll does a very good job making each book look more like a stand alone. Whilst I guess you don't HAVE to read the books in order, I would think that it is far more rewarding to do so. For example, if you haven't read The Dark Queen, you would not understand the significance of Simon being the main witch hunter in this book, and then in whatever role he is in in the next book. Even though these books contain more romance than I normally would seek out, I can not wait until I get book 3 from Random House and can see how the story continues. Me and Marg are discussing maybe reading that one together too. We will see how it goes. I am planning to read The Silver Rose pretty soon, but then again, it did take me six months to pick this one up!
Marg's rating: 4/5
Kailana's rating: 4/5