Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Dark Queen - Susan Carroll [July/06]

This is the first novel in the Cheney sisters trilogy. I have had it for a while because it was the Book of the Month for the Historical Fiction Forums that I belong to a couple months ago. I just went through this period where I was tired of reading historical fiction novels and tried other genres instead. This week at least has marked a return to one of my favourite genres.

From the back of the book:

From Britany's mist shores to the decadent splendor of Paris's royal court, one woman must fulfill her destiny while facing the treacherous designs of Catherine de Medici, The Dark Queen. She is Ariane, the Lady of Faire Isle, and of the Cheney sisters, renowed for their mystical skills and for keeping the isle secure and prosperous. But this is a time when women of ability are deemed sorceresses, when Renaissance France is torn by ruthless political intrigues, and all are held in thrall to the sinister ambitions of Queen Catherine de Medici. Then a wounded stranger arrives on Faire Isle, bearing a secret the Dark Queen will do everything in her power to posess. The only person Ariane can turn to is the comte de Renard, a nobleman with fiery determination and a past as mysterious as his own unusual gifts. Riveting, vibrant and breathtaking, The Dark Queen follows Ariane and Renard as they risk everything to prevent the fulfillent of a dreadful prophecy - even if they must tempt fate and their own passions.

I think this is the best historical fiction novel I have read so far this year! It was really well-written and I could not put it down! We went to festivities for Canada Day and I found myself carrying this book around and instead of watching the concert, I tuned in to see how things were progressing for Ariane and Renard. (I did see The Stampeders, though. They are from outwest. My parents have all their albums, so they were one of those bands I heard over and over again when I was a child. It was more a childhood delight than any real desire to hear them, but it is fun to know all the songs.)

So, the trilogy will eventually cover all three sisters. Ariane is the eldest, and when her mother died she inherited the title of Lady of Faire Isle. The island that they call home. Her responsibilities are to healing the ill and keeping her people safe from danger. It is one of the few places at the time that women can own their own businesses and inherit when their menfolk die. There is even a statue of her mother, Evangeline Cheney, in the town square to represent all the strong women that came before and will continue into the future. Her mother had only died two years before the novel starts, and Ariane is still dealing with her new responsibilities. If the Island folk were not enough, she is also responsible for her sisters: Gabrielle and Miri. Her father went out on a voyage and as of yet has not returned, so the sisters have to fend for themselves.

Then enter Renard. Can I say, I am not a big romance novel reader, but can't help appreciating good male characters. For one, it is just nice to picture him, even if the men are not your type, they always have this characteristic to them that has you entranced and wishing that your guy would just do this like the men in the novels. But hey, always fun to dream. Renard is an appealing character. He is the stereotypical perfect looking male, or, at least you want him to be. That is all I am going to say on romance in novels. Sometimes it is just a nice thing to read about, but only when books have more going on than sex scenes.

Anyways, Renard has inherited the position of comte de Renard. A law-abiding position from his deceased grandfather. His real name is Justice, which is sort of corny as he is always riding around saving Ariane when she gets into trouble, but not everything can be perfect. He meets Ariane when he becomes lost on his own estate (men and their crappy sense of direction, huh) and stumbles upon her. Her father's estate on the mainland borders his, so they begin their acquaintance as neighbours. Renard also begins the novel as cocky. He sends a carriage for Ariane because he just assumes she will be willing to marry him. It doesn't really turn out the way that he pictures it will, of course.

When Ariane scorns his advances, Renard decides to take matters into his own hands by giving her a ring. There is magic in this novel, as any strong woman is accused of being a witch, but these rings do seem to have some power to them. When Ariane is in trouble she can put the ring over her heart and Renard will hear her call and come for her. Of course, Renard is determined to have her hand in marriage, so he makes it that if she uses the ring three times, she has to marry him. Something that does not appeal to Ariane, but she holds onto the rings anyways. And for good cause, as witch hunters come calling and her family finds themself trapped in the middle of it.

When Renard saves Ariane for the first time, their story together begins. A wonderful story at that. Ariane is not your typical Renaissance lady and she does not give into Renard, which makes the novel more appealing. If she had not fought him, the book would have lost its interest. Then, there are the other two sisters. Gabrielle who was raped by a man she thought was more worthy and is still feeling some hatred toward the male sex and Miri who is kind-hearted and has a way with animals.

I strongly recommend this book, I can not wait to read The Courtesan or The Silver Rose. If all goes well, I will be reading both with Marg. Then we can do a buddy review like we did for J. D. Robb. You can read her review of The Dark Queen here.


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