Through a Glass Darkly

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Unlike most eighteenth century maidens of her class, Barbara Alderley finds herself married to the man of her dreams: the charming and powerful Earl Devane. A scheming monster of a mother, however, manages to make things difficult; as does Lord Devane, who is not entirely what he seems to be.

The glamorous, decadent court circles of the Duc D’Orleans’ regency in France as well as the London of Christopher Wren and Alexander Pope are entertainingly recreated as Barbara’s new life unfolds. Karleen Koen painlessly supplies richly detailed historical background, including John Law’s economic reforms in France and the English South Seas trade speculation, as she uses the violent politics, health epidemics of the age, and the like, to figure in the personal tragedies and triumphs of her characters. Her vast gallery of characters includes an old lioness grandmother, some cynical and witty courtiers and statesmen, and servants with minds of their own. All play a part in Barbara; initiation into a vibrant but sometimes brutal society, her disillusionments, and her eventual maturity. The novel’s grand scope allows character development and personal histories for even the minor characters.

Lively dialogue helps keep this ambitious novel moving along, as does a healthy dose of passion, intrigue, and betrayal. Koen is an imaginative writer who, while adding little originality to the conventions of the historical romance, manages nevertheless to write a charming book with vivid characterizations.