Book Review: Through A Glass Darkly
Through A Glass Darkly provides a rich cast of characters drawn from disparate backgrounds. From the autocratic, but loveable duchess of Tamworth, the heroine's grandmother, to Hyacinthe, the heroine's little black page, the characters are well portrayed and their actions consistent. A brief glimpse of some of the most important ones reveals:
Barbara Alderly, the lovely fifteen-year-old heroine - warm - hearted, but headstrong, determined, resourceful and loyal. She is the one who takes care of her siblings whom her mother “spewed out of her womb” and left them the way a cat does her kittens, according to the Duchess.
Diana - Barbara's mother, just as headstrong and determined to get what she wants - be it money or a man who can bring her money. She is a woman who sacrifices her own daughter to get what she wants.
Roger Devane - the incredibly handsome, charming, but older man with whom Barbara falls madly in love and marries.
Tony - Barbara's cousin, the young duke of Tamworth, hopelessly in love with her.
These are just a few of the many characters in this epic novel. However, this glimpse would not be complete without mention of Barbara's cute pugs, Charlotte and Harry, given to her by her husband early in their marriage, and Dulcinea, the duchess of Tamworth's cat. I think the inclusion of these animals gives a warm and endearing touch to the story.
Why historical romance
For as long as I can remember I have been an avid reader of romance novels. Especially historical romance in which handsome, valiant heroes and beautiful, fragile heroines portray the kind of relationship that few of us ever experience. But in order to keep me engaged, the book must feature more than the passion between the two major characters. A simple boy meets girl, they fall in love, something happens to tear them apart and then they reunite and ride off into the sunset does not do it for me. I want something that I can sink my teeth into; something that will keep me thinking about the story long after I’ve put it down. So when my friend loaned me Through A Glass Darkly, a huge 768-page-paperback by Karleen Koen, I thought here is something I might enjoy. From the picture on the front cover I could tell it was a historical romance, another plus.
The title Through A Glass Darkly is taken from a verse of scripture in the Bible. There are many biblical quotes sprinkled throughout, some spoken by the characters, others as part of the narrative. However, there is nothing puritanical or Christian about the content, dialog and the actions of some characters. There are graphic sex scenes between married and unmarried couples and a sprinkling of off-color language. A far cry from your average Christian romance.
However, I believe the title is a true reflection of the story. All of the major players seem to be looking through a glass darkly – Roger with his dreams of real estate expansion, Barbara, believing she will one day captivate Roger’s heart, and the London nobility with expectations of increasing its wealth through the South Sea stock market. Even the wise, old Duchess gambles with Barbara’s happiness and loses, and in the end nobody gets what they’d hoped and longed for.
Setting: Eighteenth-century London
The story is set in eighteenth century London and France, at a time when material and immoral excesses were the norm, when the upper class beat their servants and spent their days in luxury, while the lower class froze in the streets during winter and either sold their children as slaves or maimed them so they could become beggars.
It is a time when men's hands flew to their swords at the slightest provocation to contest a duel. Amidst all these excesses, comes the South Sea Bubble, a financial venture designed to make the rich richer, but which burst in their faces, leaving many of them holding the bag. The author captures this period in history very well with detailed, vivid descriptions of the English countryside, stately homes and lavish lifestyles.
Pros and cons
In my opinion, the positive aspects of the story are:
Breath-taking love scenes
Convincing historical accounts
Too much grief
Little satisfaction for the reader
My impressions of the story
Arranged marriages are not usually a happy thing for any bride-to-be, but for fifteen-year-old Barbara, who has loved Roger Devane, one of the handsomest and most powerful men in London, for as long as she can remember, it is a dream come true. A dream that turns to ashes when she discovers that Roger has a “deep, dark secret,” which threatens to tear them apart.
And this is where the story fell apart for me. Remember, I love romance. I like seeing the girl get –and keep – her man forever. At risk of giving away the plot, I will tell you that this does not happen. However, that is not the only thing that disappoints me about the book. Karleen Koen is a very skilful writer. Her descriptions of the English countryside and the city of London are unparalleled for their vividness and warmth. Her love scenes will take your breath away – barring the graphic ones – and her characters are expertly developed.
However, I believe she included too much detail about the lesser characters, while giving us some sketchy information about four years of the major characters’ lives. Also, there is way too much grief. I know that historical romance is not usually as cheerful as contemporary romance, but romance readers look for bliss, happy endings, satisfaction. Through A Glass Darkly gives none of this, and so for me it does not satisfy.
Overall, I liked the book, and except for the disappointing ending and the many tragic events, I would recommend it to others. Koen has written a sequel, Now Face To Face, which I hope will tie up the many loose ends she left dangling in the first book.
Do you like your novels to have a happy ending?
Published in 2003, Through A Glass Darkly has had a successful run.
It has sold 130,000 hardcover and 600,000 mass paperback
New York Times bestseller for five consecutive months
A former Book of the Month Club Main Selection