Beware…there are spoilers
I had the good fortune to know Karleen Koen just as she was launching her successful writing career with Through A Glass Darkly, and when I lived in Houston, Texas. I discovered recently that in the more than a decade since I left Houston, she has written a couple more books, and I have just finished reading one of them.
Karleen Koen is a superb storyteller as evidenced, not only by this book, but by whole sequence of books leading to this one. I found Dark Angels such a compelling story that I read it cover to cover in just a few days.
In one sense Dark Angels is the story of three girls – Alice and her friends Barbara and Caro, who were among the ladies in waiting to the queen of England during the period of this story. By the middle of this book Alice has rejected the friendship, first of Caro, who married a man Alice had expected to marry, and then of Barbara, whom Alice thinks made a bad marriage.
At the same time this is a story about love, not just romantic love but spiritual love as reflected in First Corinthians, Chapter 13 of the Bible. Koen has built each of her books around Corinthians, which provides the epigraph for this book as well as for the titles for first two books—taken from Verse 12:
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face…
Every variety of love, both illicit and otherwise, is on display and explored in this book.
Alice is a hard and calculating woman, raised by her father, in the absence of her mother, who died giving birth to Alice. She has no patience for love in marriage, taking her cue from her Aunt, who is most emphatic in asserting that it is a mistake to marry for love. Alice herself is set on arranging a marriage, to an older man, for whom she feels no love, but who can make her a duchess, with all the power she has ever dreamed of.
Ultimately this story describes the resurrection of Alice who has a spiritual awakening about love and forgiveness. When near the end of the book, when she overcomes her distancing from Barbara, to go to her in the midst of her difficult, and ultimately fatal birthing process, she is confronted with forgiveness by Barbara and rejection by Caro. It is this rejection that triggers her transformation, for at the moment Caro rejects her, she collapses, and spends the next couple of weeks flirting with death herself, first by attempted drowning, and then from illness, a total physical collapse.
Simultaneously, through all of this and through observing Barbara’s marriage for love and her friend Richard’s frustrated love for Renee, who becomes the King’s consort, she questions Love, puzzles on it, wonders about it, and then is shocked to find herself in love with Richard.
My one quibble with this great story is Balmoral’s timely death. It is too convenient, too contrived, and too predictable that he dies just as Alice has her realization and knows she wants to marry Richard. The phrase dues ex machina comes to mind.