105 of 108 people found the following review helpful
The strange, obscure sounding title of "Through A Glass Darkly" refers to the lenses through which people see things, the expectations and emotions that color all our reactions and feelings relating to the people around us. The book is full of disappointing things happening to people because they saw "through a glass darkly" instead of seeing things for what they really are.
The books' main character is fifteen year old Barbra Alderly, who is sold in marriage at the beginning of the book to forty six year old Roger Devane, who wants to develop the massive and well placed land given to her as a dowry. This isn't a problem for Barbra whose been in love with Roger ever since she can remember and thinks she can make him love her, but Roger has no thoughts at all for his young bride, and he has a skeleton in the closet that will threaten all of their happiness.
Set against the lush backdrop of early eighteenth century England and France this book is a visual feast. Ms. Koen is so adept at describing scenery, food and fabrics it's hard to remember that you're even reading a book. Her way of allowing the characters thoughts to roam across the page as real thoughts do is most impressive, I'd never seen train of thought used more effectively in a novel. But still, the book has its faults.
All the characters, from young, rash and beautiful Barbra to her domineering and grouchy loveable grandmother see, a little too typical at first. They seem to be cast from molds when we first meet them, and only gradually through the book do they become non-stereotypes. Roger is probably the best example of this. It's a pleasant surprise to see such a skilled evolution of character and to realize that the characters really don't fit the molds our culture oriented minds readily cast them in.
This book is charming, beautiful written, and so sad its heart breaking. The illusions people cast for themselves over the course of the book will frustrate you, and make you want to yell at them to see the truth. It's what makes this novel so good, and so compelling. I'd recommend it to anyone. It's not only an example of great historical fiction; it's just a good book. My only problem with this book is that there is a couple of missing years that are eluded to but never explained in detail.
For further reading track down the sequel, Now Face to Face: A Novel and the prequel which explores Barbara's grandmother's young life Dark Angels: A Novel.
72 of 73 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2000
...it is a terrific love story, really a bunch of love stories, all poignant. The relationship between Barbara and her grandmother is beautiful, the relationship between Barbara and her husband, DeVane, is tragic. Someone else called this the story of a dysfunctional family---that was an understatement! Set against the intrigues of the French court in the early 1700's and the South Sea Bubble venture, this is the story of a headstrong young woman who's determined to marry a man clearly not right for her, a man whose romantic and sexual past will come back to haunt the girl he marries. Koen pulls no punches. People die, children become ill, fortunes disappear, lives are ruined, love affairs turn out badly, but the wonderful Barbara will get through it all and emerge a stronger, better woman. Get out your handkerchiefs! The biggest problem I have with Karleen Koen's great big terrific historical novels is that she writes so few of them. She can give the more prolific Diana Gabaldon a good run for her money!
46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 1997
On the surface, Karleen Koen's books may appear to be nothing more than historical romance fluff. You know, the typical muscle-clad hero meets independent but distressed damsel; the two parry and thrust (if you will excuse the phrase) and then, finally, succumb to the throes of passion. Natuarally, this all occurs in some exotic, historical loacle. Koen's books have the fluffy exterior but the interior is much,much meatier than any historical romance I have ever read.
"Through a Glass Darkly" is set in 18th century England and France. The main character, or heroine, is a young girl in love with an older, fatherly type gentleman. As is the case with most young , headstrong girls, the heroine's passions rule her actions and cloud her judgement. After marrying the man of her dreams, she learns the shocking and devestating truth about his character. Because I hold this book in such I high esteem, and because I would like you to enjoy it as heartily as I did, I will not divulge any more of the plot. I will say that there are more turns and twists in this novel, and the sequel "Now Face To Face," than the most harrowing and breathtaking of rollercoaster rides! As trite as it may sound, expect the unexpected in these books. The hero and heroine's are not nearly as pretty, the locales not nearly as exotic. Nevertheless, there is more substance to this book than any fluffy Harelequin.
If you love history, and Koen loads her books with fascinating historical anecdotes and trivia, then you will love these books. However, if you are looking for the formulaic boy meets girl and lives happily ever after in fairyland, don't even consider these books. The characters are colorful, diabolical, interesting, and admirable...far from formulaic.
Happy Reading. Let me know what you think
89 of 104 people found the following review helpful
on July 19, 2008
Having debated long on it, I decided to rate this book purely by its story and not by the author's research (which is extensive and I salute her for it - but I could get that from history books.)
I cannot recall ever coming away from a book with a worse feeling in the pit of my stomach and with so much rage at the author. Not because of the tragedies heaped on the characters. I did not expect a fluffy ending tied with a pink bow. What I expected was a modicum of respect for me as a reader.
My main reason for hating it so much is this: All the set-ups were empty promises! The author had no idea how wrap things up. I felt she was terrified of confrontations. Because nothing gets resolved. All the fantastic threads of Part A become a tangled mess in Part B and the end was another big set-up that screamed of "Go buy the sequel!"
I know it is hard to believe my critique after so many reviewers raved about this book. The thing is, I totally understand why - the book is wonderfully written but it should come with a big warning tag that says: MAJOR FRUSTRATION AHEAD!
Here are the things that killed the book for me:
1. The big problem with the main characters - never resolved (and the author went to great length to do that, like making the husband so sick he could not talk and explain. And of course in his letter he said, "This is not something to be discussed in a letter." Arggg...)
2. The long list of sub-characters with their endless thoughts - not important in the end. You can skip them - trust me! Especially that boring Jane character.
3. The counter-hero the author developed throughout the book - gets nothing. Goes to waste. So why did the author tell us about him anyway?
4. The heroine, Bab, changes abruptly from the person I rooted for and felt for to something unrecognizable and unbelievable. From a misguided teenagers who insists on marrying the wrong man, she becomes her grandmother's pawn, because having lost faith in her own judgment (and if you read the book you will understand why), she totally loses control over her life, her wants, her dreams for the future. I felt that Bab just lost it at some point. She gave up (at 20!) She didn't know what to do with herself and so handed the reins to her grandmother and did what the old woman said, which was basically to run away like a ditz. Another unbelievable twist since the grandma Alice had a wonderful life in which she was a queen in control. Bab began as a sweet, spirited girl, and ended as a too-stupid-to-live mess of a woman. Did I say a total ditz?
5. The slap-in-my face jump from the second before the great climax of the story to years ahead was just rude. That really pissed me off.
I kept reading, hoping for resolutions - and never got them. The author pours research into the book as if the pages are vessels for repetitive descriptive details (how many times do I need to read about all the powders and rouges on the vanity table? of the flowers? the clouds? the furniture? the trees? the holidays season?) I could get a magazine for that. When i buy a book i want a story with characters that DO THINGS and take charge of the pages.
It felt as though two different people wrote the book: the good Dr. Jekyll wrote Part A and the crazed Mr. Hyde wrote Part B. The good build-up totally disintegrated in the end.
This is not good literature. I don't care what people say. Look up Aristotle's POETICS and find out why. This book was worse than bad - it insulted my intelligence.
Having read DARK ANGELS and raved about it with my review, I immediately bought the next 2 books in the series. Having read this book, I threw the 3rd - a brand new book - into my trash can without a second thought. I am not treating myself to more abuse from this author.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2011
It's not often I don't finish a book, if the book starts off on the wrong foot, I usually stick with it until the end in the hopes it gets better, and also for the benefit of the doubt. Not with this book, it promptly went into my "started but not finished" file on my Kindle. I could not finish it, no matter how much I wanted to. From all of the reviews, I expected it to be good and couldn't wait to dive into it. I tried, really, I did try to like it, but after a while I found myself to be getting very annoyed, aggravated and exasperated. To start, the writing style is not the greatest, I became very annoyed with the numerous two word sentences....I did! I do! I will! Also, the characters babbled on endlessly, I found myself skimming and skipping a lot of parts. Detail is great in a book, it can draw a reader in to the character's world, but here, detail was used too much, too often and repetitively, it's like, Okay, I get it!! To say the least, I was very disappointed with this book.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 2008
Overall review: Lavishly detailed but quick-paced early Georgian-era historical fiction in the tradition of Kathleen Winsor or Anya Seton, but including some of the same clumsy styling and lapses in writing craft as those authors. A disappointment to those who hope for a historical romance novel, but worth at least a read for those who do not.
GENRE: Although I recognize that literary genres are artificial marketing devices used by publishers, genres do play by their own rules, and clarifying genre will clear obstacles to your enjoyment of this book. A romance is at its core a book whose main plot thrust is the [ultimately monogamous, male-female] love relationship of one or more sets of lovers, which ends in a betrothal or the promise of long-term happiness. Without this crucial ingredient, there is no romance novel, even if there exist many of the incidental "trappings" common to many romances (e.g. a forced marriage; social obstacles to love; "the Other Woman"). Pride & Prejudice is a quintessential romance novel; Gone With the Wind and Through a Glass Darkly are not historical romances, but historical fiction. The best (popular, non-scholarly) exploration of this subject by a scholar is Pamela Regis' _A Natural History of the Romance Novel_.
PLOT: The protagonist is a 15-year old noblewoman in Hanoverian/early Georgian England who uses land in her dowry to entice into marriage the 42-year old object of her infatuation. Her marriage takes a nosedive and she finds herself mired in several social, emotional, and political intrigues. We are given a front-seat view of life in both the English and French courts, emphasis on the French, with all their sexual and financial indulgence and moral lassitude.
1. Engaging, memorable characters. You will probably remember and be amused for some time to come by the imperial Duchess, scheming Diana, and nosy Abigail.
2. Good use of historical detail. Although there is not great emphasis on actual historical events (wars; coups, etc.), there is liberal and interesting use of the culinary, mortuary, sartorial, sexual, marital and other customs of the age. One of the characters has a "secret" that was much commoner in the Georgian era than many today are aware; the fact that Koen uses this as a plot device is worthwhile, though her handling of it is not necessarily so (see below).
3. Multi-generational emphasis of the "mini-series "sort that gives heft and drama to novels.
4. Interesting inter-weaving of the major literary influences of the time, from the King James Bible to Shakespeare to Alexander Pope.
5. A plot premise (see above) that is sound, and the ability to hold one's attention through many plot twists and turns, often through the use of emotional trauma (i.e. deaths).
NEGATIVES (You guessed it was coming).
1. Characterization of Protagonist. Barbara as spirited child is well-developed, but Koen does not effectively bridge the gap between the different stages of her development. The leaps from excited, naïve bride to disillusioned lady about town to survivor of multiple traumas are disjointed and unconvincing. We never really get a handle on Barbara the woman, or her motivations behind her sometimes shocking reactions to her marital problems. And, most importantly, we never learn WHY she is still in love with Roger, after all he has put her through. If anything, we are given evidence of a deep connection with Charles Russel, Tony, and others whom the reader speculates would be better with Bab. In short, if you asked me to explain the character of Babara Alderly, I could only cite her early years with any confidence; everything post-Roger would be referred to as "a put-upon woman who asserts herself in ineffective ways and who doesn't know what she wants."
2. Characterization of Love Interest. Roger is an unfathomable character. We are told--not shown!-- he is charming and loving toward Barbara, but the majority of his actions indicate the opposite. He makes inscrutable decisions--such as how he lives after the falling-out with Bab--that Koen never explains. The telling instead of showing is a big detraction and indicative of the fact that this was Koen's first novel.
3. Inept Time Shift. The single biggest flaw is the way in which the aftermath of Roger and Bab's falling-out is handled. The jump in time from the exact moment of Bab's discovery to a time 4 or 5 years later in which several new characters are lobbed at us is disorienting in the extreme. Plus, it deprives the reader of experiencing first-hand poor Bab's emotions, Roger's reactions to them, etc. Again, telling, not showing.
4. The "Secret" is mishandled. Many people in this class echelon would have been familiar with the symptoms and mere general fact of it, yet Koen's are taken by surprise or totally oblivious. White and Diana, for e.g., would almost certainly have suspected and known of the possibility. Next, we are given to believe that another character's love is so great that the secret, while disturbing to this character, does not really actively bother or disgust or hurt or haunt him/her, and is even incidental to a later expectation of happiness. Finally, we never get what we really want--a satisfactory, detailed explanation and apology from the character whose secret is exposed.
5.Style and Technique. The [heavy] use of interior monologue needed major work. Koen is fond of alternating, minus quotes or italics, rapid-fire mental musings with fragments of famous poetry or Bible passages. The result is stream of consciousness on steroids. Next up, Koen often employs the hackneyed phraseology and dialogue tags of some less skillful writers . Finally, she writes large chunks of exposition and historical detail that are not worked into the plot or dialogue; they just sit there.
6. Loose Ends. There are too many to count. The entire character of Jane could have been excised, because we are certainly given no lasting impression of what her character has contributed to the other characters or plotline. One character has a 3-page scene describing his wish to rape another character; despite the heavy foreshadowing, no assault is forthcoming. Roger never explains himself or his behavior during or after the falling-out. Tony--who by the end of the novel has shaped up to be an interesting character--is snatched out from under us in a manner that screams "sequel." The list goes on.
*** 3 Stars to indicate it interested/entertained me, but the problems above would likely keep me from investing in a copy.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2000
Seven years ago, when I was fourteen years old, I picked up this novel and absolutely fell in love with it. The style and detail of each character made the reader care not only about Barabara's fate but everyone as well. As an aspiring writer myself, I understand the importance of establishing a strong connection between the reader and the characters. This in effect allows there to be a level of suspense which carries the reader from beginning to end. The ability to create that sort of relationship is not an easy task. If you are unfamiliar with Koen's work, Through A Glass Darkly is the perfect introduction. She takes the time for you to understand the main characters and let's the drama unfold for itself. This is not merely a romance, but an interesting historical critique which revolves around the dynamics of a very dysfuntional family. Overall, I have always considered Karleen Koen to be an amazing author because she has taken the time and effort to polish her craft. The only disappointment is the little amount of information known about her, and the small number of novels published. To my knowledge,I have read all the books she has published thus far:Through A Glass Darkly & Now Face to Face. If there are any other publications of her work I eagerly await to read them.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
"When I was a child I spake as a child. I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I become a man I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face"
Through a Glass Darkly is the second in a three book series set in Georgian England. Barbara is the granddaughter of the Duke and Duchess of Tamworth and she and her younger siblings were raised by their grandparents instead of their parents Kit and Diana Alderley. Kit is an exiled Jacobite involved in the plots to put James III on the throne and Diana is a scheming slut desperate to wed Diana off to a wealthy man to save her from her creditors. Diana is negotiating with the much older but very wealthy Roger Montgeoffry, Earl Devane, and Barbara is thrilled as she'd always loved Roger from afar - although Diana's insatiable greed might bring those talks to a screeching halt.
The path to true love and married bliss is never easy, especially when you have a family as complicated and double dealing as the Barbara's, and it is way too complex to try and explain - just sit back and enjoy the fun. Roger eventually takes his new wife and business to Paris and an innocent Barbara soon gets quite an education in the debauched lifestyle of the French court and its courtiers. Eventually someone from Roger's past returns that thoroughly upsets Barbara's marital applecart and sends her life spinning out of control, and only Grandmamma can set it to rights. Or can she?
And that's all I'm going to tell you - I don't write book reports. This is the second time I've read the book and I enjoyed it just as much as the first. While I enjoyed all of the family's antics, I most especially adored Grandmamma and her cats, as well as Barbara's very smutty mother who steals every scene she's in. I loved watching Barbara mature from a young innocent (you will want to slap her a few times) to a mature woman who could take just about anything life threw her way - and life throws her a lot of heartache. It broke my heart watching Tony's unrequited love for Barbara, and as for Philippe? Grrrrrr.
This is a book to be savored, like a box of fine chocolate or a rich red wine. Highly recommended, and one I will read again and again and again. The first book in the series is Dark Angels and the last is Now Face to Face. I recommend reading Dark Angels last after you have come to know and love the old Duchess, then go back and read Alice and Richard's story.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Not since Gone With The Wind, The Count Of Monte Cristo, and The Far Pavilions have I read through a thick epic so quickly. The sheer, rich luxury of Koen's writing left me deeply involved in the characters and their lives, breathless with their intrigues, charmed by their goodness and appalled at their cruelty.
Lush, sweeping, magnificent, grand, sad, tragic, poetic, risqué, all of these words apply to 'Through A Glass Darkly'. Set in England and France in the 1700's, we move languidly through wealth, financial downfalls, boom markets and crashing markets, clandestine and overt love affairs, depravity in the elegant mansions, endearing love, tragedy in illness and death, true friends and schemers, loyalty and betrayal. The major character of the epic is Barbara Alderly, granddaughter to the powerful dowager Duchess Of Tamworth. Barbara's mother, the Vicountess Diana Alderly, is still stunningly beautiful even after birthing eleven children to her now estranged husband Kit, seven of whom still lived in Tamworth while Diana freely roamed London.
Diana, a very un-motherly woman, has found herself in debt and is attempting to arrange a marriage for fifteen-year-old Barbara to the handsome, forty-two year old Earl of Devane, Roger Montgeoffrey. Both Duchess and Diana are shocked to discover that Barbara is delighted, she has loved Roger Montgeoffrey for years, since he served under her grandfather in the war.
Barbara follows Diana to London, where Diana begins to play Roger against her widowed sister-in-law Lady Abigail Saylor for a valuable piece of property in London called Bentwoodes, Barbara's dowry. Diana knows Bentwoodes is the only reason the Earl of Devane will marry Barbara, but needs money more than the match.
Intrigues and backstabbings abound until the distraught Barbara makes some mistakes and writes to her grandmother to help her right her wrongs. In doing so, the elderly Alice, Duchess of Tamworth, brings her power and influence to London, seeing to it that her beloved granddaughter receives what she so wishes for, Roger Montgeoffry. Abigail's son, the next Duke of Tamworth, stumbling and bumbling Tony, also falls in love with his pert cousin Barbara.
The book is divided into two parts, Barbara's innocence and Barbara's awakening to the hardships and cruelties that life brings with maturity. The many players in this cast of exquisitely painted characters, Barbara, Roger, Diana, the Duchess and her tirewoman Annie, Prince Philippe, Caesar White, Francis Montrose, Tommy Carlyle, future Duke Tony Saylor, Barbara's older brother Harry, Lady Abigail Saylor, Barbara's childhood friend Jane, Barbara's great aunts, maids and servants and pets, each play an intricate role in the saga of Barbara and the Tamworth estates and family.
'Through A Glass Darkly' is such a rich epic that it will appeal to a broad audience, it's not just another historical romance or a boring account of flagrant Paris in the 1700's. With fully fleshed characters and a descriptive prose that leaves you smelling the flowers, tasting the food, and feeling the rich fabrics on your skin, Koen's novel is not one that you will soon forget. Definitely worth a 'buy'. Enjoy!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 25, 2007
A thoroughly riveting historical drama, Through A Glass Darkly drew me in slowly, I must admit, but before I knew it, I was wholly engrossed! I positively devoured the story, even as I tried to slow myself down to savor its various rich and frothy delights. Its backdrop of early Georgian England is a deep canvas painted with a master hand, which deftly positions the reader right there in the crowded ornate rooms or the fragrant apple orchard, with the winds of the 18th century in your ears.
The characters are so expertly presented you begin to feel as if you really love them, and I for one carried them in my thoughts well after I had finished reading. I don't need to go into the plot, since other reviewers have done so well. I only want to add my voice to the chorus of cheers for this truly remarkable, even, for me, *life changing* book!
A Bit About The Order Of The Three ConnecTed Novels
I have read the complete saga with real passion, including Dark Angels and Now Face to Face. I must admit I read them "out of order", at least, out of order of publication. I read TAGD first, then Dark Angels, and Now Face to Face last. I am now reading TAGD again, and I think I will pick up Dark Angels again next. If anyone is curious abut the order in which the books are best read, I would say as long as you don't read Now Face to Face first, you'll be fine.
A Bit About My Class With The Author
A few months ago I casually inspected the "About the author" on the back flap and my jaw dropped to see that Karleen Koen lives here in Houston. Well, I immediately contacted her through her publisher, and she emailed me back less than a week later, giving me her phone number and offering to meet to talk about her research. I am an amateur historian, and I am truly curious as to how historical fiction authors learn enough about a era to write about it with confidence, let alone really send the reader back in time. And Karleen truly has a gift for time travel.
She is also a funny, kind, down-to-earth, fascinating woman. To read her books again, knowing the woman who created these vivid characters and stories, makes for a much richer, more thought-provoking experience.
I cannot say enough abut Karleen Koen or her books. Brilliant.