Title: The Dark Queen
Author: Susan Carroll
Review Summary: I wasn’t sure I liked this book at first – as a historical romance, with more sex and a more serious plot than the “chick flick” style romances I occasionally I read, it was a little outside my comfort zone. But I ended up loving it and the other four books in the series enough that I would definitely read more books like them, partly for the great plot and partly because I’m a sucker for a happy ending 🙂
During the late 16th century in Renaissance France, Ariane Cheney, a daughter of the earth and lady of the faire isle, is duty bound to prevent the misuse of power by other daughters of the earth. Although the true witches are those she defends against, she also faces the superstitious minds of the time, some of whom would brand her a witch as well. When a stranger arrives seeking Ariane’s help against the dark queen, Catherine di Medici, even the strong Ariane needs some help. She has no one to ask but the Comte de Renard, although she hesitates to do so because of both their mutual attraction and her uncertainty his intentions are as straightforward as he would have her believe.
Both the description and the intro to the book had me a little worried that this would be a book where the helpless damsel needs the handsome count’s help and then swoons all over him, so let me assure you – this isn’t that sort of book. Although Ariane occasionally needs the count’s help, it’s never a because she’s weaker than he is. She only calls on him to help others and often he’s only able to do what she cannot because he’s fortunate enough to have men-at-arms to call on. She does do a bit of swooning, but never so the count would know it. Both Ariane and the count are clearly strong, stubborn people and a nice, even match for each other.
The sex scenes are definitely R rated, but only because they’re explicit – nothing kinky. There isn’t an emphasis on having sex after your married, but this book and the rest of the series do clearly connect sex with love. While this might still be too scandalous for the more puritanical among us and too uptight for the more promiscuous, I found it just right for the plot. It made the sex an integral part of the plot because the sexual tension has to connect to increasing romantic attraction which comes from shared experiences and adversity (ie the plot). Personally, my own morals don’t really enter into it when I’m judging a plot, so the only time I hate sex in a novel is when it’s clearly gratuitous (George R. R. Martin, I’m looking at you). That wasn’t the case here.
The plot and the writing are good enough that I’m having a hard time identifying precisely why I loved them, but here’s my best attempt. The plot was fast paced. Despite the romantic focus of the book, there were lots of action scenes too. Something exciting was always going on. The idea for the world wasn’t entirely novel, but something which set it apart for me was the science underlying the magic of the daughters of the earth. I really liked that modern medical knowledge, for instance, could look like magic to most people at the time. Some of the magic wasn’t completely explicable by today’s science, so it wasn’t an entirely self-consistent world, but enough of an explanation was hinted at that I was happy with it. I liked Ariane as a protagonist, because she has a strong sense of duty and is willing to do a lot to protect those who depend on her. And the Comte grew on me as we got more snippets from his perspective and as Ariane got to know him better. While he did have some believable character flaws (as does Ariane), he was at heart a likable guy and not at all as chauvinistic as I was afraid he might be after the first few chapters. And the plot itself was unique, as were the plots of the other four books in the series. All five books were of a very similar style, but had different enough plots that they’re all definitely worth reading. So if you like romances with steamy sex but want a great plot and fun historical context instead of a lighter chick-lit novel, this is definitely a book series for you.