Desert Isle Keeper Review

The Courtesan

Susan Carroll
2005, Renaissance Romance (1570s France)
Ballantine, $13.95, 560 pages, Amazon ASIN 0345437977
Part of a series

Grade: A-
Sensuality: Warm

I turned the last of the 560 pages in the second book of Susan Carroll’s “sweeping” historical trilogy and heaved a big sigh of pleasure. Finally! I thought. Then I debated whether to go back to the beginning and start all over again. I was tempted, but didn’t do it - not right that minute anyway. I did take the very next opportunity available to buy the first in the trilogy and start reading. You know the symptoms; there’s nothing like reading a truly engrossing and intriguing book.

The Courtesan of the title is Gabrielle Cheney. She is the younger sister of Ariane, Lady of the Faire Isle (The Dark Queen) and rumored to be a witch. Gabrielle has been consort of some of the most influential men in the French court and her ambition is to become the second most powerful woman in the country. She has set her sights on Henry, the Huguenot King of Navarre who is held hostage by Catherine de Medici.

Standing in the way of Gabrielle’s ambition is Captain Nicholas Remy. Long a loyal soldier in Navarre’s army, he is determined to free his King from Catherine de Medici’s evil clutches. To that end, Remy must reconnect with the one woman he hoped to never meet again, Gabrielle. Avoiding Gabrielle is not an option; he’ll need to use her contacts and ambitions to achieve his goals. The difficulty lies in keeping himself from falling even more deeply, and hopelessly, in love with Gabrielle.

Needless to say, Gabrielle and Remy know each other. While Gabrielle still lived on Faire Isle with her sisters, Captain Remy came to the island as a fugitive on the run from Catherine de Medici and her anti-Protestant forces. Healed by the sisters, Remy returned to his work as a soldier. Though many thought he was killed in the St. Bartholomew’s Eve massacre, Remy was saved by a wily youth named Martin. Remy’s return and reappearance in Gabrielle’s life arouses mixed emotions (to say the least) in Gabrielle. The challenges facing Gabrielle and Remy emotionally are only a part of Ms. Carroll’s grand plotting.

From beginning to end I loved Gabrielle and Remy’s complicated relationship. Their shared past made their troubled present all the more interesting. Yes, they have feelings for each other. But they have lives too. Messy, painful, tricky lives. And none of that is going away because they’re in love. In many cases an author will hook me with the interesting job their heroine does or the intriguing life they live and then drop it as soon as the romance begins. How many suffragettes have we read who forget all about their protests the minute they fall for the guy (I could name three right now)? And it’s not just heroines. Once the romance is center stage, pretty much everything else falls by the wayside. And that’s what I’ve been missing – until now.

This novel is almost 600 pages long and includes court intrigue, witchcraft, potential war, religious persecution and yes, a romance. Given all that, I would not have been surprised if it had bogged down at some point, but it never did. Ms. Carroll managed the various story threads with skill and grace. I read this in a night, unable to put it down. Though the plot and setting made this read more like straight historical fiction (with the very slightest touch of the paranormal), the author never forgot the romance. I was intellectually intrigued and emotionally satisfied right through the slightly over-the-top climax. Not many books can do that.

Susan Carroll is an author who wrote several very good books and disappeared from the publishing world between 2001 and 2004 - a seeming eternity in romance publishing. But I’ll certainly be putting her back on my autobuy list and waiting eagerly for the third in this trilogy.

-- Jane Jorgenson

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