Hi kids. I’m about to spoil everything in here like woah. But considering the fact that both books are at least fourteen years old, I think you’ll get over it.
Karleen Koen, Through a Glass Darkly and Now Face to Face
I’m not going to lie to y’all: I enjoyed the ever-loving shit out of Through a Glass Darkly. The writing was rather uneven, especially in the first hundred pages or so, and if I had taken a shot every time the heroine tossed her head or stuck out her chin, I would have died of alcohol poisoning, but oh! Rapture! This one stars Barbara, the granddaughter of a duke and the daughter of a disgraced Jacobite earl, who must marry well in order to repair the family fortunes! Her wicked mother, Diana, is pushing her toward the Earl of Devane, but Barbara doesn’t mind, for she has loved him ever since she was a child!
I should probably mention at this point that Barbara is fifteen. And that the earl is in his forties.
It takes Barbara like, a third of the book to land her elderly earl, and once she does, there are sekrits! And intrigue! And lots of French sex, which is different from English sex in that it usually involves more simultaneous partners!
Oh, and spoiler, the earl is totally bi and TOTALLY cheating on Barbara with a man. And yes, the earl does die. Don’t all non-heterosexual men die at the end of books? Isn’t it like, a rule?
Anyway, this book was disturbing as shit on a number of levels, not the least because when Koen has characters refer to Barbara as a child, THEY ARE MERELY SPEAKING THE LITERAL TRUTH. Ew. Most of the action takes place before her sixteenth birthday, no joke. Also, Barbara’s husband buys her a five-year-old male slave and she is SO TAKEN BY THAT. Especially since he buys her two puppies at the same time, so it’s like, a triple dose of cute!
Oh, and on at least one occasion, Koen gives us a description of the end of an orgy, in which a bunch of serving men come in to clean and get everyone out of there. And since there are all these pretty ladies passed out, and they’ll never know any different, the serving men rape them in their sleep. Except Koen doesn’t call it “rape.” She refers to it as “making love to.”
You can’t “make love to” someone who’s unconscious and doesn’t even know who you are. Call a spade a spade, Koen. That’s rape.
So why did I like this? It’s hard to explain (or justify). It was just so…soapy. And dishy. I’m only human, guys. I’m only human!
Surprisingly enough, the sequel (Now Face to Face) is even MORE WRONG. How did she manage that? How? How is that even possible?
She sent Barbara to Virginia.
Guys, don’t get me wrong: colonial North America was a very interesting place. Extremely unjust, but very interesting. And yet writers always manage to render it unbelievably boring, because they concentrate on the upper classes, and let me put this in no uncertain terms: the upper classes were dull. They did nothing but count their acres, beat their slaves, and impregnate the Englishwomenn sent over for housebreaking. When they weren’t also impregnating their slaves. The interesting parts of colonial history are the messy parts, the parts where slave and free and Native American and colonial come together and mix and mingle and yes, fight, all on equal or relatively equal terms. This is why everyone is still so fascinated by the story of Mary Jemison. And yet, authors almost never focus on this. Instead, they have their upper class heroes and heroines free their slaves and they depict those slaves as childlike and inscrutable and otherwise not quite human. Which is exactly where Koen took it.
Don’t get me wrong: I’ve seen worse depictions of slavery. I mean, I’ve read Gone with the Wind, and this doesn’t even come CLOSE to that horror. But…ugh. Koen didn’t need to go there, and it made the book so awful that I couldn’t even read it. I just skimmed to the end to see if Barbara got with the guy I wanted her to get with. Newsflash: she didn’t. So in conclusion, a thoroughly unsatisfactory and offensive experience.
Recommended for: Through a Glass Darkly is actually quite entertaining, but I think we should all agree to pretend that Now Face to Face never, ever happened. EVER.