Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Courtesan by Susan Carroll

I recently mentioned to Rosario that historical romance used to be my favorite romance genre but I have become burned out from all their sameness. I will only read them now if there is something different or special in terms of plot, setting, or characters. The Courtesan is a fabulous book that fits this description perfectly. TC is the second in the sisters of Faire Island trilogy and picks up 3 years after the end of The Dark Queen. Set in Renaissance France in 1575, this book is Gabrielle Cheney's story with prominent appearances by her two sisters, Ariane and Miribelle.

As the story begins, Gabrielle has abandoned her home and her sisters to live in Paris as a courtesan in the royal court. She has recently set her sights on Henry, the Huguenot king of Navarre, who is being held prisoner by Catherine de Medici, known as the dark queen. Life in the royal court is full of intrigue, betrayal and religious politics. Gabrielle is still mourning the loss of Captain Nicholas Remy who was murdered in the St. Bartholomew's Eve bloody massacre three years ago.

Unknown to Gabrielle, Remy has survived, saved by the young thief Martin Le Loup, nicknamed Wolf. Remy has been hiring out his services for the last three years as a mercenary soldier all over Europe in order to earn enough gold to release his king.

All the characters in TC are excellently drawn and three dimensional. I complained about how Catherine de Medici's portrayal in TDQ was a bit over-the-top evil, but in TC she comes across as much more human and realistic, and I almost (but not quite) felt sorry for her. After all, she created her own problems with her abuse of power, manipulations, and black magic. I loved how the secondary stories with Ariane and Renard, and Miri and Simon are not shallow but play an integral part of the whole story.

But the stars of the book, Gabrielle and Remy, are wonderful characters who both felt that their past sins made them damaged goods. It was interesting how Carroll presents the parallel notion of Gabrielle selling her body and Remy selling his services. (Spoiler: The scene where they wash each other before making love for the first time and its symbolism of washing away sins was extremely poignant. And the love scene that follows was beautifully tender and sweet (and hot). ::sigh:: Very romantic. End spoiler)

I laughed a little, cried a little, and I couldn't put it down; all signs that I have a DIK on my hands. The intricate plot was gripping and compelling. I'm a relatively fast reader but on this one I wanted to slow down and savor every word. Gabrielle's past horror and her resulting feelings of self-blame and worthlessness was handled very realistically and not beat into the ground. Wolf, Remy's squire, was an intriguing character and I hope he has his own HEA somehow. Needless to say, I am waiting impatiently for the last book in the series, The Silver Rose, to come out next year in March. (Damn, that's too long from now.)

My Grade: A

The Courtesan stands alone with Gabrielle and Remy's backstory explained well, so don't feel as if you have to go out and read TDQ first. I don't particularly care for witches or magic stories but these subjects were very minor here so I don't consider this book a paranormal at all. The real historical figures that pop in are also secondary to the main characters making TC definitely a romance not historical fiction.


Tara Marie said...

I've probably reached the same point of reading historicals only when there is something exceptionally different about them, which is sad.

I've been waiting to hear your thoughts about The Courtesan. It has to be one of my favorite books this year. I can't wait for the last in the series, March seems like forever. I'd love an ARC of this one.

Kristie (J) said...

Is this one out in PB yet?
BTW, I saw your top 5 book list and my goodness do we have similar tastes!

ReneeW said...

Tara - Yes, this is definitely one of my favorites this year too.

Kristie - No it's not in PB, and mine was checked out from the library. So I need to go out and buy it or put it on my Christmas list.

I saw your top 5 list too and I was thinking the same thing. Isn't it fun to find others with similar tastes? :)

Tara Marie said...

Hey Kristie--both of the Susan Carroll books are out in trade paperbacks, I found my copies in the "fiction" section of B&N.

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