Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Now Face to Face, by Karleen Koen

It is oh so very difficult to trap lightening in a bottle once, let alone twice.  That, in summation, was my impression of Now Face to Face, Karleen Koen’s follow-up to Through a Glass Darkly.  While the first book was a poignant character study, the second lacked the spark that made its predecessor so endearing.  But let’s back up a second here.

Now Face to Face picks up almost exactly where Through a Glass Darkly ends.  Barbara has fled England to avoid the fall out of her husband’s decisions, and she has embarked for new ports.  With her goes Thérèse and Hyacinthe, and she leaves behind her family, friends, and the Hanoverian court.  Life for Barbara is about to become very uncomfortable, but in her indomitable fashion, she rises above and carves out a niche for herself.  Then Koen takes a tangent, and the endearing qualities of the characters are lost.

Rather than being character driven, Now Face to Face is, instead, an overview of the fall-out of the South Sea Bubble, and Walpole’s ministry.  This book is very heavy on the historical research and fact-based plot, and very light on the character development of the first book.  Now, I’m a British Historian; I specialize in Hanoverian Britain; I sub-specialize in the good of Empire and their Companies; and even I found this work to be less than engaging.

Sadly enough, Koen’s masterful writing style is still present and can occasionally be glimpsed behind descriptions of court or parliamentary life.  It makes you want to pick up the book and shake it see if you can shake-loose some of the essence that made the first work so great.  This is no Forever Amber, let’s just put it that way.

So, final verdict?  Read it if you’ve read Through a Glass Darkly.  It is nice to catch up with the characters; just don’t expect to get satisfaction from the continuation of their stories.  (In the case of Hyacinthe, it’s sadly truncated, and even Barbara’s story seems to get short-shrift at the end of it all.)  Don’t, however, complain to me when you don’t enjoy it nearly as much as the first book.  While Koen’s spark and penance are present, she clearly missed hitting the right notes with this work.

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