The Restoration begs for a new drinking game: Players must drink a flagon of ale every time a bodacious bodiced bosom heaves.
Koen’s prequel to Through a Glass Darkly (1986) finds young Alice Verney smarting: In all that rough-and-tumble intrigue, Catholic plotting and international frou-fra, there’s nary a place for her long-suffering, deeply loyal and most excellent sire. There’s but one thing to do: weave webs while serving as a maid of honor. It’s an odd place, Charles II’s main digs, but then it’s a time when the little things titillate (“For a moment, her stockings showed, and they were the same green as the princess’s. It was shocking and exciting”). As in any fairy tale, there’s a handsome prince and a wrinkled toad; the knowing reader will guess which one commands the early lead, and which commands Alice’s affections. Still, Alice is well aware of what side of the bread her butter has landed on. Meanwhile, Charles hooks up with foul Frenchies so as to go walloping on the dastardly Dutch, who keep sailing up the Thames to burn things just to remind the English that the sun has other empires on which not to set. Against a backdrop of war and whispers, Alice seeks a deal for dear old dad, striking bargains while warning one prospective husband of the good and bad. “You believe you ally yourself with a rogue,” she says. “You do, but a useful one.” There’s no villainous, murderous air in these pages. Indeed, Koen’s tale unfolds at a pace so leisurely that any drama sounds like a thunderclap.
Those seeking explosions and the period equivalent of car chases—and, yes, those bosoms—are advised to look elsewhere.