Carroll’s latest romance (The Bride Finder, 1998, etc.) fulfills the generic rules in pedestrian fashion, swinging back to a time of witchery in France on the eve of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.
Carroll tones down the complicated Protestant-Catholic conflict against which her fable of the highborn Cheney sisters is set. In 1572, eldest sister Ariane is “the Lady of Faire Isle” and leader of the island’s “Daughters of the Earth,” otherwise known as witches. The girls’ mother, a famous healer, died of a broken heart when her husband was wooed away by the conniving black magic of the dowager queen, Catherine de Medici. Catherine’s latest plot involves a pair of poisoned gloves she used to kill Henry of Navarre’s mother. (Jeanne of Navarre had planned to call off her son’s marriage to Catherine’s daughter, suspecting that the truce being negotiated between the Protestants and Catholics was a ruse.) A wounded captain of Henry’s Huguenot army takes refuge among the sisters at Faire Isle, holding the gloves as proof of Catherine’s black artistry. This leads the “Dark Queen” to unleash her fury on the Cheney sisters. Meanwhile, Carroll employs every trick in the romance book to portray the courtship of serene-eyed Ariane by her uncouth, irresistibly virile neighbor, Comte de Renard, whose forebears were also versed in the magic arts. With a ring he blackmails her into wearing, Ariane is able to summon Renard instantly whenever she is in distress—three times during the course of the narrative. It’s all utterly conventional. Our swooning, virtuous heroine is never too assertive to be invulnerable to the count’s superior strength. Her rake is handily tamed. Her sisters provide pat counterpoint: One is sweet, one sour and suspicious. The prose is forgettable, and the backdrop would have been compelling only if Carroll had resisted dumbing it down for her readers.
Stock characters and predictable situations, not worth revisiting in the promised sequel involving younger sister Gabrielle.