From Brittany's misty shores to the decadent splendor of Paris's royal court, one woman must fulfill her destiny-while facing the treacherous designs of Catherine de Medici, the dark queen.She is Ariane, the Lady of Faire Isle, one of the Cheney sisters, renowned for their mystical skills and for keeping the isle secure and prosperous. But this is a time when women of ability are deemed sorceresses, when Renaissance France is torn by ruthless political intrigues, and all are held in thrall to the sinister ambitions of Queen Catherine de Medici. Then a wounded stranger arrives on Faire Isle, bearing a secret the Dark Queen will do everything in her power to possess. The only person Ariane can turn to is the comte de Renard, a nobleman with fiery determination and a past as mysterious as his own unusual gifts.
When a wounded captain of the Navarre army arrives on Faire Isle in 1572 and calls for an audience with Daughter of the Earth (aka healer, or witch) Ariane Cheney, he provokes the wrath of the eponymous queen of France, Catherine de Medici, in this readable historical romance by the author of The Bride Finder. The captain's queen, Jeanne of Navarre, has second thoughts about marrying off her son to Catherine's daughter (a union arranged to smooth troubled Catholic-Protestant relations); the next day, she's dead. Ariane reluctantly agrees to help the captain prove that Catherine murdered Jeanne with a cursed pair of gloves, although the healer has plenty on her plate already, what with caring for her two younger sisters, the innocent Mirabelle and the conniving Gabrielle, and fending off the advances of her new neighbor, the lusty, muscular Comte de Renard. As Ariane investigates the magic gloves, the Dark Queen's soldiers prowl the island, witch hunters seek their prey, Renard woos his reluctant would-be bride with the aid of an enchanted ring and the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre looms. Carroll breaks no new ground in this overlong tale, but readers in the mood for a marriage plot spiced with magic should find that this one does the trick. Agent, Andrea Cirillo. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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March 28, 2005
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Excerpt from The Dark Queen by Susan Carroll
The chamber lay hidden beneath the old part of the house, far from prying eyes. During Roman times, when a fortress had stood on the island, the room had been part of a catacomb of prisons, a dark place where frightened souls had been imprisoned awaiting torture and death. But that had been centuries ago.
The chains and manacles were long gone, the stone walls now lined with jars of herbs, dust-covered bottles, and books preserving knowledge forgotten by the rest of the world. The grim place had been completely transformed by feminine hands into a repository of ancient learning and a keeper of secrets. There was enough evidence stacked upon these shelves to get a woman condemned for witchcraft seven times over.
No one could have looked less like a witch than the young woman stirring the hearthýs bubbling cauldron. Ariane Cheney was tall and thin, her slender form clad in a russet brown gown protected by the apron knotted round her waist.
The orange-red light of the torches imbedded in the walls flickered over her grave features; her thick chestnut hair was demurely bundled beneath a kerchief. Ariane had an unusually solemn face for a woman barely one and twenty, her pensive gray eyes seldom given to laughter, her lips rarely transformed by a smile.
She had little to smile about these days since her motherýs death. With her father still missing, that left only Ariane to protect and care for her two younger sisters. Speculation grew daily that the Chevalier Louis Cheneyýs grand voyage of exploration had come to disaster, that the Chevalier was either lost at sea or killed by natives on some hostile foreign shore.
Ariane gave the contents of the cauldron one final stir, then carefully ladled some of the clear liquid into a thick clay flagon. She carried it over to the long wooden worktable. The powder she had ground rested in the bottom of the iron mortar, a concoction partly gleaned from her books, partly from her own ingenuity.
Setting the flagon down, Ariane scooped out a spoonful of the powder. She hardly knew how much to use. It was a matter of guesswork. Ariane closed her eyes and sent up a silent prayer.
ýOh, please, please let this work.ý Opening her eyes, she carefully ladled the powder into the flagon. She watched anxiously, preparing to give the potion a stir, but she never got the chance.
The reaction was immediate and violent. The liquid began to smoke and hiss, bubble and foam. As the potion roiled over the sides of the flagon, Ariane emitted a cry of dismay. She grabbed for a cloth to check the mess, but the spitting flagon forced her to retreat.
She backed away, flinging up one arm just in time as the vessel shattered, spraying the chamber with flecks of red foam and broken pottery. An acrid haze hung over the room, a sharp stench that caused Ariane to choke and her eyes to sting with tears. She flapped her cloth to clear the air and then mopped her eyes to survey the damage.