Angelique, the version I acquired, is a 1957 novel compiled together with its 1958 sequel, Angelique: the Road to Versailles. Together they recount the early life, rise, fall, and regrouping of the titular Angelique in the early 1700s France. The genre is historical romance, and, for romance novels, it’s quite…well, quite readable.
How the heck did I stumble over them? Well….I was actually searching for pictures for the Tarzan Tuesday feature, and happened on a site with a list of “famous fictional lovers.” Pictures of the Claytons acquired, I was scanning the list for unfamiliar names (Judith and Holofernes? Really?); and spotted Angelique and Joffrey de Peyrac. The listing having the same last name piqued my interest, as it meant they were either married and still somehow ended up on the list of the star-crossed and author-tormented, or were…well. The movie was obtainable through youtube; a decent little flick.
The book is a bit better.
Plot: Book 1 follows Angelique from her childhood as the independent and vivacious “Little Fairy of the Marshes,” born into an impoverished patrician family. Her father is so incredibly poor he is actually considering turning his mule-breeding hobby into a trade, if such a thing can be imagined. Instead, he forms a partnership with a commoner (Steward something or other, forgot his name), in a trade-off that young Angelique witnesses but doesn’t quite understand at the time. She agrees nonetheless to keep her mouth shut about it, in return for the promise of a husband, a deal that seems reasonably fair to a ten-year-old. Another thread that comes back majorly later is her thwarting of a plot by her cousin’s family against the life of the young King (Louis XIV, I think), by stealing a bottle of poison.
The family’s fortunes improve and Angelique is eventually pulled out of school at the age of seventeen to be married….to a thirty-year old man, the third partner in the business scheme between her father and the Steward. Her father considers it a very good match: Angelique will take her dower-property of lead mines, with her; and Joffrey de Peyrac is wealthy and well-behaved. He’s also twelve years older than her, crippled, and so scarred he’s called the Monster of Toulouse. The Steward, meanwhile, has enough respect for Angelique’s intelligence and good sense to trust her with the actual reason behind her marriage.
The trio’s actual profit is not in producing mules, or the reduced tax rate her father, a nobleman, pays; or in the lead ore these mules carry out of France. It’s actually in the gold and silver ore Joffrey de Peyrac’s mines produce, which is smuggled out of the country on muleback as a miscellaneous flux, and then chemically reduced back into its proper state in Spain, from whence it then….comes back in to France? (I’m not entirely sure how this works. But anyhow.) Her father’s mules and tax evasion, the Steward’s brains, and Joffrey’s chemical know-how are all needed; and her father, in his decision to make Angelique’s dowry the lead mines, has linked it all back to her.
Angelique is not happy, but she does understand. It goes through; and de Peyrac is intelligent and perceptive enough to understand that his young wife is terrified of him. He’s also smitten enough with her beauty that he decides to seduce her slowly instead. So he does. Several years go by and one child is produced. Meanwhile, Louis XIV has come of age and the political structure gets shaken up. Joffrey and Angelique are invited to court; and then, suddenly, Joffrey disappears and Angelique’s world is turned upside down.
Joffrey, it transpires, has been accused of witchcraft by a loony monk (in the employ of the vindictive Archbishop); and has been detained without a warrant and without any record. Angelique’s lawyer advises her to: Get Out Of Dodge. The nobles she appeals to advise her to Get Out Of Dodge (and are rather annoyed she didn’t have the sense to quietly disappear herself anyway). Angelique escalates all the way to the King himself…and learns the truth. The King dislikes the Comte de Peyrac, and wanted him to go away. So he does. Joffrey is burned at the stake; book 1 ends, leaving Angelique trapped in Paris with no money, disowned by her family members, abandoned by her servants, with two small children to support and absolutely no help in sight from without.
Book 2 follows Angelique as she claws her way back to the top. Starting out with absolutely nothing, she is able to blackmail, beg, persuade, and leverage herself a stable position, and then later, take over management of a tavern-slash-chocolate factory? What? (I was skimming at this point). Angelique manages her money, gains the patronage of a powerful nobleman–and even buys her old house back–but wants and needs more if her sons are to grow up as nobles rather than bourgeoise (I know that’s spelled wrong, but whatever.) Also, she herself is of noble birth and would prefer not to work for a living, thank you. She decides on marrying her cousin, he of the family lot against the king twenty-odd years before, and the bottle of poison. He’s highly placed, has an impeccable background (one missing bottle of poison aside); and also really smoking hot, by Angelique’s standards. He’s also not happy with the idea of marrying her, a spendthrift, and a violent, bullying, murderous lout to boot. She has to blackmail him into it; and is advised by Steward (remember him?) to put a special procreation clause in the contract. It’s necessary.
Book 2 ends with Angelique triumphant, returned to her sphere and the acclaim of men. Still has that little problem of her husband being a wife-beating, rapist lout, but hey.
Pros: Angelique herself is a good heroine. Book one contains a sequence where a disguised Joffrey sneaks up to steal a kiss. Unlike most heroines, who seem to have a congenital inability to recognize their love interests when he’s wearing any sort of disguise at all (or just glasses), it takes her less than a minute to figure out what is going on, another thirty seconds to yell at him, and perhaps ninety more as Joffrey exits stage left, laughing his ass off, to start laughing herself.
– Verisimilitude. I can’t say at all that reading this book gives an accurate picture of what life in and worldviews of the seventeenth century would have been; only that it feels distinct from what my own view of things are, and is consistent with itself.
Cons: I really don’t like misery porn, and so was skimming pretty hard when it came to Angelique’s downfall. But it did make her return to power that much better, so, points there.
– I’m also not sold on how an entire series can be based off the exploits of one woman and her sequential lovers. It’s one thing to have a heroine who travels the world and has adventures (Philippa in the Lymond Chronicles, for instance, or Kate in the Niccolo series), but without a solid A-plot focus on either the politics or the business aspects, the series is only going to get pretty dull, pretty fast.
Rated: No, I’m not searching out book 3. The nearest library that has it is in Oregon.
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