I am not quite sure how I managed it, but some how I have managed to spend the last twenty five years of my reading life in complete ignorance about the Angelique series, and yet having just finished reading the first book (well actually first two books) in the series, I am confident in saying that this book has everything that I love in a book.
The first I remember hearing about the series is when Ana did an Author Spotlight about Serge and Anne Golon at Historical Tapestry.
Somewhat unusually this book doesn't have any kind of synopsis at all on either the inside or back cover so I hope that I can do justice to the plot without giving too much away.
Young Angelique is born into a noble but impoverished family in the mid 1600's. One of several children, Angelique is high spirited, and lives her life amongst the villagers and in the marshlands around her home. Her best features are her green eyes and her beautiful hair and is growing into quite the beauty, quite in danger of falling prey to young men. After becoming involved in a dangerous situation that enables her father to have a little more money, it becomes apparent to her family that she is in danger of becoming out of control so she is packed off to the convent for her education, and even the nuns have trouble controlling her.
Angelique is forced to return from the convent to be married to a man she has never met, Comte Joffrey de Peyrac de Morens, Lord of Toulouse. He is a man with a fearsome reputation. He is scarred and lame, but richer than the king (allegedly) and reputed to be a wizard. Angelique is determined that she will not give herself to Joffrey and he is patient. What she did not know about her new husband is that he is devoted to the art of love, and has the voice of an angel. He is also devoted to his young wife and once he manages to convince Angelique of his love, the couple have a period of happiness. But this is the middle ages and with lots of intrigue and jealousy between the Church and the Royal Court, a man who apparently has the skills of witchcraft that enable him to cause many women to fall in love with him despite his physical infirmities as well as to be able to magically conjure gold out of rocks where there is no gold present is always going to be in danger.
With Joffrey capturing the attention of the King (Louis XIV) for all the wrong reason, a new time starts in Angelique's life, where she must do whatever it takes to save her husband on very limited resources and knowing that she herself has become person non grata in the Royal social scene. And yet for Angelique this is just the start of her downward slide, but being the head strong and resourceful young lady that she is she most assuredly find a way to climb out from the depths of her experiences and back up the social chain.
At nearly 800 pages long, this book is action packed and filled with details such as the excesses of life in Louis XIV court and the squalor and danger for life of the normal Parisian. There are many real life historical figures populating the book. From the comparative poverty of her childhood, to her beautiful home in Toulouse as Joffrey's bride, to the depths of the Paris underworld in her place as the queen of the Court of Miracles, to the kitchen of the restaurant where she starts to rebuild her life, to the role of business woman as she introduces chocolate to the masses, Angelique undergoes a tremendous journey. In some ways, she reminded me of Amber from Kathleen Winsor's historical fiction classic Forever Amber, but Angelique is less cunning and manipulative and more concerned with just doing what she has to do to survive, even if some times that means that she makes decisions which may have been seen as immoral by some. She doesn't necessarily always make smart decisions, but she has her own code of behaviour which she adheres too. And yet there are times within the novel where she does seem to lose her sense of who she is, but if that happens she is always strong enough to draw herself out of the situation that she is in.
As for the men of the book, well the standout has to be Joffrey. He is a man who has been maimed and scarred, and yet lived life to the fullest, undertaking journeys to strange lands and learning everything he could, and then applying those lessons to his own life. He is a student of the principles of courtly love and shares those with the few chosen to spend time at home, and he is apparently a wonderful lover. Yet when fate delivers him into the hands of the prosecutors who have decided he must be done away with he is eloquent in his defence, courageous in the face of his own death, and we know without being told that he is totally in love with his beautiful wife and family. What a really great hero!
There are others too that are interesting in that they are not really one dimensional characters. Angelique's childhood friend Nicholas who plays such a key role in Angelique's life, to her cousin Philippe whose coldness and cruelty just leaps from the page, and to the lawyer Desgrez whose fate seems destined to be intertwined with that of Angelique and her family, some are men that Angelique loves and others are protectors and friends, but all of them are part of the excellent experience of reading this book.
There is no doubt in my mind that I am going to be reading as much of this series as I possibly can. Or maybe reading is too gentle a word. I am going to be devouring the rest of this series and am very much looking forward to going on my next adventure with Angelique.
I should say that this hardcover version of the book that I read includes two books that were issued separately in paperback - Angelique, The Marquise of the Angels and Angelique: The Road to Versailles. The other books in the series that have been translated into English are:
Angelique and the King
Angelique and the Sultan
Angelique in Revolt
Angelique in Love
The Countess Angelique
The Temptation of Angelique
Angelique and the Demon
Angelique and the Ghosts
There are a couple of other books in the series that have not yet been translated. Given that the first book in the series came out in 1956, it is remarkable to think that Anne Golon is still working on this series, with a view to finishing off the series.
With the book currently being out of print, I would definitely suggest that it is worth the effort to try and track down as many of these books as you possibly can and then make the effort to enjoy this truly remarkable adventure.