Picks and Pans Review: Through a Glass Darkly

updated 09/22/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/22/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Karleen Koen

Koen jolted publishing circles last year when she sold this hefty historical romance (736 pages) for the equally hefty sum of $350,000, one of the highest fees ever paid for a first novel. The fuss over her 18th-century drama is not without foundation. Its heroine, Barbara Alderley, a naive but headstrong girl of 15, leaves the security of her family estate outside London for an arranged marriage to the dashing Roger Montgeoffrey, a much-older man she has loved almost since she was a toddler. Roger possesses a grim secret, however, and its revelation devastates Barbara. She subsequently drifts into casual affairs, inspires impassioned duels, watches loved ones die of smallpox and, at 21, comes to the modern conclusion that she must be responsible for directing her own destiny, depending on no man for emotional support or economic survival. Koen, who is a former editor of Houston Home & Garden magazine, has done extensive research. The book is full of historical tidbits from the time of King George I, including such domestic details as the technique 18th-century English women devised to remove stains from satin ribbons (they used potatoes and cold water). Koen's sentences are sometimes awkward, and she stumbles embarrassingly into clich├ęd prose ("her eyes...were like limpid pools of violet-blue water") but for sheer melodrama, Through a Glass Darkly is an absorbing read. Unless, of course, you'd rather just wait for the miniseries to turn up on TV. (Random House, $19.95)

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