In this prequel to Koenís bestselling novel Through a Glass Darkly, we meet the ambitious, haughty Alice Verney, returning from France with Charles IIís sister, Henriette, who is married to King Louisí son, Prince Philippe. The unhappy princess is desperate to come home to the love of her family before returning to an increasingly unhappy marriage. That she bears a secret treaty is known to but a few - the king and his most loyal courtiers.
As a lady-in-waiting to Henriette, Verney is looking for placement in Queen Catherineís court, her loyalties with the barren queen who is the butt of rude jokes by the citizens for her inability to provide Charles with an heir. The Restoration Court of Charles II is in full swing, debauchery and merrymaking indulged by all after the long years of exile Charles suffered while waiting for Oliver Cromwell to die and release the throne.
Alice, while not the most beautiful lady-in-waiting, has designs on a high marriage for herself and the other ladies. She is heir to the wealthy Sir Thomas Verney, a man deeply involved with political intrigues in the court who has no qualms about using his daughter to pursue his own agenda. But Alice has plans of her own, setting her sights on the elderly Duke of Balmoral to avenge a jilting suitor and establish herself in a position of power.
Alice returns to France with the princessís entourage only to sail back to England in a fog of grief. The princess has died suddenly, whispers in the royal apartments of poison at the hands of Henri Ange. England is shocked by this untimely death, Charlesís court rife with rumors and plots, secret treaties and a possible war with Denmark or France.
Returning with the beautiful Renee Karoualle, Alice is eager to reform her alliances with the court ladies but instead learns that new friendships have formed while she was in France, the young women resentful of her arrogance. For her part, Alice refuses to acknowledge their response, in her pride tossing aside lifelong friendships.
Fostering Reneeís romance and potential marriage to the handsome Lieutenant Richard Saylor, Aliceís first intimation that she has lost control is a failure to understand the machinations behind Reneeís advancement in the court and the serious interest of King Charles himself.
While the court seethes with intrigue, the Catholic-Protestant issue of succession a cause of great speculation, Alice blindly pursues her own ambitions, only belatedly realizing the foolishness of her designs. By then she has lost her dearest friend and her hopes of a powerful marriage.
Verney is an unsympathetic character until her change of heart through tragic circumstances. It is hard to reconcile an insignificant courtier with such power in the royal court, propelled through chaotic events including the appearance of Henri Ange in England and a possible plot to poison the queen. After Through a Glass Darkly, this novel suffers a lack of a believable protagonist, more action in the last chapter than the previous hundreds of pages. Still, Koen fans will remain true believers.