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Twilight of a Queen [NOOK Book]

Overview

As war and treachery loom, an ambitious man’s mission threatens to topple two dazzling realms and their formidable rulers: Catherine de Medici, the Dark Queen, and Ariane, the Lady of Faire Isle.

It is 1588, and as the Spanish Armada prepares to besiege England, Paris balances on the brink of revolution. To maintain her grip on the throne and on the dark magic that has become her obsession, Catherine de Medici turns to Louis Xavier, a ruthless...
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Twilight of a Queen

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Overview

As war and treachery loom, an ambitious man’s mission threatens to topple two dazzling realms and their formidable rulers: Catherine de Medici, the Dark Queen, and Ariane, the Lady of Faire Isle.

It is 1588, and as the Spanish Armada prepares to besiege England, Paris balances on the brink of revolution. To maintain her grip on the throne and on the dark magic that has become her obsession, Catherine de Medici turns to Louis Xavier, a ruthless corsair who was schooled in the dark arts and has mastered piracy along the Spanish main. But Louis’s basest instincts are held in check by the kindness of Lady Jane Danvers, a British exile whose innate sense of honor is but one facet of her complex and passionate nature.

On Faire Isle, Ariane Cheney, unaware of the escalating threat from the Dark Queen, struggles with the task of protecting the daughters of the earth and their vast store of ancient magical wisdom. Weak and desperate for an advantage, the ailing Catherine makes a devil’s bargain that will cast a shadow over all.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Carroll's conclusion to her Dark Queen series, Catherine de Medici returns, still eager to claim the knowledge of the Book of Shadows. Catherine enlists the ruthless Louis Xavier to kidnap Meg Wolfe, a sorceress who is reputed to have the knowledge, from Faire Isle where she is under the protection of Ariane Deauville. Xavier, who has unfinished family business on Faire Isle, wants nothing to do with the place, but washes ashore there when his ship veers off course in a storm. Once on the island, he falls in love with Lady Jane Danvers, Ariane's successor, but his peace is shattered by the reach of the Dark Queen, who must be destroyed if any of the women of Faire Isle are to survive. While the focus is mostly on Louis Xavier and Meg's stories, familiar characters from previous installments appear. The backdrop of political upheaval in France in 1588 is an exciting and extravagant setting, but the ending feels anticlimactic in light of the terrifying threat the Dark Queen has posed throughout the series. Carroll's fans, however, should be well satisfied. (Aug.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345515049
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/21/2009
  • Series: Dark Queen Saga
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 255,177
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Susan Carroll is an award-winning romance author whose Dark Queen series books include The Huntress, The Silver Rose, The Courtesan, and The Dark Queen. She lives in Rock Island, Illinois.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Paris, Autumn, 1587   

THE FOG ROLLED THROUGH THE STREETS OF THE CITY, turning day into twilight. Even by mid- afternoon, the haze remained so thick that two companions strolling side by side could have lost each other in the mist. 

Shops closed up early, citizens retreating behind locked shutters and doors. Nerves were stretched taut in a city that already seemed on the brink of revolution. The more superstitious declared that the fog was an omen of an impending disaster, the herald of some great approaching storm. 

Others far bolder muttered that the fog was a sign of only one thing, that the witch they had tolerated in their midst for too long was practicing her foul sorcery again. That Italian sorceress, that devil’s daughter, that Dark Queen . . . Catherine de Medici, Dowager Queen of France, peered down from the heights of her astrological tower affixed to her private residence, the Hôtel de la Reine. The cold damp weather had settled deep into her aching muscles and joints, making her feel every one of her sixty- eight years. She dabbed her handkerchief, wiping a drop of moisture from her rheumy eyes. For once the obscurity of her vision could not be set down to her fading eyesight. 

The fog blanketed everything. She could not see even into her own courtyard let alone the streets beyond her gates. But she found the heavy fog a mercy, a brief respite protecting her from all those sullen faces, those hate- filled eyes that followed her every time she left the Hôtel de La Reine to travel through the city to the Louvre. 

It should not have bothered her, she thought. She ought to be accustomed to being hated and reviled. She had certainly experienced enough of loathing during her lifetime. She had only been eight years old the first time a mob had cried out for her blood, an orphaned heiress in Florence, a city seething with rebellion. 

Catherine closed her eyes, and felt her mind slipping back across the years, as the old vision resurfaced, part memory, part nightmare. 

Caterina’s small hands clutched at the rough stones of the palazzo walls. Her heart thudded with fear as she peeked down into the courtyard, the angry mob painted in hellish hues of fire and shadow in the flickering torchlight. “Give us the girl,” coarse voices roared. “Surrender the young witch. We want no more Medicis lording over us.
 We’ll hang her from the city walls.” 

Past and present merged in Catherine’s mind, her imagination transposing Florentines with Parisians. If Paris ever rose against her, she had no difficulty picturing who the leader would be. 

Her longtime enemy, the duc de Guise, handsome, arrogant, a warrior’s scar bisecting his cheek. François de Guise was the darling of Paris, their great Catholic hero. Catherine could envision so clearly how his aristocratic features would look etched in the firelight of the mob’s torches. A thick rope of a noose coiled in his elegant hands, she could see his smile, almost hear his silken threat. 

“Soon, Your Grace. Soon . . .” 


Catherine clutched at her throat and opened her eyes. She was behaving more and more like some foolish old woman, she thought. Brooding over the past or worrying about a future that might never come to pass. 

De Guise and his army were camped far from Paris. Even the ambitious duke would not dare invade the city and strike openly against the king, no matter how weak and ineffectual her son Henry had become. No, de Guise certainly would not dare, Catherine assured herself. 

At least, not yet . . . 

She turned away from the tower window. The folds of her mantle and her dark skirts brushed against the rough stonework. She had long ago eschewed the brilliant silks and jewels that had delighted her in her youth. Since the death of her husband almost thirty years ago, she had worn nothing but black, her thin silver hair scraped beneath a bon grace cap, her only adornments a white ruff encircling her plump throat and a jeweled cross. 

Today she had not even donned a farthingale, the tower chamber too small to allow for wide skirts. The room seemed crowded enough just with herself and the two other occupants. Perhaps because one of those occupants was such an alarming specimen, a tall dark- skinned man, his fierce countenance tattooed with strange symbols, colorful feathers adorning the thick braids of his hair. 

One by one, he lit the candles placed at the points of a pentagram drawn on the floor. He moved silently. Catherine had never heard the native speak beyond a grunt. But the white man who knelt half- naked within the circle of candles struck Catherine as being more the savage. 

The candlelight played over the cords of Xavier’s throat and sinewy shoulders, the dark dusting of hair on his bared chest. His long black hair fell forward, partly concealing the scar from a wound where someone must have come close to slitting his throat. His face was lean and weather- beaten, thick black brows jutting over deepset eyes, the blue- gray hue of an icy winter sea. 

Catherine had consulted many astrologers and seers over the course of her lifetime, the clever and learned Ruggeri brothers, the venerable and ancient doctor, Nostradamus. There was nothing venerable about Xavier. He was a virile animal. A powerful wind blown in from distant lands few civilized Frenchmen would ever set eyes upon. He flexed his shoulders more like a man readying himself for battle than one preparing to sink into a trance. Then he nodded at his dark- skinned . . . Amanuensis? Guardian? Companion? Although Catherine had received the two men at her palace several times before, she had yet to determine the exact nature of their relationship. 

Xavier’s nod sufficed to make the native retreat from the circle of candles and take up a small primitive-looking drum. He began to tap out a low beat. Xavier stretched out his arms and commenced a rhythmic chanting in some guttural native tongue. 

Catherine was far too old and wise to be taken in by some exotic performance, by a mere display of masculine pulchritude. Yet she devoured Xavier with her gaze. The insistent beat of the drum, his deep chanting echoed through her, causing her heart to speed up, her sluggish blood to course through her veins. 

Despite the chill of the day, she felt flushed and warm. She experienced a fluttering the like of which she had not known for years. Perhaps not since she had been a bride of fourteen, presented for the first time to the stalwart young prince who was to be her husband. 

The drum and Xavier’s chant throbbed harder, faster, until Catherine felt as though her heart must burst from her chest. He flung back his head and emitted a savage cry, his eyes rolling white in their sockets. 

Abruptly both the drum and Xavier fell silent. His arms dropped to his sides and he stared straight ahead, his eyes glazed, as sightless as though he had been struck blind. The only sound in the tower was an indrawn breath and Catherine was startled to realize it was hers. She pressed her hand to her thudding heart. Xavier had told her when he plunged into the deepest part of his trance, she could pose her questions. Questions that would help her determine whether this man was the sorcerer he claimed to be or one of the cleverest frauds she had ever encountered. Catherine cleared her throat, endeavoring at the same time to clear her wits. 

“Tell me what you see, monsieur,” she commanded. 

“What lies ahead in the coming year?” 

“A time of great change and upheaval,” Xavier replied in a deep monotone. “There will be a mighty battle, a war costly in bloodshed.” 

“Bah!” Catherine snorted. “The civil war between the Catholics and those blasted Huguenots has been raging on forever and shows no promise of ending soon. Any fool could offer me such a vague prediction.” 

“If you want better answers, ask better questions.” Catherine thought for a moment and then said, “Can you see anything regarding the duc de Guise? Will he ever march on Paris? Will he wrest control of the throne from my son?” 

“King Henry is safe for now and will be as long as he never seeks to harm the duke. If His Majesty sheds so much as a drop of de Guise’s blood, Paris will rise up in revolt.” 

“A clever answer, monsieur, but again, no great revelation. I have been warning my son about that very thing these past two years and more. Tell me something specific. Tell me . . .” 

How much longer do I have? Will I be dead soon? 


Catherine moistened her lips, but could not bring herself to ask. Did she really want to know the hour of her own death? It was her greatest dread, facing the emptiness of the grave, being forgotten, her life and power reduced to nothing but dust. 

Instead she framed the one question that would be the true test of Xavier’s abilities. 

“There is an object that I have long been searching for. Will I ever find it?” 

Long moments passed without Xavier answering, beads of sweat gathering on his brow as he stared intently at something veiled from her gaze. Or feigned to do so. “Aha,” Catherine thought cynically. “So, my clever rogue. I have stumped even your ability to come up with a glib answer.” 

She was on the verge of bringing this farce to a halt when Xavier replied, “No, you will never find the Book of Shadows. It was destroyed in London.” 

Catherine stiffened in shock. Few besides daughters of the earth like herself even knew of the existence of the Book of Shadows, a compendium of ancient knowledge and dark secrets long lost to the present- day world. And fewer people still knew that Catherine’s desperate search for the book had stretched across the channel to England. “How?” she demanded. “How was the book destroyed?” “By fire. An Irishwoman named Catriona O’Hanlon, an emissary of the Lady of Faire Isle, battled with your agent, Ambroise Gautier. The O’Hanlon woman triumphed and set the book ablaze.” 

Catherine emitted a soft cry. How could Xavier know about these things unless the man did indeed possess the sight? Not since the late Nostradamus had Catherine encountered anyone possessed of such great ability. But any elation she felt at acquiring such a powerful seer was dimmed by what Xavier was telling her. 

It had been over a year since she had sent her spy Ambroise Gautier to England in quest of the book. As the weeks had stretched into months, Catherine had been nigh feverish in her impatience, but she had had more pressing matters to occupy her, the constant civil war that threatened to bankrupt the royal treasury, the rising power of the ambitious duc de Guise, her son Henry’s increasing instability, and her own failing health. 

She had fretted, wondering if Gautier had acquired the Book of Shadows and decided to keep it for himself. But the book would be useless to him. The grimoire was written in code, a language so ancient, most wise women would not be able to decipher it. 

Catherine had continued to hope that Gautier would return to her with the book, eager to claim the generous reward she had offered him. Xavier’s words had extinguished that hope at last. Catherine wrapped her arms across her bosom to stem the tremors of emotion that coursed through her; bitter disappointment warred with red- hot fury, her rage directed at Ariane Cheney Deauville. 

As the Lady of Faire Isle, Ariane was acclaimed as a leader among the daughters of the earth. Especially among those wise women who believed as Ariane did, that a daughter of the earth’s sole purpose was to be a healer, a beacon of light in an ignorant world. 

As much as Catherine had been determined to acquire all that dark knowledge contained in the Book of Shadows, Ariane had been just as bent upon seeing it destroyed. It appeared that Ariane had won. 

Damn the woman for her ignorant naïveté and shortsightedness. Catherine’s very soul sickened when she thought of how she could have used that Book. The grimoire was believed to have described weapons so fearsome, Catherine could easily have crushed the duc de Guise and any other enemy that threatened her. Spells so potent her youth and vigor could have been restored. Some said the Book of Shadows even contained the answer to the riddle of life itself, the secret to immortality. Now all those powerful secrets were lost forever. Gone, all gone, taking all hope with them. 

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 17 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 17 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2010

    Twists and turns and great characters

    The story surrounds the lives of Catherine de Medici, the Dark Queen, and her adversaries, Ariane of the Faire Isle, Captain Xavier, Jane Danvers, and Margaret Wolfe, known as the Silver Rose. Each character is crafted eloguently and I only wish that I could follow along and discover what awaits them in the future.

    Catherine de Medici plots to renew her strength, pulling an unwilling Captain Xavier into her plot. A pirate, Xavier is a rough man with a wounded heart. While this could have turned cliche, I found myself cheering for Xavier throughout the book. As well as the proper Lady Danvers.

    I also found that an interest in Catherine de Medici, and the history of France, Spain, and England during this time period has developed. While many of the events in this book are works of fiction, I wish to know more about the true history. Well done Ms. Carroll, has it is not often that I find myself wanting to pick up a history book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 20, 2011

    Pretty Satisying Novel from Susan C

    It was an alright follow up from the previous books, but it could have been much better considering how great the others were. I love Susan Carroll, so of course this is a must read if you enjoy the Dark Series.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Not as good as the rest of the series

    I have enjoyed Susan Carroll's series about sisters and "Daughters of the Earth" very much. This book, however, was not as interesting and imagination-catching as the first three. I do not know if it is because Jane was not as interesting to me as Miri, Ariane, or Gabrielle. The series lost some of its magic and pleasure for me after Miri's tale in The Silver Rose (which I did not think was a good title for a book about Miri since she isn't the Silver Rose). I have enjoyed my trips to the Faire Isle but I am hesitant to return there again unless the quality of the stories improves.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2014

    loved it!

    I really enjoyed this book

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  • Posted October 31, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    not the best in the series

    I loved the first four books in the series. I never like Jane in The Huntress, so i really was not all that excited in reading this book, being that Jane was the main character. I did like the twist regarding Louis. It finally gives the Chaney sisters closure with their father. What i would really like Susan Carroll to write about is Meg's story. I really think Meg's story would make a wonderful story.

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  • Posted October 17, 2009

    Eh...ok

    Characters aren't as engaging. The plot moves very slow and has become repetitive.

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  • Posted July 1, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The final Faire Isle historical fantasy is a super tale

    In 1588 as the Spanish Armada sets sail to blockade England, the Dark Queen Catherine de Medici fears her control of the throne is tenuous for the first time in her long rule. Ailing and unable to directly confront her rival the Lady of the Faire Isle she turns to mage Louis Xavier, a notorious pirate who has used the dark arts to achieve his watery superiority.

    However, for the first in his life, Louis is distracted by passionate and courageous Lady Jane Danvers. Meanwhile, Ariane Cheney protects her beloved Faire Isle from the Dark Queen as three women prepare for battle on the mundane and magical planes with one another for who will sit on the throne. Ariane anoints Jane as her heir, which sends the vicious Dark Queen after her. Louis vows to protect his beloved or die trying.

    The final Faire Isle historical fantasy (see THE DARK QUEEN and THE SILVER ROSE) is a super tale with strong adversaries and allies, and a terific exhilarating story line that ties up the critical loose ends. Catherine de Medici is incredible as the evil one; Ariane appears to be her equal while Jane has to prove her worthiness under fire with Louis surprisingly as her protector with her supporters questioning his dark past. Fans will relish Susan Carroll's regal yet dark sixtieth century as the war between the light and dark clash with a royal finality.

    Harriet Klausner

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted September 16, 2009

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