Book Review: The Dark Shadows of Kaysersberg (The French Orphan Series, Book 6) by Michael Stolle
Publication Date: 27th December 2020 Publisher: Independently Published Page Length: 223 Pages Genre: Historical Fiction / Romance / Adventure
It’s 1646 and infant King Louis XIV reigns over France; wily Cardinal Mazarin holds the reins of power - but he needs money, desperately. Armand de Saint Paul, the younger son of a great and rich noble house, is leading a carefree life in Paris, dedicating his time to such pleasures as gambling, hunting and amorous pursuits. Unexpectedly, Armand has to defend the honour of his house in a duel that transpires to be a deadly trap, set up by a mighty foe of the house of Saint Paul. Will Armand be able to escape the deadly net of intrigue that soon threatens to destroy him? How can a young man deal with love, when it’s no longer a game, but a dream beyond reach? The leading question is: What is going on behind the façade that is Castle Kaysersberg, where nothing is as it seems to be … until the day when the dark shadows come alive?
The huge fir trees soaring from the dense thicket so far had looked to Armand pristine and picturesque with their fresh caps of snow. But the picture of beauty had lost its appeal as he imagined howling, slobbering monsters hiding behind them.
Armand de Saint Paul has quite the reputation in Paris—he is popular among the ladies and spends his time at the gambling table or tangled in the sheets of women’s beds. When his older brother befalls a tragic hunting accident, no one assumes any wrongdoings, for it was just that—an accident. However, when Armand jumps to defend his family’s honour from Gilbert de Lantenay, an unlikely opponent and one who has never lost a duel, suspicions arise. The surfacing of information that the death of the Saint Paul heir and the circumstances of the duel may not be coincidental or, indeed, accidental, leaves Armand with no choice but to get out of Paris for the sake of saving his own life.
The castle of Kaysersberg holds many secrets, ones that cannot be discovered until one is inside the walls with no clear path of escape. Lady Elisabeth, the ward of Count Guilleaume, dresses plainly and blends into the background, allowing Countess Catherine to shine in the spotlight. However, when the man who calls himself Armand de Pauligny arrives at the castle, staying as a guest, it is clear that the Lady Catherine, despite her jewels and cunning flirtations, is held in no regard in Armand’s eyes. Instead, the twinkle in Elisabeth’s eye, the mischief, the beauty and joy that she is repressing for the sake of appeasing Lady Catherine’s temper is what Armand finds himself looking for during his stay at the seemingly welcoming castle.
From the intricate network of the Cardinal Mazarin to a fight for survival, The Dark Shadows of Kaysersberg (Book Six in the French Orphan Series) by Michael Stolle tells the story of a love that blooms in the most unordinary of circumstances and shines a light on the secrets hiding in the shadows of the family of Count Guilleaume of Kaysersberg.
It may be hard to imagine that the immaturity of Armand de Saint Paul would grow so dramatically, from a boy, adored by the ladies and welcomed at the gambling dens, to a man, willing to do anything to protect the woman he loves, but this has been achieved in such a gripping way that it is difficult to comprehend the work that has gone into this novel. Armand is an incredibly believable protagonist and the journey that his life takes him on, in the bid to escape the same accidental death that befell his brother, is an absolute pleasure to read about.
The Crown needs money urgently, and the House of Saint Paul is the wealthiest house in France. Cardinal Mazarin will stop at nothing to get his hands on the money, for such a sum would be fortunate for both himself and France. Should the sons of the Saint Paul family become indisposed, either by losing their lives or by obtaining a high position in the Church that one couldn’t refuse, there would be no heirs left and no more heirs to come who could inherit the fortune. Of course, such an event would leave such riches to fall to the Crown, and Cardinal Mazarin. The lengths that Cardinal Mazarin will go to, not only to remove all obstacles standing in the way of the fortune, but to cover up his involvement, show how Cardinal Richelieu’s scholar had learnt from the master, to connive and give the means for the Saint Paul sons to be dealt with. Such an antagonist, while in the background of the novel, has to be commended.
Despite the threat to his life that Cardinal Mazarin presents, Armand has a skill for finding himself in increasingly worse situations, and likewise, a talent for getting himself out of them. Lady Elisabeth may have caught the attention of his eyes and his heart, but Lady Catherine has other plans, and she is not used to being refused. The luxury of the castle and the pretences it holds may distract from the lies and deceits, but nothing can stop the shadows creeping in, and no lie can remain hidden forever.
Lady Elisabeth and Armand’s relationship is a wonder to behold and a joy to read as their friendship and love develop. Elisabeth may be just a ward, staying out of trouble and keeping herself away from the unforgiving disposition of Lady Catherine’s icy temper, but she is the warmth to Lady Catherine’s cold, the candle shining the light that reveals what is hiding in the shadows. While in Paris, Armand is well known for his exploits with the ladies, in Kaysersberg he is hiding under a false name and pretences that may be the death of him should they be discovered. However, with Elisabeth so close to him, so beautiful and under-appreciated in the castle, how could he help giving his heart to her? Both are hiding their true selves, putting on airs to fit in and to stay safe, but in the moments they get to themselves, when they can reveal to each other their feelings, there is light and joy, and Elisabeth’s teasing and adventurous temperament shines through. Their relationship has been penned with such a compelling nature that Stolle is clearly the ideal commentator for such a forbidden, yet desperately desired, pairing.
Pierre, Marquis de Beauvoir, may not be at the forefront of this novel, but his presence would be sorely missed should he not make an appearance. Where Armand de Saint Paul is, one can be sure that Pierre de Beauvoir is not far behind, for the two are inseparable, like brothers looking for their next adventure. When Armand is in trouble, it does not take much convincing to get Pierre to help him, and when terrible news reaches Pierre, news that means he can no longer be assured of Armand’s safety, he journeys to find his best friend and, if possible, to help him. The friendship between Pierre and Armand is one of two boys that have grown up together, an unbreakable bond that stretches the distance that is forced between them. This friendship further validates the fact that Stolle possesses the eye of a great novelist for human detail, which is written with such energy that it will enthral you with the portrayal.
The Dark Shadows of Kaysersberg (Book Six in the French Orphan Series) by Michael Stolle brings to life a story with realism that is almost tangible. There is no doubt about the hours of research that have gone into this book, for the setting is well researched and leaves nothing to the imagination, every fact backed by confident and thorough research. Stolle has a visceral ability to pen a novel that is both immensely readable and written with such brilliance that it makes history come alive on the page.
I Highly Recommend.
Review by Ellie Yarde. The Coffee Pot Book Club.
Born in 1957, living and educated in Europe, Michael Stolle has always been intrigued by the historical setting and the fact that what makes us human was as true in the 17th century as it is now.
He has been reading and writing about history for longer than he cares to recall...
You can find Michael on Twitter.
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