Queen of Diamonds
Queen of Diamonds is the third book in Barbara Metzger’s House of Cards trilogy; it traces the story of the kidnapped Lady Charlotte Endicott. Charlotte was three when a man with a gun – professing to love her mother – caused a carriage accident that killed her mother and all other occupants but her. The carriage’s coachman survived and intended to ransom her, but he was killed before he could follow through on his plan. His maiden sister Molly, a seamstress, set herself up as a widow to raise Charlotte on her own.
Molly raises the little girl now called “Queenie” because that’s the name she calls her doll – as best she can to have the manners of a Lady. When Molly dies, the now-grown Queenie learns that Molly was not really her mother and that Molly had been accepting blackmail money from the man who originally held up the carriage in order to raise Queenie. Queenie is further lied to by Ize, an old “associate” of Molly’s, who tells her that she was no more than an orphan girl plucked from an institution for her resemblance to the real Lady Charlotte. After Ize threatens Queenie’s life because she can expose his part in the plot, she disappears to Paris where she becomes a dressmaker for the nobility.
Queenie returns to London a few years later with a new identity as the society dressmaker “Madame Lescartes”. She intends to earn back enough money to repay the blackmail. Meanwhile Charlotte’s brothers continue their long search for their baby sister; they’ve posted wanted posters with rewards mentioned for any information on Charlotte or “Queenie”.
While seeking an audience with the brothers to explain her situation, Queenie meets Lord Harry Harking, on the search for his faithless brother-in-law who stole the Harking family diamonds. Queenie and Harry need the other’s help in achieving their goals and soon strike up a friendship that turns into love.
There is quite a bit more that happens in this book, but the plot becomes so convoluted that it is difficult to follow. It’s amazing that the author was able to cram in a kidnapping, blackmail, insanity, not one but two secondary romances, an “adorable” urchin, theft, mistaken identities, chases, and more murders than I could count. What’s even more amazing? That with all this action, the pacing of the book is deathly slow. The first half of the book is little more than tedious exposition because there is so much convoluted back-story. I presume that had I read the first two books of this series and heard this back-story before, I would have been even more annoyed.
While this book wasn’t bad, it certainly wasn’t good. A literary agent who blogs talks about mistaking dramatic plot events for conflict, and I think Metzger fell into this trap. According to “Kristen’s” blog entry from earlier this summer, many writers confuse conflict, which “motivates and drives” characters, with dramatic events, which “are simply events that occur in the story”. When the two are confused, the result is a series of big events rather than actual and necessary conflict. Another result, one Kristen didn’t mention, but something that became clear as I read this book, is that without conflict, there was very little character development. Too, the characters didn’t have any sort of inner life, which would have made me care about them.
The frustrating thing was that every once in awhile I would catch glimpses of what the characters could have been. Queenie was a single woman in a man’s world trying to make a life and a living for herself – that’s interesting stuff! At times there were sparks of life there, such as when Queenie realizes that she would prefer to have courtesans as customers rather than “ladies” because least courtesans pay their bills on time. I liked that sort of pragmatism. What I didn’t like is that when dealing with the hero, Queenie would often revert to TSTL romance heroine cliches, such as when she invited Harry to a Cyprian’s ball, dressed and acted provocatively, but was missishly offended when she thought that the hero thought that she was a courtesan.
In the end I can only damn Queen of Diamonds with faint praise; it was well-written. This book sits solidly at a “C” grade for me.