REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

SERGEANNE GOLAN – Angélique and the Sultan. Angelique #3. US edition published as Angélique in Barbary. Film: A Franco-German-Italian-Tunisian film dorected by Bernard Borderie , released in 1968, with Michelle Mericier & Robert Hossein.

   Our story up to now:

   Angelique. Born Angelique de Sanc de Monteloup, of a family of the minor nobility in Poitou, she first married Comte Jeffrey de Peyrac of Toulouse, Prince of Aquitaine, of the Palace of Gay Learning. Jeffrey, a remarkably brilliant and powerful man, was condemned to the stake by Louis XIV on a trumped-up charge of sorcery, and was supposedly executed in February 1661.

   Reduced to extreme poverty, Angelique became a member of the Paris underworld, the rendezvous of which was the Court of Miracles in the Saint-Denis quarter of Paris. Later, under the name of Madame Morens, she opened a chocolate shop with David Chaillou, whereby she made a great deal of money which she invested shrewdly, becoming extremley rich, and a member of the literary society of Paris.

   Having been in love with her cousin Philippe, Marquis du Plessis-Belliere, since they were both adolescents, she more or less blackmailed him into marrying her, thus gaining a position in the high nobility of France. She became a shrewd adviser and trusted confidante of Louis XIV and his Minister of Finance, Colbert, and one of the leading members of Louis’s brilliant Court at Versailles. The King’s attentions to her involved her in a fierce rivalry with his mistress, Madame de Montespan. Louis XIV was deeply in love with Angelique, but she resisted his advances and fled the Court, thus incurring the King’s grave displeasure …

   This international bestseller of doorstop adventures of the seventeenth century cross between Candide, d’Artagnan, Fanny Hill, Little Orphan Annie, Madame DuBarry, and Little Nell picks up as our heroine learns the king has pardoned her scar faced lover Joffrey, who has promptly escaped. Always true to her husband, in her fashion, Angelique sets out to find him and reunite with him, but as nothing comes easily for her the reader can be assured they will not be reunited easily.

   The series was written by Anne and Serge Golon, signing as Sergeanne Golan after the first book, and was an immediate bestseller in Europe and then here. The thick paperbacks were a common sight on newsstands, though they made little room for anything else in a spin rack. Finding one that didn’t have a bent cover from being shoved in too small a space was rare.

   Fairly tame in terms of actual sex despite all of her affairs, the books offered a rich background of palaces, intrigue, Dickensian poverty, rogues, adventurers, pirates, heroes, villains, swords, duels, escapes and hurried journeys that manage to sweep from France to the Middle East and all the way to the New World while inspiring films and television series (the most recent only a decade or so back). They were bodice rippers before the genre was invented and Angelique, no doubt inspired by Kathleen Winsor’s Amber from Forever Amber, a cottage industry unto herself.

   My first wife being a long blonde green-eyed French dancer named Angelique, I probably have a higher tolerance for these books and films than many of you. Old home week.

   Anyway, our heroine is off to find her dear Joffrey, a journey that leads her to Marseilles and the smuggler ridden coast of Southern France onto Candia, center of the slave trade, then to Algiers and onto Morocco and the harem of the Sultan Mulai Ismael, the Moroccan equivalent of Louis XIV. Along the way she is shipwrecked and rescued by the masked pirate known as Rescator who holds her youngest son by Joffrey Cantor as hostage and gives her to the Grand Eunuch, Osman Faraji, who in turn presents her to his Sultan.

   Points if you have figured out why Rescator is masked and holds Cantor, much less why Angelique is turned over to Osman Faraji.

   She also manages to seduce, emotionally if not physically, the Eunuch, the Sultan, a French Admiral, and the slave Colin Paturuel, who will naturally give his freedom and life for her while out maneuvering and winning over the Sultan’s jealous first wife Daisy-Valina. And have no fear Joffrey will show up as well, to steal a treasure from the Sultan’s kingdom, and pick up the pieces, since Angelique is not the sort to sit around and wait for rescue, all told in rich descriptive prose somewhere between Dumas and Maurice Dekobra (bestselling French author of Madonna of the Sleeping Cars and many others) and equally adept at describing luxury, sensuality, horror, hardship, and emotional trauma.

   Granted these are thick dense books filled with actual historical personages, interwoven with Angelique and her friends and lovers adventures, they are certainly not great literature, and lacking Georgette Heyer’s signature wit, but they are also literate, expansive, and more Dumas than Kathleen Winsor.

   The Michelle Mercier films are big productions and perfect companions to the films with Mercier and Robert Hossein ideally cast as Angelique and Joffrey, though thankfully running times are nothing like reading ones.