Tuesday, February 19, 2019

"Queen of the Darkest Hour" - another Carolingian gem by Kim Rendfeld

Francia, 783: As wars loom, Queen Fastrada faces a peril within the castle walls: King Charles’s eldest son, Pepin. Blaming his father for the curse that twisted his spine, Pepin rejects a prize archbishopric and plots to seize the throne. Can Fastrada stop the conspiracy before it destroys the realm?

Based on historic events during Charlemagne’s reign, "Queen of the Darkest Hour" is a story of family strife endangering an entire country—and the price to save it.

My thoughts:
Queen of the Darkest Hour is the third much anticipated (at least by me) novel in the Charlemagne era trilogy. It is in the same vein as The Cross and the Dragon and Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar. The three novels stand on their own, and the first two reference Charlemagne and his family to some extent, but this one delves deeply into his domestic life, namely his third marriage to Fastrada. The style of the narrative is consistent with the author’s prior works. You can expect the same great attention to historical detail, meticulous descriptions of clothing, rituals, dishes. The author is a self-identified feminist, so it’s not surprising that her focus is on the female figures of Carolingian history. I am grateful that Fastrada, Charlemagne’s third wife, is not “feisty”. She doesn’t fit any of the anachronistic clichés plaguing so many historical novel heroines. She doesn’t complain about feeling “stifled” by her station in life, nor does she strive to improve the lot of the underprivileged. What you have is a very balanced, pragmatic, conventional young woman of 16 who was groomed for a very specific role – to be Charles’ consort, stepmother to his brood from prior marriages and hopefully produce a few heirs of her own. She keeps her own emotions in check and puts her duty first. She has no illusions about Charles fully belonging to her. He is a mature, powerful man with "baggage". She manages to establish rapport with Charles’ existing children, including his hunchback son Pepin, who is only 2 years her junior and whose feelings are a mixture of resentment and lust. Pepin is probably the most psychologically complex and interesting character in the novel. I want to personally thank the author for not putting him on a pedestal, as many authors are tempted to do when they deal with a character suffering from some sort of deformity. In terms of plot development, if you know Carolingian history, there will be very few surprises. If you are not familiar with the story of Fastrada, do not rush off to google her. Enjoy the suspense.  

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