Family Strife Imperils the Realm
Francia, 783: Haunted by the Saxons’ attack on her home fortress, Fastrada obeys her father and marries Charles, king of the Franks and a widower with seven children and an eighth on the way by a concubine. As more wars loom, Fastrada’s greatest peril lurks within the castle walls: Pepin, Charles’s son by his embittered former wife. Blaming his father for the curse that twisted his spine, Pepin rejects a prize archbishopric and plots with his uncle and mother to seize the throne. Can Fastrada stop the conspiracy before it destroys the kingdom?
Based on historic events during Charlemagne’s reign, “Queen of the Darkest Hour” is the story of a family conflict endangering an entire country—and the price to save it.
Wow. I love historical fiction, and this one completely blew my mind. It truly tells the full story of how dark the life of royals could be, and how even religion played into this state of “darkness.”
Let’s start with Fastrada. She marries a king who already has children by his former queen, and who has a concubine LIVING in the castle pregnant with his child. At first, I thought that this was going to be the main conflict, but it didn’t even come close. Fastrada wants to assert her dominance over her new children and to take her place as the queen of the castle, but her place has already been taken by this woman. She can’t seem to keep up with the lessons, and Pepin, the king’s eldest son, seems to want to embarrass her at every turn. She is determined to please her new husband and will do everything in her power to deliver a son for her father. She is a character with two very different personalities. Sometimes she can be harsh and cruel, especially towards people who want to attack her or her kingdom, but she is also a sensitive person who reacts emotionally to many things. She nearly breaks down when her husband’s concubine and son refuse to respect her, yet she is willing to have someone blinded for daring to attack her kingdom. She also can be religious in an almost superstitious way, believing that her stepson is a devil and giving alms multiple times a day in hope of a son. At times I felt bad for her, and then sometimes I hated her.
Then, there is Pepin. He has a twisted spine that he believes is caused by his father’s sin. He wants to be treated as if he is as good as his younger brother whose spine is straight, but his father continues to protect him. As his condition worsens, he becomes even more bitter. No woman would look at him with love in her eyes due to his condition, and his father just wanted him to become a monk and disappear. He decided that he had to fight to keep his inheritance from going to his younger brother. Pepin was constantly a dark character, but the author still allowed him to have some grey areas. If his father had simply given him a wife and allowed him to go fight in the war, Pepin most likely would have been happy. He might have died, but he would have died doing what he wanted to do. He would not have died a slave to his disformity and despising the world and his father for it. But because the Christians were so superstitious and thought that his hunchback was a sign of the devil, he could never do this.
These were the two characters that stood out to me the most, and the story was told mostly in the eyes of these two people. Nevertheless, there was a whole cast of characters in this story, and each character had their own personality and story. I could go on and one about the parts that I liked and disliked about each character, but I would just suggest that you read it for yourself and find out!
I think that the part I liked the best about this story was the discussion of the church’s role in all of this madness. Fastrada thought that giving alms day after day would be able to change the gender of her child, and Pepin thought that prayer would heal his back and get rid of whoever he wanted. Pepin thought that his father’s sin against his mother caused his spine to be deformed. Even though these people claimed to be Christians in the 700s, it is hard to see how they were much better than the “heathens” worshipping multiple gods or worshipping different single gods in other parts of the world at the same time. They would have concubines and prostitutes at all other times of the week and then think that a few alms or prayers would cure their sin. This was even worse for the peasants at the time who would give some of the only money they made in the week to the church. It was just a cycle of horror fueled by the Church’s beliefs.
This book’s plot flowed smoothly even though there were time skips as the characters aged. The plot was addictive, and this book had some of the best character development that I have ever read. Honestly, there probably aren’t even that many manuscripts from the 700s preserved, but I felt like I was watching a movie of the royals’ lives. This book will definitely be going into my permanent collection.
I would recommend this novel to lovers of historical fiction.
I received a copy of this book and this is my voluntary review.
Overall Rating: 6 out of 5 stars