Queen of the Darkest Hour by Kim Rendfeld
Release Date: August 7, 2018
Genre: Adult, Historical Fiction
Source: I received an eARC from the author. This did not affect my rating and my review is provided voluntarily.
Rating: 4 Bookworms
Challenges: #2018NewRelease, #COYER
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 price 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.
I often read historical romance but historical fiction is also a favorite genre of mine. Having stories created around historical people with historical details incorporated makes for educational as well as entertaining reading. I'd read Ms. Rendfeld's previous works and found them fascinating so I was delighted to have the opportunity to read her latest novel, Queen of the Darkest Hour.
Queen of the Darkest Hour is set in the late 700's and revolves around King Charles - King of the Franks, and the Lombards, and patrician of Rome - his fourth wife, Fastrada, and his and their children. As that time period would dictate, the story involves war, religion. politics, and intrigue. But it's also a story of the strong bond between a king and his queen - a bond so strong that Charles consulted Fastrada on many decisions and included her in the ruling of his realm.
Ms. Rendfeld discusses in her afterword the details of the story which are historically accurate and those she took creative license with and I found it all interesting. But that she could craft a compelling story, set so long ago, around these figures is a testament to her skill. I will admit there were places where I groaned over the continued whining of a certain prince or the seemingly perpetual preparing for a move or for war. However, this was all realistic, a part of their lives, and set up for the events surrounding the traitorous plot against the king.
Ms. Rendfeld's use of both Fastrada's and Pepin's POV to relate the story worked well as I was able to see the true affection between Fastrada and Charles. I commiserated with her frustration at not producing a son, her deep feelings for their children, and her people. Through her I could understand Charles's desire to do all her could to rule fairly and protect his family and his people. I applauded her taking her place by Charles's side, offering her opinions and advice rather than standing in his shadow - something she was despised for. Through Pepin's eyes, I could see, if not relate to his unhappiness with his lot in life and his determination to have more. I understood his need to have his father see him as more than a deformed son...as worthy of praise and attention. I could also understand how the Church was used to twist his thinking. I think my only grievance would be with Pepin - who was treated far better - in life and in this story - that most deformed children would have been. However, it was necessary to the story and possibly historically accurate to portray him as greedy and ungrateful.
Ms. Rendfeld not only developed strong characters but also conveyed the setting well - the sights, sounds, smells of the abodes Charles and Fastrada inhabited as well as the forests, rivers, and battlefields. The ways in which Charles ruled - holding assemblies, consulting the Church, etc., was genuine. The story kept me riveted, needing to know what would happen next, how Fastrada and Charles would handle things, while also providing history lessons.
In Queen of the Darkest Hour, Ms. Rendfeld delivers an engaging historical tale, with a high degree of historical accuracy. But it's also a portrait of a loving couple and their family - who just happen to rule a large portion of Europe.