Queen of the Darkest Hour

Written by Kim Rendfeld
Review by J. Lynn Else

Francia, 783. Fastrada, fourth wife of King Charles, quickly realizes that not all of the royal children are happy to see her wed their father. The oldest son, Pepin, takes every chance to publicly undermine her. Bitter that he will not inherit the crown, Pepin is secretly plotting with his mother’s brother to usurp the throne. He blames his father’s sins as the cause of his spine deformity, a curvature that becomes more pronounced each passing year. Only Fastrada notices the increasingly alarming signs in her stepson. But can she convince her husband that Pepin is planning something sinister before it’s too late? Told with an alternating point of view between Fastrada and Pepin, Rendfeld’s novel is full of political intrigue, religious fervor, and a heartfelt romance.

As happens often to strong-willed women, Fastrada is not remembered kindly by historians. Rendfeld’s research brushes away some of the rough edges and uncovers a queen just as formidable and pious as her husband, Charlemagne. Rendfeld uses meticulous research to put together a plausible story that’s richly atmospheric. I most enjoyed the fact that Fastrada thought and acted appropriately for her time. This isn’t a feminist retelling or a modern mindset imprinted over a historical woman, and I’m glad for it. The suspense comes from the ever-increasing political tension outside the courts as well as inside the royal family. Rendfeld does a commendable job bringing to life this time period and its peoples. Recommended.