The King’s Nun

Written by Catherine Monroe
Review by Nicole Leclerc

French children still, albeit reluctantly, celebrate Charlemagne’s birthday. They do so because he is considered the inventor of schooling. Indeed, learning plays a major role in this novel, which recreates from factual documents, deductions, and imagination a segment of the life of a young novice, Amelia (who was eventually elevated to sainthood), and Charles, King of the Franks, before he became Emperor Charlemagne.

Given to an abbey by her parents at the tender age of seven, Amelia, now seventeen, thrives on learning, especially in architecture and agriculture, and aspires to become both nun and abbess. After a chance meeting with the king, she is invited to his palace to act as his counsel. Love blossoms between the two, and their separation by wars and her work in a poor village forces her to ponder her decision to devote her life to God.

Both main characters are complex and interesting, as are the secondary ones, and I couldn’t help but care about their fate. The setting is the 8th century, a time when the influence of the Greeks and Romans was still felt, while the Middle Ages were closing in. Through Amelia and Charles, we explore the problems of those times: the spread of Christianity, its clashes with old pagan beliefs, the unification of various tribes, the growth of the Empire, the status of women and the clergy. All these threads are woven masterfully into a very lively story of love and personal decisions. Once you accept the hurdle that an older, powerful man could take counsel from a young and inexperienced girl, you should be able to fully enjoy the rich tapestry that is offered.