The Rebel Nun

Written by Marj Charlier
Review by Anna Bennett

Poitiers, 588. For many noblewomen seeking an alternative to marriage and the perils of childbirth, royal monasteries provided a quiet solution. For Clotild, granddaughter of Clovis and bastardis of Charibert I, it is the only path that offers relative safety from her cruel family.

At the Monastery of the Holy Cross, Clotild flourishes under the loving care of Radegund and her successor, Agnes. Expected to be voted the next abbess, Clotild is startled when the bishop, Maroveus, announces the nuns will not only be disallowed from the burial of Agnes, but that he will be naming the new abbess, Lebover. Where once the monastery was a place of joy and generosity, Lebover’s leadership brings a strictness and asceticism the nuns have not previously known. Gone is the laughter, the camaraderie. Under Lebover, the coffers shrink as quickly as the women do on their meager rations, threatening the future of Holy Cross. Clotild, still believing herself the leader of her Sisters, makes small forays into indirect rebellion before an untimely death shakes her into action.

Clotild’s rebellion brings the Sisters out of the cloister and into the real world, on pilgrimage and in danger. At a time when bishops and kings fought for who would have dominion over the clergy, when both agreed on little but the unholiness of her sex, Clotild sought audiences with church authorities and royal family members alike for help against Lebover’s cruelty.

The Rebel Nun is a well-written window into the life of a 6th-century royal bastard and the changing landscape of holy power structures. Charlier writes a strong voice for Clotild, with vivid descriptions of a daily life that brings readers along into her world. The research shows, and Charlier does an excellent job of seamlessly integrating the historical record with her own fiction.