The Night’s Dark Shade, by Elena Maria Vidal
After having read the exquisite book, Trianon- A Novel of Royal France, by Elena Maria Vidal (see my review of that maginificent book here), I couldn’t wait to read The Night’s Dark Shade by this excellent author. Although different from the days of Marie Antoinette, in this 13th c novel, Raphaëlle, our heroine also lives turbulent and trying times that require a strong faith to carry on at all cost.
A noble by birth, Raphaëlle had been appointed in the court of Queen Blanche, when all was well under the rule of Louis VIII- The Lion. After Louis was killed in the crusade against the Albigensians, along with Raphaëlle’s father and her betrothed, the country underwent the rule of the King's young son, Louis IX. It was a trying time, with the masses rebelling and poor Queen Blanche barely holding what was left of the kingdom, together.
Raphaëlle, now practically an orphan, was given permission by the Queen to leave and live under the guardianship of her uncle- and to marry her first cousin, Raymond. A new life was promised to her, and despite the sorrow of having lost her closest loved ones, Raphaëlle bravely took on the journey towards her new life.
What was unbeknownst to her was that her uncle’s castle would be dreadfully macabre…under the rule of not so much her uncle, but especially so of her aunt, Lady Esclarmonde. She was the highest priestess of the Cathars, a group of fanatically religious people who had a skewed sense of that which was moral or good. On a mission of ridding the world of children, marriage, and all essence of Christianity, the Cathars believed in adulterous relationships, strict fasting of meat, the facilitation of killing babies (born or unborn) all for the good of the planet…hmmm. The Cathars attended morbid rituals in the deep of the night, in a hollow cave where the secret gem that held all powers was kept.
Although the Cathars were sought after and tried for their heresy, the tribe thrived in living incognito amongst the people of the villages. The castle where Raphaëlle lived was home to their highest Queen- and all villagers feared her. Also despised and suffering cruelty at the hands of her husband to be, a great Cathar leader in the making, Raphaëlle planned her escape.
Throughout the book, there are many good soldiers and monks who help fight the cause, helping the innocent and the travelers along their way. One such grand man was Sir Martin, a Knight Hospitaller of Saint John. He was almost a constant presence in this book- a savior as often as he was maligned.
We meet many intricate characters in The Night’s Dark Shade; each contributing to the riveting events that ensue in this well written book. I enjoyed learning about the religious differences and strongholds that this heretic religion had on those almost barbaric times. Surprisingly, I often felt that there were many similarities to some of the pejorative notions still held today by certain groups, in terms of marriage, children and morality, for the most part. The opinion of saving a world at the sake of its inhabitants and the over-indulgence at the expense of others resonated strongly in my mind as controversial topics that still make waves today, as they try to pass themselves for the norm.
It was indeed quite thought provoking to read this book- which is about not only an absorbing love story-but also about the tribulations in the name of religion, the horror in the beliefs of the times and the suffering for cause.
Will Raphaëlle’s soul find peace through love and her true calling? Friendship, loyalty, deception and betrayal along with a strong religious vein are all found in this book that truly stands out on its own.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about the time of the Albigensian Crusade and the heretics- specifically the Cathars in Southern France. But best of all, you’ll also find a beautiful love story with a surprising twist. A must for those who love to read about religion in history with a touch of pure romance.