My review of Queen of the Darkest Hour by Kim Rendfeld

Set in Carolingian France in the 8th century.

The story opens with the marriage of King Charles of Francia (later known as Charlemagne) and Fastrada, his fourth and much younger wife and sets out not only the relationship of characters to each other in a comprehensible way but also their attitudes to one another. So we learn that Fastrada is anxious about living up to Charles’ late queen. Pepin is jealous of his younger brother Karl, who is destined to be king after their father, but also fearful of the young Fastrada and the children she is likely to give Charles. He works toward diminishing her status but he can go only so far because he is but a boy of fourteen, only two years younger than his stepmother. However, as the story progresses, Pepin matures and his envy and ambition only grow.

It is unfortunate that stories revolving around queens, with a few exceptions, have them sitting in their palaces receiving news of action taking place elsewhere. Charles was involved in many wars during this period, so the author loses the opportunity to involve the reader in the excitement because the action is dealt with in a sentence or two from a messenger or in a letter. This is also true of Fastrada.

Having said that, with Pepin around life in the palace wasn’t entirely dull. Pepin is one of the antagonists, but he is not an entirely evil character, which gives him dimensions. It is not difficult to sympathise with him because who wouldn’t be angry after being overlooked in favour of a younger brother just because of a physical deformity?

I often find reading an ebook with the list of characters at the front is frustrating. However, in this case, and in spite of the unusual names, the author was so adept at identifying her characters in the narrative that beyond the first few pages I never had occasion to refer to that list.

This is an unfamiliar period of history to me and I enjoyed my first foray into it.

****

I wrote this review for Discovering Diamonds.

Plotter or pantser

I know. Zillions of words have been written on the subject, so here is my two pennyworth. I was always a pantser, which is logical because my first 9 books were all about real people and true events. There wasn’t a lot of plotting to be done, only to flesh out the characters, add descriptions and decide which parts of the actual history to develop. This suited me well enough until I came to book no. 10. Here I set fictional characters against real events, but there was some plotting involved and I did it ‘on the wing’. The book that was supposed to no. 11 was the subject of a previous blog (the book that didn’t want to be written) so I’ll bypass that and talk about the new no. 11, which is also a combination of fictional and historical.

Before starting this book, I decided I wanted to be a plotter because it seemed to me a more professional approach. I found a neat little book called Take off Your Pants, laid out my strategy according to the author’s suggestions and jumped right in. After writing about 70 pages, I decided it was necessary to give my heroine 2 brothers. Around page 120, I decided I didn’t need the two brothers if I added the point of view of a protagonist to show the other side of the story. By page 180, I had reached the conclusion that the book would be too long, with too much war and not enough human drama so out went the protagonist’s voice and back came the two brothers. (Two, so I could kill one off.) Proud to say I have now finished the first draft.

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The moral is, you can’t drive a round peg into a square hole. For better or worse, I write by the seat of my pants.

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