(I recently celebrated a wonderful milestone on my blog – 1000 comments! Thanks to all who read the blog and make it worth while. Elena Maria Vidal is most graciously celebrating with me by writing a guest post and offering a copy of her new novel, The Night’s Dark Shade: A Novel of the Cathars, for giveaway. My review of the book will appear at the end of this post)
I was interested in European History, especially the Medieval Era, from the time I was a small child. I have loved Joan of Arc from as long as I can remember. Knights, ladies, castles, and chivalry always captivated me as well. I read everything about the Middle Ages I could get my hands on. I first heard about the Cathars in high school and in college I studied them a bit more. Their strangeness captivated me in that they were, in many ways, like contemporary people. In graduate school I decided to pursue the topic further, and did a paper on the Albigensian Crusade. Providentially, I saved the paper, with my notes and bibliography, which helped me get a good start into the novel. In 1994 I spent the summer in Lourdes, France. As I have written on my blog, I was intrigued by the castle there. I took a tour of the castle and then went to the town library and read about it. I discovered that it had been a Cathar stronghold during the Middle Ages. A story began to take shape in my mind. However, I did not begin writing it down until the winter of 2000-2001, after the publication of my first two novels, TrianonandMadame Royale. After eight more years of writing, research, and rewriting, it all came together at last. I am pleased that the novel is finally published and being read and enjoyed.
Although The Night’s Dark Shade takes place several centuries beforeTrianonand Madame Royale, all three books deal with the theme of revolution and its destructive effects. Catharism was a form of spiritual revolution. The Cathars were essentially a gnostic sect, who insisted upon calling themselves the “Good Christians,” adopting a lot of Christian terminology. They believed that there were two gods, one good and one bad. They believed that the evil god had created the entire material world, and therefore to them all matter was evil. The good god, whom they did not hold to be omnipotent, created only the spiritual world. The Cathars denied most of the major tenets of the Creed, including the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. They shunned the sign of the cross, and rejected the Old Testament. They rejected baptism by water and only believed in a “baptism of light.” They denied all the sacraments of the Roman Church, holding marriage to be an abomination because it regularized the sexual act, leading to the procreation of children. Cohabitation as well as homosexuality were considered preferable to traditional marriage. They practiced suicide in a ritual known as the endura, in which they would starve themselves to death.
As for the characters in the novel, Queen Blanche, the mother of Louis IX, was an actual person, as was the royal seneschal and cousin of the king, Imbert de Beaujeu. The Cathar bishop and his deacon whom Raphaëlle meets in Lady Esclarmonde’s tower were based upon real people as well. The historical events alluded to throughout the novel are all genuine. As for the places, “Bécède” was a Cathar castle in real life and it was indeed besieged by the Lord Imbert. “Mirambel” is the name of the stronghold at Lourdes. I once visited an English hostel at the base of the castle mount. A door in an upper story of the hostel opened up into a sort of cave under the castle; it became clear to me that subterranean passages were a distinct possibility.
Elena Maria Vidal is the author of Trianon and Madame Royale. Her most recent novel, The Night’s Dark Shade: A Novel of the Cathars transports us back to medieval France through the eyes of young Raphaelle de Miramande. After the death of her father and betrothed, she travels to her uncle only to find that her new betrothed has very different beliefs from herself – and she strongly believes him to be a heretic, along with his mother and the other followers of Catharism. She knows what she must do then and that is to escape. We are then taken along as Raphaelle journeys to find love and acceptance, meeting new and interesting people in the process.
I was hooked on The Night’s Dark Shade from the very first page. Raphaelle, though sometimes scared, is strong in mind, heart and beliefs. Elena has a wonderful knack of describing places so that you feel you are there, seeing them in your mind’s eye. I was instantly intrigued in the Cathars and their very strange beliefs. I had no idea there were people in history who had such a distorted look at Christianity.
I found the novel to be well researched, fast moving and completely enjoyable. It’s a story full of substance, complex characters, just the right mix of history and fiction and wonderfully lacking in fluff. A novel of love and hate, good and evil, I enjoyed each word and was sorry to see it end.
And now for the giveaway. One lucky person will win a SIGNED copy of The Night’s Dark Shade. This is an international giveaway so everyone has a chance at winning! Leave a comment with your email address for one entry. Tweet, Facebook or blog about the giveaway for an additional 2 entries. (Make sure you leave a link so you can be credited with the extra entries.) This giveaway will end on January 24th.