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  • By mel5
    Dec 19, 2009
    The story of Raphaelle, Vicomtesse de Mirimande, is a ripping good chapter tale! If Elena-Maria Vidal is anything at all, as an author, she is marvelously gifted as a yarn-spinning, bell-toned story teller. Ordinarily, I tend not to be a fan of the romanza, but I thoroughly enjoyed the pace and people of this story and will read again. In fact the next time, I will read it aloud, for all good tales should be told in front of a leaping fire to as many ears as will listen. In her previous books Tea at Trianon and Madame Royale, Elena-Maria Vidal, crafts her characters directly from the pages of history, giving voice and depth and potency of thought and action to a King and a Queen who left many of their own words behind for her to peruse as she unfolded vignettes of their story for us to become lost in for a time. In this most recent offering from Elena-Maria, The Nights Dark Shade, she draws the characters in the story directly from her own fulsome imagination, from a bit of regional... More > travel perhaps, but primarily from her own experience of life and love, from universal truths and their consequences, from the vagaries of good and evil, invoking God and struggling with mankind as despair is overshadowed by hope. This is the real joy of the story. It is hopeful to its core. Not a saccharine unrealistic yearning, but a solid substantial expectation that in spite of the evils of the world, there is space in our lives for light and love and heart-felt laughter. In order to find these spaces, however, one must climb through the flinty detritus of human weakness as the wicked are celebrated and the good are driven out to fend for themselves alone; children are left to starve, or murdered in the womb, while sexual excess, cruelty, and license are inconvenient, but expected and tolerated aspects of a totally corrupt humanity. In this abased darkness of human nature, true chivalry comes at the price of creature comforts, and true loves bloom as a false love lies dying. The story is set in the wonderland of the French Pyrenees in Languedoc, south of the Dardogne, north of Gascony, and east of Hautes Pyrenees and Lourdes. The mountain passes are high and treacherous, with brooding monasteries perched among the peaks. The towns and villages huddle beneath massive fairy-tale fortresses and are graced by Romanesque cathedral churches built to match the forbidding face of the castle walls and buttresses. The call of eagles answer the cry of newborn lambs and the peoples are strong mountain folk, rugged but sometimes far too easily led astray. Night's Dark Shade is the story of a woman of the petite nobility of the region, who is bound, by inheritance and title, to the land and to the people. She is bound to a marriage of familial convenience and it is in the breaking of those bindings and the consequential disposition of her heart and soul that the story reaches its climax and unpredictable denouement. The pace is fast, the language formal but clipped and clear and as sharp as the cliff edges that frame the story. Thoroughly delightful change of time and place. Thoroughly recognizable to the contemporary heart.< Less
  • By Stephanie Mann
    Nov 11, 2009
    The Thirteenth Century and Today Historical fiction is a fascinating genre because when done well it reveals truths about both the past and the present. It allows us to experience both what was unique to the era of its setting while recognizing what is universal in our humanity. The Night’s Dark Shade: A Novel of the Cathars represents historical fiction done well, particularly when revealing the dangers of the Cathar movement in the 13th century and holding up a mirror to the 21st. By telling the story of Raphaelle de Miramande’s encounter with a castle occupied by Cathars, especially with the Perfecta who may become the young heiress’ mother-in-law, Elena-Maria Vidal bravely dramatizes the consequences of Cathar teaching. I say bravely because the Cathars or Albigensians are very often depicted as heroes for their opposition to the Catholic Church or as victims for their suffering in the Albigensian crusades against them in southern France—perhaps because their admirers sympathize... More > with their sexual ethics and their Gnostic elitism. For instance, while being tortured in the Cathar castle Raphaelle discovers the depth of the Perfecta Esclarmonde’s hatred of children. Cathar teaching holds that all matter is evil and to see a pure soul degraded by flesh is anathema to Esclarmonde. She will do anything to prevent the survival of children, in or out of the womb, healthy or disabled. She tells Raphaelle how she has forced contraception, abortion, infanticide and euthanasia upon her family and the villagers outside the castle. This scene is chilling and yet echoes aspects of our current culture of death. But Vidal has not written a piece of propaganda; The Night’s Dark Shade offers a fast-paced plot of travel, adventure, romance and love. In addition to the physical dangers of being attacked by brigands, chased, kidnapped, and tortured, Raphaelle faces the moral dangers of falling in love with the wrong man, tempting her to infidelity to her husband and inciting gossip about their relationship. She is a young woman who faces these dangers bravely but not perfectly or insipidly. Vidal also does not flinch from depicting the horror of the ultimate punishment meted out by the secular authority for obdurate heresy. Esclarmonde is burned alive at the stake and her husband, Raphaelle’s uncle, joins her in the pyre; the onlookers—and the reader—are appalled by their agony. Perhaps my only quibble is with the denouement of the novel—Raphaelle’s husband Jacques almost too easily explains why he had been so distant from his new bride, critical and cold, leaving her to face such physical and moral dangers alone. How and why he allowed her to remain so close to Sir Martin, the Knight Hospitaller she is attracted to, when he did not trust him is also too facilely accounted for. At the end of the novel, Jacques demonstrates his love and high regard for her once they are reunited and as Raphaelle recovers from her ordeals. Vidal leaves the reader with the sense they will work together to heal the wounds of the Cathar heresy among their people with charity and good example—and with a joyfully welcomed child. Highly recommended for historical fiction buffs of any age for its plotting, characterizations and often eloquently descriptive prose, The Night’s Dark Shade is particularly suited to young readers. Anyone who enjoys the genre, however, will revel in their escape into the world of 13th century southern France.< Less
  • By Christine Niles
    Nov 6, 2009
    Father Robert Hugh Benson, one of my favorite historical novelists, had a knack for bringing to vivid life the characters and times of Reformation England, showing attention to historical detail while weaving tales fraught with danger, heroism, romance, duty, and sacrifice. The heroes and heroines of his novels--always Catholic--are eminently relatable. In a similar vein, Elena Maria Vidal, author of Trianon, Madame Royale, and, most recently, The Night's Dark Shade, has a gift for writing beautifully while transporting one into past times and places and keeping one's attention riveted as if there oneself. In the 13th century, Catharism--"The Great Heresy"--had swept through Languedoc, France and gained a stronghold, its adherents of noble and common stock alike. The problem was so serious the Catholic Church had instituted a crusade against the heretics, who had drawn numbers of the faithful away by their esoteric teachings. Louis VIII, crowned in 1223, would lead the... More > crusade, reclaiming Aquitaine and much of the southern territories and leaving to his heir, St. Louis IX, a Capetian reign that extended from England to the Mediterranean. In the midst of this medieval landscape, enter the maiden Raphaëlle de Miramande, vicomtesse, protagonist of The Night's Dark Shade, who, bereft of her father as well as her betrothed, both killed fighting alongside King Louis "the Lion" in the crusade, fears an unclear future. The Knights Hospitaller of St. John, that august military order whose members numbered the fiercest warriors against the Saracens, play a prominent part in this novel. Without giving away two much, two knights in particular represent opposite poles in young Raphaëlle's moral life--on the one hand, duty, obigation, and fidelity, and on the other, passion and temptation. Along with this, the devout Catholic maiden must contend firsthand with certain in her company who have ascribed to the Cathar heresy and its evils. The Church's struggles today against the practices of contraception, abortion, and euthanasia are, though separated by centuries, mirrored in Catholics' struggles against 13th century Albigensian morality, a philosophy that pitted spirit against matter. The Cathars, who deemed all carnality--even married sex--an evil, and its human fruits an unfortunate consequence, held it morally preferable to engage in non-procreative sexual acts, and justified abortion (in some cases even infanticide) and euthanasia to free "entrapped" souls from their material prisons. For these reasons, Vidal's novel is timely and relevant; the spiritual battles Catholics fought then are the same ones we fight today, whether it be on the great sweeping battlefronts of national heresy--a radical individualism loosed from its moral anchorings--or the more intimate realms of the individual soul wrestling to gain self-mastery. The young girl will read The Night's Dark Shade and identify with the youthful, strongwilled protagonist; the mature woman will read this novel and relate to the newly married Raphaëlle and the sufferings so common to the married state. The Night's Dark Shade will be a book kept on the shelves of our family library, and will be mandatory reading for my little ones once they've gotten a bit older. Maria Elena Vidal has been gifted with an eye for historical detail, an energetic imagination, an elegant writing style, and a keen and informed faith, all of which blend powerfully together in this her latest work.< Less
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Product Details

First Edition
Mayapple Books
March 3, 2010
Perfect-bound Paperback
Interior Ink
Black & white
0.87 lbs.
Dimensions (inches)
5.83 wide x 8.26 tall
Product ID
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