Published by Blackstone Publishing on March 2, 2021
Source: the publisher
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Marj Charlier’s The Rebel Nun is based on the true story of Clotild, the daughter of a sixth-century king and his concubine, who leads a rebellion of nuns against the rising misogyny and patriarchy of the medieval church.
At that time, women are afforded few choices in life: prostitution, motherhood, or the cloister. Only the latter offers them any kind of independence. By the end of the sixth century, even this is eroding as the church begins to eject women from the clergy and declares them too unclean to touch sacramental objects or even their priest-husbands.
Craving the legitimacy thwarted by her bastard status, Clotild seeks to become the next abbess of the female Monastery of the Holy Cross, the most famous of the women’s cloisters of the early Middle Ages. When the bishop of Poitiers blocks her appointment and seeks to control the nunnery himself, Clotild masterminds an escape, leading a group of nuns on a dangerous pilgrimage to beg her royal relatives to intercede on their behalf. But the bishop refuses to back down, and a bloody battle ensues. Will Clotild and her sisters succeed with their quest, or will they face ex-communication, possibly even death?
In the only historical novel written about the incident, The Rebel Nun is a richly imagined story about a truly remarkable heroine.
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I chose to read The Rebel Nun by Marj Charlier because I have a huge interest in Medieval stuff. Whenever I find a book or any other media about this time period, I get really excited about it. I was thrilled to pieces when a beautiful hardcover copy of The Rebel Nun arrived at my house in exchange for a review.
Prior to hearing about this book, I had never heard of Clotild or the big uprising that she led during the sixth century. Clotild was born into royalty, the daughter of King Charibert and a peasant. Clotild was taken to the monastery to live because it was dangerous for people like her during those times. When the King had children, it was expected that their life would be in danger as the mothers of the children would want to ensure that their child would ascend to the throne on the death of the King. Clotild seemed to take to her time at the monastery well, growing close to her relative the abbess. When the abbess died, she expected to take over the role. However, that did not happen and the quality of life decreased significantly for the nuns living in the monastery after a ton of harsh, new rules were instituted. This led to a rebellion after Clotild and the other nuns finally got fed up enough with their treatment.
This is so interesting to me because it had to have taken a ton of courage. Women during this time had no power at all. Only the royalty-born women had some semblance of power, but it still was very little. Women were just not seen as respected and worthy. The character Clotild in this book gave a lot of thought to how things were deteriorating before she came to action. She had to know she may not win and lives could be lost. But she and her sisters, the other nuns, were starving and continuously stifled. They weren’t allowed to even have conversation. They were watched almost constantly. They were verbally belittled. Certainly Clotild thought that she deserved better treatment than this because of her parentage (even though she was a bastardis). But I think that ultimately, the miserable conditions were at the center of the rebellion.
This book is good, really good. I enjoyed the deep dive into a time that isn’t often explored in historical fiction. It was easy for me to visualize the small world of the convent, with its dark, dank, smelly, cold rooms and hallways and kitchens. It was easy for me to visualize the misery on the faces and in the bodies of the women living there. This was my favorite part of this story.
It is also obvious that it is well-researched. I think that this works two ways, though. For someone like me, who is very very interested in the politics and details of the time, I loved it. But the attention to detail did slow down the narrative and it actually took me a lot longer than normal to finish this one. I found that if I tried to digest too much at once, I felt confused about names and lineage. I could get through a chapter or two at a time, and then I would have to put it down and do something else so I could think about what I had been reading.
There is a beautiful family tree and map at the beginning of the book to help out with all of the similar names and marriages, children, and bloodlines. I spent a lot of time looking at the family tree, in particular. I think this one will appeal to lovers of a more “literary” type of historical fiction. I think it best to take it slowly, too. Read a little bit and let it all soak in, and then go back for more. Beautiful book, very interesting story. I enjoyed reading it. Oh! And the Author’s Note is glorious-I recommend reading it before starting the story.
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