Book Review: The Night’s Dark Shade

It’s an unfortunate fact that each generation must uncover for itself: Love is a battlefield. Except for those who marry their first love, and early in life, most of us carry on our hearts the scars of broken, often ill-advised, romantic entanglements.  Each friendship leaves its mark; those characterized by authentic Christian charity and fidelity touch our souls lightly and for the better. Those that are not, do not. Either way, when the friendship ends, some pain is inevitable.

The Faithful, Wounded Heart

Frankly, by the time I met my husband at the age of 34, my heart had so many battle scars, it was a wonder that I had anything left to offer him.  Each of us had memories and habits to overcome.  And by the grace of God, through the sacrament of matrimony, we built a life together, choosing each day to trust in the fidelity we had promised to one another.  A decade has passed, and we are still learning what it means to give of ourselves completely in authentic, life-long love.  Some days I wonder if I will ever catch up to my husband, who exhibits heroic virtue in the areas I am weakest, such as patience and compassion and gentleness and self-control.  It really can be trying … then again, I’m sure I’m no picnic.

Because of our respective pasts, some scars run so deep that there is really no getting rid of them entirely, though marriage has in a very real way been a sacrament of healing as well as vocation.  Every once in a while a twinge resurfaces. Which raises an important question:  When such memories resurface, what is a faithful soul to do? What does fidelity demand?

Have you ever wondered this? If so, pick up a copy of Elena Maria Vidal’s The Night’s Dark Shade. When the heroine’s fiancé and father die in battle, so crushed is Lady Raphaelle that nothing is left for her but duty. Day after anguished day she trudges along and hopes for … if not the best, at least a measure of peace.  Instead she finds herself trapped by circumstances, surrounded by “good Christians” who do not reverence the cross, bear witness to the goodness of creation, or regard pregnancy as a gift to be embraced within marriage.

In the words of King Solomon, there is truly “nothing new under the sun.” Although Vidal’s latest novel is set in medieval France, The Night’s Dark Shade is richly textured with two perennial truths: From one generation to the next, faith and love are tested by any number of devilish counterfeits.  And each in turn discovers that the surest pathway to happiness lies not in surrender to the sham, but in resistance.

Vidal has a loyal following of readers because of her lyrical, thoroughly Catholic treatment of medieval French history. Her first two novels, Trianon and Madame Royale, offer unexpected glimpses into the life and faith of Marie Antoinette and her extended family.  The Night’s Dark Shade examines a different period of history, and yet this book also raises important questions and draws connections that are as relevant now as they were hundreds of years ago.  Well worth reading.

The Night’s Dark Shade and Elena Maria Vidal’s other novels are available through or directly through the publisher; be sure to peruse her blog, Tea at Trianon, as well.

[CE editor’s note: Elana Maria Vidal’s first two books are available in CE’s online store. Click here for Trianon and Madame Royale, Also be sure to see the interview with the author here.]

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  • elijahmaria

    I have also read The Night’s Dark Shade and wrote the following review:

    The Night’s Dark Shade

    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 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.