Disclosure: I downloaded only the free sample preview of the Kindle edition of this book. I do not know the author nor have I had any personal direct communication with her about this book or any other matter, but I am aware of her through discussions here on BookLikes. I have also read reviews of her books and her comments regarding those reviews. I am an author of contemporary and historical romance novels.
The Amazon preview feature is an option afforded to self-publishing authors so that they can give potential readers the opportunity to look at the opening of the book the way they would if they were browsing the shelves in a brick and mortar book store or a library. If the reader likes the beginning, they can buy or borrow the book and take it home to read the rest. If the beginning isn't quite so intriguing, the reader puts the book back on the shelf and moves on.
Elena Maria Vidal's book is, in my opinion, outrageously over-priced at $9.99 for a Kindle edition of approximately 228 pages. A writer with no professional credentials or writing track record would be well advised to lower the price and hope to get some readership. At the current price, however, it had to be one hell of a fine book to tempt me. In truth, if not for the fracas surrounding Ms. Vidal, I would never even have considered this book.
I've been interested in the Cathar "heresy" at least since my first reading of Frank Yerby's The Saracen Blade when I was in high school in the 1960s. This was about the same time as the popular song "Dominique" was topping the charts, sung by a Belgian Dominican nun. The song chronicles the life of Saint Dominic. Although the English lyrics
At a time when Johnny Lackland
Over England was the King
Dominique was in the backland
Fighting sin like anything
seem innocuous enough, the original French words reflect more of Dominic's history:
A l'e poque ou Jean-sans-Terre de' Angleterre etait Roi
Dominique, notre Pere, combattit les Albigeois
"Combattit les Albigeois" does not mean "fighting sin like anything." It means "fought the Albigensian(s)."''
I already knew what that meant. I knew who the Albigensians were -- the Cathars -- and I knew why the Catholic Church was determined to exterminate them.
Years later, I read Holy Blood, Holy Grail, the allegedly non-fiction account of Knights Templars and Cathars and the hilltop village of Rennes-le-Chateau in the south of France. I also picked up Robert Shea's novel, All Things Are Lights, about the Cathars. Right now it's on the top shelf of the big bookcase or I'd get it down and add a photo.
So I'm not totally ignorant of the history of the Languedoc and the Cathar heresy.
Oh, and one other thing. In early February 1969, I hitchhiked from Paris to the Spanish border. My journey took me through Cahors, Limoges, Montauban, and Toulouse before heading into the Pyrenees via Pamiers, Foix, and Col de Puymorens.
With this personal background, I downloaded the sample of The Night's Dark Shades.
For one thing, it's very short, hardly enough to get much of a taste of the story. But, as I've noted often enough before, it's not difficult to determine a writer's skill at writing in just a few pages.
Elena Maria Vidal is not the greatest writer in the world. Millions of murex snails would have to be sacrificed to produce so much purple prose. It's not just the extravagance of adjectives and speech tags that make my eyes roll while reading, however. It's also the fact that the text is boring.
Lady Rafaelle is heading to her uncle's chateau where she will probably wed his son, her cousin, after the deaths of her father and her betrothed in . . . some war. There's a lot of info dumping, but not much else. Well, there are questions raised that should be answered right away. They aren't.
Lady Rafaelle seems to be the heir to the estate of Miramande, in the somewhat distant region of Auvergne. Her father is dead and there's no mention of any brothers or other siblings who would have inherited the estate and its chateau. So, why is Rafaelle leaving her estate to go to her uncle's? Why did she initially consider entering a convent? Who is minding Miramande in her absence?
We get more information about Jehanette, the peasant who serves as Lady Rafaelle's handmaiden, than about why Rafaelle has seemingly abandoned her chateau.
That bothered me. It seemed like that should have been an important plot point.
What also bothered me was that there's no description of the "rabble" of pilgrims who are accompanying Rafaelle and her troupe on the journey. Well, no, that's not quite right. There is some description, but it's not adequate. How many are there? I thought at first it must be a hundred or more, but apparently it's less than 20. I would have liked to know that sooner.
Who else is in this train? Two attending women, a couple of knights, and . . . . that's it?
This is important because one of the knights, in a tedious little info dump, informs Rafaelle that there are bandits in the mountains, murderous renegades of the religious war, I guess. Because of the bandits, the knights advise against stopping for a brief rest.
Wait a minute. What difference would stopping for a rest make? I mean, if bandits are going to attack, couldn't they attack while the company from Miramande are on the move? After all, they aren't moving very fast, because some of the pilgrims and men-at-arms are on foot.
If I as a reader think this, why didn't Rafaelle? Why didn't she ask about this? Well, of course she didn't because that wouldn't be good for the story, I suppose. And also of course, Rafaelle prevails in demanding a brief rest and the bandits attack.
That's when I quit reading.
Purple prose for the sake of purple prose turns me off. The opening paragraph that describes the pass in the Pyrenees would almost have been enough to make me put this book back on the figurative shelf. But further reading didn't really improve my opinion.
There's no real sense of the historical period established. Oh, the history is given: one king is dead, the new king is a minor, France is under the rule of the king's mother Queen Blanche, blah, blah, blah. But it takes more than a few data points to make the reader feel as if she is in the scene. Author Vidal wasn't able to bring me into that mountain pass. She didn't give me a full sense of Rafaelle as a character, someone I could identify with as the story progressed. I didn't know what she looked like, or even how old she was.
Writers are free to write their stories any way they want. Once they put their stories into the public marketplace, however, they must also accept the judgment of the readers who choose to look at those stories. And readers are free to form and express their opinions on the writing, the stories, and yes, even the authors themselves.
As a reader, I'm not inclined to read any further into The Night's Dark Shade. I'm more inclined to climb on a stepstool and pull All Things Are Lights down for a re-read. Vidal's writing is insufficiently professional to command the price she's put on the book, but more importantly, it's insufficiently professional to command my attention.
One-half star and a Do Not Want to Read.