Dark Age Maiden
Date Published: January 14, 2012
Number of Pages: 220
Print Price: $8.09
eBook Price: $
Serving as the protagonist in Dark Age Maiden by Tom Molnar, Carina is not your typical young lady in early medieval Europe. Her Germanic heritage dictates that most maidens should anticipate an arranged marriage and a life of humble support for the man chosen for her by her father. But Carina loves to ride her horse on her own, speaks her mind freely, and maintains a somewhat cynical view of courting and marriage. Her father attributes her free spirit to her Roman blood. Matters are further complicated when, after refusing her father’s first choice for her spouse, she meets two potential suitors.
One of these suitors, Giancarlo, who rules the city of Nice, rescues her father and the people he leads from enemy marauders. Mature, winning, physical, strong, and wealthy, Giancarlo seems to be everything a woman could hope for to guarantee a secure position, comfort, and passion. Yet, he is not merely powerful and sensual. Carina notes that his people love and respect him. He can be tender and merciful, and he loved his first wife whole-heartedly before her untimely death. He sees Carina as a wild horse worth taming and winning as his bride.
On the other hand, Uberto is a young man seeking knighthood and a position with Carina’s father. His quirky, honest, and simple ventures into friendship and courtship attract Carina’s heart. Uberto is brave yet humble, ambitious yet independent. He sees Carina as his muse and as the epitome of femininity, but hardly as a helpless damsel in distress (except, perhaps, for the times he saves her life).
Carina is in a bind. She worries that “Uberto is such an outlandish romantic,” and “Giancarlo . . . Isn’t he a little old?” Yet, “with Giancarlo she felt sultry, very much aware of her femininity and the power of the man who held her. Not so with Uberto. With him she felt confident and adventurous. She found herself wanting to be playful with him, even impish.” When the large Muslim forces advance and both her suitors are thrown into conflict with the enemy and with each other, Carina must choose.
Molnar carefully weaves a story that explores the grey areas between two good choices and the complicated dynamics of love, war, and loyalty. His writing is clear, entertaining, and well-researched. The prose is not particularly elegant or poetic, but the straightforward historical details and character sketches provide plenty for the reader to embellish upon in his own imagination.
While this book would be an enjoyable, quickly-paced narrative on its own, Molnar has wisely chosen to highlight more mature themes and questions as well. Is love based upon stability and eventual affection or upon sexual attraction and experience in romance? Or perhaps love is the ability of two different souls to know what the other requires and to meet those needs in love and simplicity? In times of war, what obligation does one have toward protecting oneself and others? What is a woman’s place?
Molnar also credits the defenders of Christian Europe with a true dilemma of conscience. Killing goes against all that Christians are taught to feel for the dignity of others, yet protecting the innocent is a battle that must be fought.
The deceptively simple plot line is accompanied by a melodious ostinato of well-crafted motifs that serve to illuminate the true moral purpose and orientation of the main characters. The primary images are of cloth, horses, and combat. First, Carina is won by Count Giancarlo’s gift of expensive fibers, but she is attracted to Uberto’s knowledge, appreciation for, and assistance with her craft of dying and weaving cloth. This becomes a point of contrast for the two suitors. In response, at various points, she sews the clothes for those she loves – a garment for her father, a vest for Giancarlo, a knight’s tunic for Uberto for his public accolade.
In addition, Carina shows her character in her treatment of her women and in her ability be content to weave and work. Yet, she is not bound by a life of handiwork alone but also nurtures an active mind (she can read a little and has a quick wit).
Dark Age Maiden is positively Catholic. One of the most beautiful demonstrations of Catholicity in the novel is Molnar’s depiction of the bishop as a true leader of his people. The bishop is sensitive to their needs and inner dilemmas but firm in his request for help and in his understanding of the larger threat, which the rural people in particular may not fully comprehend. The book also supports Catholic sexual ethics, just war theory, and broader concepts of social justice.
Molar does not glorify every element of the early Middle Ages, however, and he shows the possibility of a feudal system to be positive and dignifying to the poor or to be degrading and selfish. His good characters are virtuous, and the Catholic Church is seen as a binding force that unites virtuous people for the greater good of all.
Dark Age Maiden is light, enjoyable reading with the additional benefit of thematic material and historical insights that transcend the scope of the novel. Readers of romance, adventure, and historical fiction would all appreciate Molnar’s first essay into the realm of fiction.
Original Language: English
Book Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
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