The cousin of King Clovis IV, and the illegitimate son of the true force behind the throne, Pepin of Herstal, Charles grows up acquainted with power but not welcome to it. The first time young Charles meets Pepin of Herstal, the Duke of the Franks and Mayor of the Palace of Austrasi, the headstrong child attacks the duke for laughing rudely at Elfida, Charles’s mother. That impresses Pepin, and in crisp prose alive with historic detail, Charles makes a home at the palace of Colonia, determined to prove his quality. “Even if I don’t rise to power, a bastard can still become a great soldier,” he declares.
Raids on Burgundia and conflict between Pepin and the “boy-king” Clovis will afford that chance. Hayes’s telling is lengthy but assured, as committed to political machinations and extraordinary conflicts as it is to capturing the spirit of everyday life: “So my first night of adventure as a warrior was spent preparing food,” Charles notes. “My weapon was a knife for peeling and my enemies were vegetables to thicken our rabbit stew.” That exemplifies Hayes’s project: historical fiction dedicated as much to the way people of the past lived and thought as it is to how they fought.
Takeaway: A richly imagined novel of the early years of Frankish hero Charles Martel.
Great for fans of: Hillary Mantel, J. Boyce Gleason’s Anvil of God.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A