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Lotharingia: Charlemagne's Heir

by Lara Byrne

Rating: *****

Set throughout Europe in early Medieval times, Lotharingia expertly weaves the political intrigue, scheming, and religious manoeuvring of the age with a compelling love story that has the potential to change the course of history…

Lotharingia is a first-rate historical fiction. The sheer scale of the research to produce what is an excellent and completely immersive reconstruction of a historical period is absolutely staggering. It really has been meticulously recreated from the smallest of details to the big set-pieces. Ms. Byrne is not just writing about the 11th century but seems to be writing from within it.

The fictional story Ms Byrne has melded with the facts is just as absorbing and utterly convincing. The relationship between Matilde and Heinrich is beautifully realised, twisting and turning with the depth of their emotions, and subtly infused with the vibration of sexual tension without being gratuitous.

Matilde and Heinrich’s personalities are written with thoughtful intent, consideration, and dimension. Both can be amusing and infuriating in equal measure. Ms Byrne has really made them come alive without simply adding a few tokenistic details and they also feel very contemporary. Matilde, especially, is more than capable of carrying this novel, and further instalments.

All of the supporting characters are wonderfully authentic and the dialogue is commanding but never stagey. Adalbert was a standout and his last scene with Heinrich was incredibly moving. Godefroy was suitably villainous without becoming pantomimic, and the dynamic between Margravine Beatrice and Agnes was supremely interesting and quietly powerful.

From the beginning, the reader is plunged straight into the swirling politics and conspiracies. There is a large cast to wrestle with, but there is a helpful glossary at the beginning of the novel to add familiarisation, and a more expanded version at the end which is a considerate aid to reader consolidation.

The plot has a number of side angles, all of which have relevance in some form to the main thrust of the narrative. The book is written in third person but from multiple perspectives and this really helps the reader become fully involved, and also adds a brushstroke of foreshadowing and dramatic irony for the reader which is crucial in a historical fiction work of this magnitude. However, the richly detailed, descriptive imagery ensures that the religious and political machinations never become too dry or dense and I liked the touch of the supernatural with Beatrice’s reliquary and portents.

The novel is well-paced and never loses momentum helped by the relative short chapter structure and the switch between various events and characters. As the situation between Matilde and Heinrich gathers pace, the story is truly gripping, simmering with nail-biting suspense and charged with foreboding.

Lotharingia is a real treat for fans of the genre. Highly recommended.

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