The Dark Queens Review

The bloody, eye-opening story of two forgotten women

Author Shelley Puhak | Publisher Head of Zeus | Price £9.99 | Released 3 March 2022

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In The Dark Queens, Shelley Puhak sets out to tell the story of Brunhild and Fredegund, sisters-in-law who vied for the upper hand in sixth-century Merovingian France. One started life as a princess, the other as a slave, but each rose to the top, celebrated as politicians and strategists as they navigated their respective forces through a civil war that lasted for decades. 

The women battled one another for years and their clashes shaped the continent in the early Middle Ages, but today they are largely forgotten. Where they are remembered, they are cyphers, their stories shaped by legend, liberally sprinkled with fiction. Using primary sources, Puhak attempts to hack through the legends to uncover the truth. In doing so, she uncovers a story that is more thrilling and stranger than any fiction. 

The Dark Queens attempts not only to tell the true story of Brunhild and Fredegund, but also to examine exactly why they came to be regarded as the model of the wicked stepmother or evil queen. In doing so,  it walks a sometimes fine line between academic text and narrative nonfiction, though Puhak handles this deftly. She also handles an enormous cast and some very complex politics with aplomb, keeping the story moving at a breakneck pace without ever losing sight of her subjects.

This is a book that will appeal not only to those with an interest in the Middle Ages, but anyone who loves the cut-and-thrust of court politics and ambition laid bare.


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