book review, historical fiction

Review: The Rebel Nun by Marj Charlier


The Rebel Nun by Marj Charlier tells the little-known true story of 6th-century nun Clotild who leads a rebellion for the rights and freedom for her sisters. The story takes place in medieval France at the monestary of the Holy Cross where, after the death of the progressive-thinking (for the time) abbess, the male-led church takes control and installs a gluttonous new abbess as his puppet.

Under this new leadership, the sisters endure near-starvation, physical and emotional abuse, and little freedom. Clotild, the illegitimate daughter of a king, emerges as a voice of hope and change amongst the women. Although a nun, Clotild still very much believes in the pagan goddesses of her ancestors. Her cloistering was due to the fact that as an illegitimate daughter of a king, she would either have to be married off or she would be killed in a power play by other family members. Clotild’s path is not unlike many women of this time period, where even if they weren’t particularly religious or Christian, they chose the monastic life as means of individual freedom. Unlike most women of their day, nuns could enjoy some freedoms such as reading and writing, without the threat of a future husband who could control and/or abuse.

Clotild struggles with her beliefs, but seems mostly pagan in that she is most aligned with her goddesses, but sometimes still prays to God Largely because of the social impact of Christianity and the patriarchy being so intertwined.

While Clotild’s story is interesting historically, I found this book to be quite dry and slow-moving. Although a cliche thing to say, The Rebel Nun was largely tell over show, meaning the scenes with dialogue and action were few and far between. The action didn’t come until the end of the book, and just when the plot was picking up, the story ended. I wanted to know more about what Clotild did after the rebellion.

I appreciate the story of a medieval woman advocating for freedom and rights (I’m sure there are truths in the historical event, although the author does say she fictonalized some aspects,) however, I have to say the book was just “okay.”