Into the labyrinth
Set partly in the twenty-first century, partly in Languedoc at the time of the downfall of the Cathars, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read charting the parallel lives of Alais and her modern incarnation Alice. Alais' father is a member of the Cathar sect and has also been entrusted with the secret of the Grail, which he and a group of like-minded people have vowed to protect. When twenty-first century Alice stumbles across two bodies in a cave the hunt for the Grail is back on again.
So here's what I loved about it : great feisty heroines, a gloriously horrible female villain, beautifully described historical background. Mosse clearly loves the south of France and its history and this comes through well. It also explained something to me that I'd always wondered about - I'd always felt that the south of France felt like a very different country to the land to the north. Not just different geographically, but a sense almost that it's a land apart. Describing the purging of the Cathars more as a land grab and a sort of ethnic cleansing imposing Northern French culture, belief and language onto another culture made a lot of sense of the feeling that I had got of a very different culture lurking beneath the southern French surface.Much of the mystery at the centre of the novel is well handled, and there's even a hint of romance. And you would have to be made of stone not to be impressed by her description of the bravery of the Cathar martyrs.
Where the novel started to come apart though was in the last third, as the silliness at the heart of the novel came through. Bits of Ancient Egyptian rites, a grail that is not a grail, Cathars, who don't appear to hold Cathar beliefs, and an 800 year old man. Yes, it's all completely daft. There were also a fair number of editorial slips as characters change names and historical facts become fictions, and there is confusion over threads in the story.
I would have been happier if the novel had stayed where it worked best - in the thirteenth century land of the Cathars, and without any of the Dan Brown daftness. Having said that I nevertheless found it a beguiling read, and will probably quite happily succumb to the next installment.