Labyrinth by Kate Mosse

This is a novel that works on several different levels – Dan Brown style pot-boiler, girlie relationship stuff, ghost story, thriller.  But I am going to ignore all that and just talk about the historical bit.

The plot defies description and the narrative runs in parallel in the present day and the Middle Ages.  The backdrop to the plot is the crusade against the Albigensians.  This is a period of history that seems to attract all kinds of people who like mysteries and mumbo jumbo, so Kate is in good company here.  Unlike a lot of them though she does seem to have done some actual research and does use her writing skills to portray what it must actually have been like to have lived through this time.  A lot of the romance that has grown up since, with stories of hidden treasure and mystical religious secrets is simply nonsense.  Full marks for trying to get to grips with the real story.  Weaving it into a really odd novel makes it all the more intriguing.

The historical background is that the people we now know as the Cathars or the Albigensians were a group of Christians who broke away from the Catholic Church.  They didn’t use the descriptions that later ages have applied to them. They simply called themselves the bons hommes: the good men.  They seem to have been an early forerunner of the Puritans seeking to return the religion to an imaginary simpler past.  Rejecting the authority of the Pope in the Middle Ages was a serious matter.  At that time the Church had enormous influence and used its power ruthlessly to maintain its position.  Envoys were sent to persuade the bons hommes to return to the fold.  When these failed force was used.

Would I recommend this book?  I have to say I struggled with it.  It is well written and the historical bits feel like they are capturing well the atmosphere of the time.  It is a popular book, and I imagine that a lot of people do enjoy this kind of thing a lot.  But for me personally I found the magic elements just didn’t work. It made the whole plot  arbitary and stopped me from getting fully into it. If you don’t mind a bit of mysticism you will probably enjoy it but otherwise I would leave it alone. But it is set in a fascinating period of history.

Postscript

I wrote this review some time ago, and forgot about it.  Since then Kate Mosse has gone on to become much more famous and now gets on the telly all the time.  But I don’t think it alters my view that her stuff is interesting, but not perhaps absolutely brilliant.

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