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Labyrinth by Kate Mosse

Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth is a truly satisfying novel packed with esoteric and historical interest. It is a Grail drama filled with holy secrets, heroic action and nail biting suspense.

Set in the Languedoc, France, Labyrinth is a time slip novel, with half of the action taking place in the time of the Cathars and the other half in modern times. Mosse skilfully weaves her plot so that the threads interconnect between the lives of the Cathars and the modern day cast. The two heroines, the medieval Alais and the modern Alice are skilfully portrayed as are their colourful supporting cast and I confess I wept at several points in the book, so engaged was I with their stories.

The ancient town of Carcassonne and its surrounding landscape is beautifully evoked and has become a ‘must see’ on my travel wish list. Mosse uses phrases in the language of the area, Occitan, literally langue d’Oc, from where Languedoc gets its name, to evoke the unique character of the Pays d‘Oc. These lands and their peoples were then quite distinct from Northern France where the language spoken was the forerunner of modern French. When the Northern invaders appear in the novel she uses French phrases.

The story begins with our modern day heroine Alice taking part as a volunteer on an archaeological dig in the Sarbarthes mountains. Behind a boulder she uncovers a chamber containing an altar and a shallow pit with two skeletons. On the wall is carved the mysterious labyrinth of the title and in the hand of one of the skeletons is a stone ring etched underneath with the same pattern.

Alice’s discovery plunges her without warning into a dangerous world of secret societies and into collision with a powerful figure who wishes to use the Grail secrets for her own ends. Mosse skilfully uses reincarnation to play out the plot across the two different historical times and echoes of the past are imprinted onto the modern drama.

In the medieval drama the religious persecution of the Cathars forms the backdrop to the story surrounding the Grail mystery. The abhorrent slaughter of innocent men, women and children in a sea of bloodlust is quite sickening at times, but I’m sure not overstated. It happened. As so often in human history right up to the present day a combination of religious zeal and political greed for land and power creates a Hell on Earth. Mosse’s dramatisation brings this tragic phase of French history to life and gives us a glimpse into the spiritual wisdom of the Cathars, branded heretics by the Catholic Church.

Reading Kate Mosse is like coming across a feminine version of Dan Brown. There’s not so much time devoted to macho description of vehicles thank goodness and the heros and heroines are more satisfyingly rounded. Mosse places much more emphasis on the relationships between the characters, making us genuinely care for some of them, but her plotting is similarly intricate and in places as fast moving and thrilling as any of Brown's novels. If you'd like to really get engrossed in a novel I can recommend Labyrinth.

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