Orion, £20 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop
Citadel, By Kate Mosse
This final act in a captivating trilogy combines period thrills with supernatural chills
Saturday 03 November 2012
For anyone who spent several summers studiously avoiding Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code , Kate Mosse's 2005 blockbuster Labyrinth arrived as something of a relief. It was a Grail gripper, but not as we'd known it. A distinctive helping of history, hokum and heartache set in a remote corner of south-western France, this well-written adventure informed as much as it thrilled. It was followed by a well-received sequel, Sepulchre, and now Citadel. The concluding volume in the author's "French Trilogy" arrives to tie up loose ends and settle old scores.
At the heart of the series lies a long-running quest, not for a sacred chalice, but an ancient Christian Codex – an esoteric manuscript said to contain the power to raise a sleeping army. In Labyrinth it was the 13th-century Cathars who were in need of its help, but in this final instalment Mosse pursues a more ambitious time-line, switching between the story of Arinius – a fourth-century monk – and the tragic history of Sandrine Vidal, an unsung heroine of the French Resistance.
In 1942, 18-year-old Sandrine follows her elder sister, Marianne, into the ranks of the Maquis. As she graduates from distributing tracts to planting bombs, she comes under the scrutiny of the Deuxième Bureau and is forced to flee Carcassonne. Taking refuge in a summer house close to the eerie town of Rennes-les-Baines, she comes across an old family friend, Audriac Baillard – a figure familiar from Labyrinth – and finds herself signed up to sabotage of a more supernatural kind.
Back in war-torn 342 AD, Arinius is also facing testing times. This beleaguered holy man has been entrusted to find a safe haven for a document more "significant that all the knowledge contained within the walls of the great libraries of Alexandria and Pergamum." The fortified castellum of of Carcaso is his final destination – a place of safety for Gnostics and Christians.
Such time-slip narratives can sound flaky, but as a writer Mosse is anything but. The key to her effective storytelling is her in-depth knowledge of the history of the Languedoc. For fans of her work, the forested foothills of the Pyrenees have taken on a near-mythic quality. Mosse's novelistic trick is to knock down the thin walls that divide past and present, spiriting up the long Occitan dead to set ancient wrongs to right.
Mosse's evocation of the occupied South might have made a novel in its own right. Her portrait of complicit citizens and the weasely Milice is hugely atmospheric. A novelist drawn to the plight of defiant young women, she never allows Sandrine's unfolding romance with a fellow-patriot to become her only story. While Citadel might be the closest thing to a straight historical novel in the trilogy, this wouldn't be a Mosse production without a good sprinkling of genre ghoulishness. She treats us to darkening skies and thunderclaps as the embattled region offers up the assistance of its unquiet dead. The final showdown won't suit everyone's taste, but will once again put the frighteners on Dan Brown.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food