IoS book review: Citadel, By Kate Mosse

When two times go to war

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The Independent Culture

Kate Mosse – author, co-founder of the Orange Prize and eloquent TV arts commentator – began with literary ambitions, but soon discovered that she was more comfortable with the adventure stories she had loved as a child. Labyrinth (2005) became an international best-seller, benefiting from the appetite for Holy Grail novels created by Dan Brown. Set in the Languedoc region of France where Mosse has a home, it combined history and fantasy in a tale that entwines the 1209-1255 Albigensian crusade against the Cathars with a story set in 2005 about a female architect who happens upon a buried relic from that time.

In both Labyrinth and its sequel, Sepulchre, feisty female heroines led the action. Citadel, the third in the Languedoc trilogy, similarly binds stories from two eras. In 1942 in Carcassonne, a young woman is drawn into the French Resistance. Through an old man (a timeless figure spanning centuries, who also featured in Labyrinth), she becomes involved in the quest for an ancient codex that could revive the fortunes of the French in their fight with the Nazis. But collaborators with ugly motives are also searching for this document.

Interlinked with this tale is the story of a monk in AD342 smuggling a forbidden manuscript into the region to prevent its seizure by intolerant Christians.

As with its predecessors, the deeper theme of Citadel is the fight against the evil of intolerance. Mosse's descriptions of the majestic stone ruins of Carcassonne and the idyllic landscape around it shimmer with authenticity. She also has tremendous knowledge of the history in which the area is steeped. She conveys the realities of life in Vichy France with a deft touch: the semblance of normality under which there seethes the cruelty of oppressors.

The use of clichés is frustrating from such an articulate and intelligent author. Phrases such as "chilled to the bone", "he kicked himself", "warming to his theme", "with any luck", "felt the cobwebs blow away", "ebb and flow", "the clothes they stood up in", and "hour upon hour" are tired. The use of single French words ("mademoiselle", "pardon") to convey place when the rest of the dialogue is in English seems populist. But Mosse's deep feeling for the region and her flair for dialogue and action will make this enjoyable escapism for thousands.