Review: Labyrinth - Kate Mosse

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse.

Two heroines separated by 800 years, whose stories lie entwined by the heritage they share, and the secrets they must protect.

In 2005, in the south of France, Alice Tanner stumbles across a tomb hidden for centuries. By unearthing the artifacts within, she awakens an evil and involuntarily draws herself into a conflict of greed and religious absolution that has lasted into the present day. In 1209, Alaïs Pelletier du Mas, lives on the brink of a religious war which threatens to sweep across and destroy the south of France. From within her own family comes a sacred task of keeping three books hidden, and a threat which will not only tear them apart, but may destroy the very citadel in which they live.

Labyrinth is filled with mystery and a hint of magic. The books containing the secret of the labyrinth must be found before they can be used for ill, and what begins with a hesitant quest for knowledge for Alice, and an apprehensive preparation for war for Alaïs, starts coming all too fast. Things that could never happen, do happen, and worst fears are confirmed. Linked to her past by dreams and a privately kept family tree, Alice seeks out a historian, the man who appears to have all the answers, and may be more than he appears. In search of answers, she meets Will Franklin who is unwittingly deeply involved in the secret workings of religious devotees and in the eyes of others, heretics.

Labyrinth surprised me. I intended to read it quickly last winter before the mini-series aired, but kept being bogged down with the colorful historical facts of Alaïs's Carcassone and the comparative dullness of Alice's discovery of the cavern and subsequent blackout in the present day. But once I finally began to read this behemoth, I could not put it down, and the heavy difference between the two tales, as similar as they were, made it hard to stop between sections, and left me unable to find a favorite era for Kate Mosse to write in. It turns out that these two stories compliment each other perfectly, and while I prefer the historical richness of Alaïs's life, I don't think her story would have been satisfying on it's own. Alice is our lens, of a sort. She narrates things that she discovers about Alaïs, things that she has been dreaming about her ancestor's life, making it easier for us to understand even as she struggles to comprehend what is going on. This aspect of their connection, introduced early on, serves to connect Alice to her heritage as much as it makes me feel distant from her.

Kate Mosse's characters are vibrant, they interact organically, aside from an awkward sex scene near the beginning, in which Mosse valiantly tries to hide from us who Oriane's lover is. The result is frustrating as much as it is baffling. I was not surprised by the reveal, even as others within the novel reel from the betrayal. And it isn't that the sex is awkward purposefully, I'm sure Kate Mosse just wanted to keep the whole thing tasteful. There are some inequalities in character development, however. In the 13th century, villains sometimes appear as mustache twirlers and bosom-flaunters, and in the present day they are well-dressed sociopaths.

Parallels across the centuries are fantastic: Egyptian secrets invade the home of a socialite, and an old man enchants a young girl with tales of golden sand. The dark haired beauty has a loyal son, and immortality is both longed for and despised. As the tale unfolds, and we discover more about everyone, the story gains depth and richness. Kate Mosse folds you into the lush worlds she is privy to, and can be surprisingly with the breadth of her reach. Invoking chase scenes, dark smokey chambers of royals and subjects and the hunger for violence that we still fear today, Mosse has grasped the full meaning of 'the craft' and demonstrates it here. Her appreciation for the importance of the Bible, of stories within it, and about it, and her love of the Massif Central countryside, cannot be downplayed or overlooked.

There is no code-breaking, no whip-cracking antics, yet Labyrinth enraptures the reader, drawing one in for one mystery after the other. The transition wrenching us from engrossing past to thrilling present is easily forgiven as one races to find out what has happened in the meanwhile... 

544pp. Orion. 2005.