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Someone Give Dan Brown A Pen And Tell Him To Make Notes
Labyrinth - Kate Mosse
Member Name: missrarr
Labyrinth - Kate Mosse
Advantages: Great pace, good characterisation and depth of storyline
Disadvantages: Could be a bit long for some, and yes its another Grail story...
I have absolutely no religious inclination whatsoever but it just so happened that my taking a week off work to recharge and get on top of "life stuff" coincided with the Easter weekend recently. Of course, every holiday from work must commence with a healthy period of Doing Stuff All and it was during this let-down phase of my break that Mr Rarr and I saw a television advert for a feature that Channel 4 were running over the Easter weekend, an adaptation of Labyrinth, a book by Kate Mosse.
***WHAT, THAT ONE?***
Er, no. La Moss has not grown a brain cell (they weigh far too much) and embarked upon a quest for literary greatness. This is Kate MossE.
Anyway, a puzzled look took up residence upon the face of Mr Rarr and eventually he got up from the sofa, toddled over to the heap of books in the corner of the living room (which had been sat there resolutely determined not to pack themselves away somewhere neatly ever since he moved in properly before Christmas!) and returned triumphant. The title had twigged a memory and it turned out that he had a copy of the book itself, something that had helped him while away the time whilst on military duty in some far-flung desert base with nothing in particular to do a few years back.
I'd been moaning about not having a decent new book to read for ages (and couldn't submit myself to another potential Koontz disappointment so soon after the last) and here was my beloved wafting what looked like a hefty tome in my face, telling of its goodness. What wasn't to like?
Oh, and the argument "honestly, it's not as crap as Dan Brown, I promise" really did help.
***OH GOD, ITS ONE OF THOSE?***
Yes, its another take on the concept of a grail and the true meaning of religion. If that instantly turns you off, look away now. However, if you have left it about eight years since being mentally offended and scarred by the sheer appallingness that is the writing talents of Dan Brown on the subject and thus consider yourself sufficiently healed to embark, tentatively and poised at any point to suddenly stop reading and lob the offending tome across the room into the bin, upon another such reading experience, then I think you might like this. As promised by my good man, this really is far superior to Dan Brown's god-awful (no pun intended) Da Vinci Code, and after reading the first few chapters I was soon hooked despite my own reservations. Personally I couldn't give a stuff on a few topics relating to the concept of a grail, such as a) whether its real or not, b) where the heck it is and c) who wants to have a big argument about it. But I do like a good read and very soon I knew I was going to have to finish this hefty account. Whilst my attempts to finish it all in time to watch the adaptation failed (seriously, there's a lot of it, and frankly after I saw the first two hour segment of the adaptation I decided it was so naff in comparison to the book itself that I didn't bother with the second half), it did take over a large chunk of my holiday, with one of my infamous work-induced "days where all I can manage is crashing out and doing nothing" spent entirely ploughing through this novel.
So here's an account of my thoughts - whilst I always try to avoid notable spoilers, please note that I will need to give some account of the plot in order to review it, I hope you forgive me and don't think I have given away too much!
This Kate Mosse is an English author and previously worked in publishing. She had some success as a writer before the publication of Labyrinth but this was without doubt the book that truly launched her career and presumably, with the intellectual heavyweights that are Richard and Judy firmly at her back, contributed a fair whack to her personal income as well.
Mosse and her family split their time between England and Carcassone in France, an area that features heavily in this book. The details and history of this aspect of the tale seem very accurate and whether her infatuation with the area is the cause or the effect of this book is hard to guess.
She composed Labyrinth as part of a trilogy - the second and third books, Sepulchre and Citadel, are available, although as I understand it their stories are not necessarily linked to the events in Labyrinth.
As I mentioned, she sold the TV rights and a four-hour adaptation was made. I've seen the first half and consider it a complete waste of two hours of my life - the book is far superior.
Currently available new in paperback (with a shockingly awful TV-adpatation-inspired cover for which some designer needs shooting) via Amazon for £5.99 as well in a variety of other options such as Kindle, second hand etc.
752 pages paperback.
Published by Orion.
Alice Tanner is at a crossroads in life - her relationship has ended and a relative she never knew she had has died and left her an inheritance in France. Needing a break, she joins her friend Shelagh to volunteer on an archaeological dig in the French mountains for a few days before moving on elsewhere in the country to deal with lawyers etc.
On her last day on the dig, working on her own away from others in punishing heat, she spies a glint of something in the earth. Knowing she should call one of the professionals on the dig, she nonetheless carries on and unearths a buckle - and a lot more.
For her moving the buckle shifts a boulder which she avoids being crushed by just by inches. Still knowing she should get assistance, she finds herself looking into a tunnel previously blocked by the rock, and as if in a daze, she finds herself walking into it.
What she finds, hidden for centuries in the cave, starts a massive chain of events in modern-day France, as well as igniting in Alice strange dreams and what seem to be the memories of another person. As she struggles to deal with both the events unfolding around her and meaning of what her dreams are telling her, and while her friend Shelagh berates her fiercely and refuses to talk to her further, it becomes clear that what Alice found in the mountains is not only massively significant historically but also has a far more significant value to many others who have dedicated their whole lives to finding what Alice stumbled upon as if by fate.
The story's depth, however, comes from the second story that it tells - that of a woman in Carcassone in 1209, daughter of a guardian of the citadel, Alais. Married to a dashing chevalier, Alais is young but shows wisdom, learning about the healing power of plants and often escaping the citadel walls to search for herbs by the river side. Loved dearly by her father - far more so than her sister Oriane, who is a far more bitter and self-serving individual - Alais runs straight to him when she one day discovers a body floating in the river with unusual wounds and no sign of attempt to steal his valuable jewels. Her father, Bertrand, reacts strongly, and Alais realises that he thought he knew the victim from her description.
Set during the time of the crusades in France, which bring their violence and brutality eventually to Carcassone itself, the resulting events start to involve Alais in a mission of massive importance, protecting a secret that her father dedicated his life to safeguard. With not only the crusades but also the deception of her sister and the weakness of her husband to contend with, Alais soon becomes completely committed to the importance of the task that has chosen her, which ultimate takes over the purpose of her entire life.
I don't want to elaborate for fear of ruining the story because I do urge you to give this a try if you enjoy historical or religious theory fiction like this. I could elaborate quite easily but I found this book very readable and was hooked within a few chapters, during which the plot quickly starts to unfold, so it would be remiss of me to ruin that experience for you.
Kate Mosse, not a writer I had considered before as this isn't normally my type of book of choice, has crafted a really great story here. Whilst I feel that Alais was the stronger character and her story the more engrossing account - I would often be entirely wrapped up in her tale when the story would take advantage of a pivotal moment and switch to the modern-day account and in reaction I would feel like screaming and have to stop myself skimming pages to return to it - that is not to say that the tale of Alice Tanner is poor. On the contrary, whilst Alais tells a story of the setting and the past and the events building up to what we ultimately see play out in the modern day, it is the task of Alice to deal with the fall out of events and unravel the mystery. It becomes fascinating as we see the two missions come to a revelatory point, as Alice's discoveries and the events lived by Alais start to complement or seemingly contradict one another throughout. This, Mosse has timed and executed really well.
It would be easy to waffle on about historical context and Mosse does this neatly with an explanatory foreword regarding the crusades and their causes as well as laying out her reason for using mixed languages - old and modern French, although in actuality these are often just single words and are not difficult to figure out and to my mind add authenticity to the characters in the story of Alais and the other characters from Carcassone.
Yes there is historical information included but I do not find this either condescending or pretentious, nor does it detriment the story as a whole.
Mosse has a readable style which makes the heft of the book - which, when combined with the over-used subject concept, could be off-putting (let's face it, if there is a grail, whatever shape or form it comes in, it has a lot to answer for) - and as such my apprehension fell away as I charged through the first few chapters and found myself hooked. I swear I sat and read this for the best part of a whole day and could not put it down - so much for a productive and proactive holiday!
Mosse manages good characterisation although a couple of the modern characters could have done with a little more flesh - in particular in my opinion in the form of one who becomes quite pivotal in the closing stages. However, given the length and the fact that the two stories complement each other in their pace and unfolding of events, I do think it would have ruined the tempo and balance of the story and made it too long if there was too much elaboration, so I won't grumble too much. The evolution of characters in the story of Alais has the benefit of being able to unfold over more years whereas the tale of Alice plays out in the course of a few days in the modern era, so it is natural that there is more depth to the characters in the older story, but regardless I just feel that the characters that we meet first in 1209 Carcassone are the stronger and more emotive protagonists.
I found the conclusion to the story to be very neat - well executed, not rushed and with both stories growing to a fascinating climax alongside each other as all becomes clear. I wasn't left with any lingering doubts or disappointments, and instantly started considering picking up a copy of the author's next book, which has to be the ultimate compliment.
Overall, this has earned itself a spot on what I guess is now the communal "keepers" shelf between Mr Rarr and I. I look forward to reading this again in a year or so when the experience isn't as fresh as it is now, and I'm sure I will be as hooked then as I was this time. So if I go missing from Dooyooland at any time, you can safely assume I've either bought the next book in the trilogy or have started to re-read this one - and if you choose to give it a try yourself I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Summary: A really enjoyable take on the subject with some great historically accurate storytelling