Run-of-the-mill supernatural romance

Carcassonne-19th-century
19th-century Carcassonne

Kate Mosse, Labyrinth. Orion 2006

I read this before it was acclaimed The Viewers’ Choice (in a TV Book Club shortlist at the 2006 British Book Awards) but, frankly, remained unimpressed. I had high expectations for an out-of-the-ordinary modern take on the holy grail written by a successful reviewer and generous sponsor of new writing, but was deeply disappointed at the result.

Kate Mosse has mixed up a cocktail of familiar elements (Cathar heretics, reincarnation, grail, medieval history) and somehow turned it into an entirely run-of-the-mill romance-cum-fantasy-cum-thriller. I admire her research into life in the Middle Ages, her knowledge of the French Midi (she lives in the old walled city of Carcassonne, ‘restored’ to a Victorian vision of the High Middle Ages) and her attempt to make the grail a little different from the familiar holy bloodline thesis. The labyrinthine storyline seesaws between the past and the present, turning on the fulcrum of a scandalously disorganised archaeological investigation.

However, her use of Hollywood-influenced magic denouements and crude Disneyesque villains and villainesses, combined with a holier-than-thou heroine, ultimately left this reader cold and mystified. Still, back in 2006 I couldn’t argue with 70,000 presumably satisfied readers, and probably can’t even now; though its frequent appearances on charity shop bookshelves, along with The Da Vinci Code, suggests that those readers aren’t now fussed about keeping it on their bookshelves. I myself shan’t be seeking out the sequels.