Run-of-the-mill supernatural romance


19th-century Carcassonne

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse. 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 holier-than-thou heroines, ultimately left this reader cold and mystified. Drawing on the popularity of pseudoscientific themes propounded in, for example, Arthur Guirdham’s Cathars and Reincarnation (1970) and The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Henry Lincoln, Michael Baigent, and Richard Leigh (1982) it maintains the po-faced seriousness of those speculative farragos while adding little in terms of literary worth.

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 (2003), suggests that those readers are now no longer fussed about keeping it on their bookshelves. I myself shan’t be seeking out the sequels.

This review, here slightly edited, was first published on 16th January, 2013; its brevity merely reinforces what I thought of it then.

I’ve reviewed other novels featuring the grail, listed on the page Grails, holy or otherwise (, including a couple of the better ones entitled Over Sea, Under Stone and Greenwitch, part of Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence.