Run-of-the-mill supernatural romance

Carcassonne-19th-century


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 (https://wp.me/P2oNj1-A2), including a couple of the better ones entitled Over Sea, Under Stone and Greenwitch, part of Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence.

18 thoughts on “Run-of-the-mill supernatural romance

  1. Reblogged this on calmgrove and commented:

    Channel 4 are broadcasting a two-part mini-series of this Easter Saturday and Sunday, starring Jessica Brown Findlay of Downton fame and a host of other thespians, both British and German, the whole co-executive-produced by Ridley Scott and his late brother Tony.

    Alison Graham in Radio Times called it “a pile of hooey”. This is what I thought of the original novel.

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  2. I echo your thoughts on this. Actually I’ll go further and say I thought it was dire. I read it in the days when I was less inclined to give up on a book I wasn’t enjoying but it was a struggle to get to the end. I’ve never been tempted to read anything by her again

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    1. I think you’ve put it more succinctly than me, Karen, dire was exactly how I found it. Yet it clearly struck a chord with a certain proportion of its female readership; personally I felt the emotional strings being tugged were a bit off. As I shan’t waste time reading it again I may never know what its positives may have been…

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  3. I tried to read this when it was first published as I thought it sounded fascinating, but I didn’t manage to get past the first few chapters. I didn’t like either the characters or the writing style, so it didn’t seem worth continuing – I think that was probably the right decision!

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    1. I struggled through, hoping it would get better, Helen, but I would’ve done better to have followed your course of action! At the time I was editing and reviewing for an Arthurian magazine so felt duty-bound to give a critique.

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    1. I’m at a loss to understand how it got an average 3.6 stars out of five on Goodreads except that the subject matter must have appealed to many readers. Clearly I wasn’t the target audience – and nor were you!

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    1. I think she was fascinated by that period in time – I think she said it felt like she’d lived there and then before – but that wasn’t enough to win me over.

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  4. Sad! I actually enjoyed a lot Languedoc, book 3 in this series, set during the German Occupation. I had Labyrinth on my shelf, but somehow decided not to read it, and gave it away, I guess that was a good move.

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