Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse

"The quality of our thoughts is bordered on all sides by our facility with language."-J. Michael Straczynski, author (b.1954) and creator of Babylon 5, one of the best TV shows to ever grace the small screen.

I thought I'd start this post with a little wisdom from JMS, one of the best SF TV show writers in existence, and a nice guy too. It has nothing to do with the book I'm going to review, however.

That said, I want to share my thoughts on Labyrinth, a book that took me an entire month to finish.
This book is a grail story set in 13th century France and modern=day France, detailing the life of a woman who encounters an ancient labyrinth symbol in a cave on an archeological dig and has dreams about the life of a woman who became part of a secret society bent on harboring the secret to eternal, (or at least extended) life and keeping it only for "good" men who needed more than one lifetime to do Gods work on earth. Inevitably, there are bad people in both time periods who seek the three books that hold the secret, and they do battle with the good folks trying to save the secret.
Mosse has obviously done a great deal of research into the Cathars and the religions of the 13th century, and the holy grail myths, as well as Egyptian hieroglyphs and their meanings. The characters from 1209-1244 are very believable, and their everyday lives delineated in great detail, so much so that the plot begins to crawl about a third of the way through the book, and doesn't pick up again until thefinal third of the novel. While its fascinating to read about how people lived and loved hundreds of years ago, I feel that a little bit goes a long way, and too much detail is dreadfully dull for the average reader. I do not need to know every thought, every whim, every doubt that crosses the main characters minds. While historical research can make a novels landscape rich and realistic, it can also bog the reader down, miring them with things that are cool for history buffs, but not necessary for readers to know in order to get through the story.
Still, I liked the Labyrinth's focus on female characters and I enjoyed learning about the Cathar version of religion that told believers that reincarnation was probable and tolerance for other religions a must. The Catholic Church of the time was just the opposite, of course, sending the Inquisition to burn Cathars (and Jews, of course) as heretics. It's odd that most of the books I've read lately have been very anti-Catholicism, showing, ad nauseum, the various popes evil doings, the death and mayhem caused by church officials, the crusades, the wars, the inquisitions, the murder of innocents and so on. While I think its important that we never forget the evil that can be caused by humans interpreting religion to their own nefarious ends, I also think its important to realize that those circumstances are past, and while we must abhor them and educate people so that these things don't happen again, I don't think that tarring the Catholic church with history's brush is fair. Todays church is not the nest of vipers it once was, and many religions are allowed to flourish without oppression.
The tone and format of this book reminded me of Dan Browns' Da Vinci Code, which is both a good and bad things. It's good because everyone loves uncovering secret societies and learning that there are some new ways to interpret historical artifacts. Whats bad about it is that its been done to death, and its hard to be original when you're writing a book with the same kind of theme as a bestseller, even if you're focusing on women doing the sleuthing instead of men. Mosse manages to be fairly original, if a bit too stereotypical with her female characters, and gets the book to a solid happily ever after conclusion at breakneck speed in the last few chapters.
I'd recommend this book to Francophiles and lovers of Medieval history and grail myths.

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