Author: Kate Mosse (not Moss as I had to explain to people when asked what I was reading!)
Genre: Historical Fantasy Fiction
Publication Date: 25th October 2012
Hardback: 704 pages (quite a weighty one.)
Why did I choose to read this book? I loved the other two of Mosse’s Languedoc stories and this one concerned the Nazi occupation of France during WWII so it ticked a lot of boxes for me.
Where to read: In a comfortable chair in a quiet living room. It’s a heavy book so not ideal for commuting although my biceps certainly benefited from the daily workout.
Refreshments: Red Wine, it’s set in the South of France enough said.
Mosse’s third outing into the history of the Languedoc is set during World War II, specifically in the zone non-occupé in Carcassonne in the south of France. Similar to Labyrinth and Sepulchre the story is a dual narrative set in two very different lifetimes this one is divided between the fourth century and 1942-1944. The story focuses on a network of women, resistance fighters codenamed Citadel, whose strength and determination to resist the Nazi threat leads to the unravelling of a forgotten mystery that reveals a well-hidden and powerful secret.
The main protagonist is 18yr old Sandrine who finds herself thrust into the limelight after saving and meeting a young man, at first it appears chance circumstances brought her to this moment but as the story progresses history reveals that it was her destiny all along. She is supported by a varied cast of women, my favourite being Lucie, who is often disregarded as ignorant but is in fact the most useful and inspirational of the team in terms of strength of spirit. Alongside the women we have a diverse cast of males: Raoul Pelletier, who ends up on the run after his network has been infiltrated by the spy, Leo Authié, who moonlights as a French intelligence officer but whose main driving force is finding and destroying the codex.
Love and betrayal are obviously the prevalent themes throughout the entire novel, which isn’t a huge surprise given that the story is juxtaposed between the Nazi regime and French resistance. It’s refreshing to read, that when faced with such a horrific period of history, Mosse doesn’t shy away from the brutality and manages to create a realistic account of resistance groups and the fear and repercussions that went with their activities. Plus, even though, this novel does focus on love and the bonds of friendship it certainly doesn’t kowtow to a chocolate box finale but manages to create a satisfying and moving ending.
Mosse’s multiple narratives are by now a familiar feature of her writing. She weaves the lives of Sandrine and her friends as they attempt to find the codex, with Arminius a young, fourth-century monk risking death to save the heretical text from the flames. The characters from each thread are successfully woven together thought the chapters as their family history is revealed. I was also thrilled when the enigmatic and ageless character of Audric Baillard reared his head for a third time, Mosse once again uses him to fuse the past and the present and keep the momentum of the plot going.
What I admire about Mosse’s writing is her commitment to carrying out thorough research on her chosen area of France and its history. She creates characters like Authié who represent the opposing forces, although not himself part of the SS, his ruthlessness and levels of brutality he will use to get results are precise in detail in terms of the mindset of the Nazi regime.
With equal accuracy she depicts the daily life of the zone non-occupé in terms of fear, hardship and the difficulties of communication, not to forget the atmosphere of condemnation and the twitching curtains next door. And there is no shortage of descriptive passages of daily round-ups and beatings or simply the disappearance of neighbours and loved ones. This is yet another clever balance between historical and fantasy fiction.
I was relieved that Mosse’s final addition to her Languedoc trilogy did not disappoint. After reading both Labyrinth and Sepulchre I was worried that she would have lost her ability to completely ensnare me in her protagonist’s adventures, a fear that was unfounded. I did prefer her first two novels, however, I thoroughly enjoyed Citadel and the fact it covered a part of history that I have particular interest in was simply a bonus to what is already a captivating and thrilling story.
Rating: 8 out of 10 – not as good as the other two, but do read them all!