Like The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova, Mosse brings to life geography and history combined. In Mosse’s case, it is a small French region, the Languedoc, at the beginning of the thirteenth century. Mosse’s love of place and time is obvious in the accuracy of detail and the way she’s woven the lives of her characters into real history.
Like Kostova’s story, it’s just about the only thing there is to recommend this novel. The writing is surprisingly pedestrian and stale for someone so intimately involved with the writen word. Her characters, especially her two female protagonists, are mere sketches, with fuzzy outlines. Their motivations are often left unexplained, creating confusion. The crux of the story, the search for the Grail, is a series of dead-ends that eventually lead us to where we started, but without the sense of inevitability a story such as this should have. In fact, the ending remined me of an Indiana Jones-type story, down to the opening chasm and the loss of the Grail.
The story is basic: two parallel lives, one in 1209, one in 2005, with “memories” linking them. Alice, as a volunteer archeologist, unearths a cave with two skeletons and a labyrinth, which begins a series of events where one faction wants to find the Grail for the power and immortality it will give, while the other, a staunch Catholic, wants to destroy it. Woven through it are the lives of the original Alais and her family during the Crusade against the French. The life of Alais will impel Alice to stumble through until the supposedly climax of the story. Unfortunately, the climax is so clichÃ©d, it is easy to guess it several hundred pages before the end.
To cap it all off, the writing is riddled with typos and contradictions, evidence that the manuscript was given only a cursory edit. (For instance, Alice says that her parents died in 1993 then, barely five pages later, she says they died in 1982.) There are words missing, and spelling mistakes that could have been caught with a simple spellcheck. This proves to me, once again, that publishing houses have become simply clearinghouses.
Unless you are interested in the Cathars and 13th Century history, I’d bypass this book.