on 11 August 2011
With such a long book it is always inevitable that reader's will find certain things irksome and this book is no exception despite having some positives too.
My criticisms are:
* it was too long. With a great novel you miss it when you have finished - with this one I was just glad to get to the end in all honesty.
* The 21st century characters were poorly shaped. i can't understand why it was important to make Alice a doctor when she showed no signs of above average intelligence the whole way through; whereas Dan Brown goes to excruciating lengths to proved that Robert Langdon is "the cleverest man in the world - fact!"
* Yes there were editing errors which is inexcusable but enough people have mentioned them already.
* I am not quite sure why this has been elevated to a critic's favourite when Barbara Erskine novels, which also flit from the world of the laptop to the world of mysterious potions and swords and shields, are scorned upon. There is very little difference except the modern Grail vogue.
* I felt at the end that the twee, homely ending didn't fit and had been welded in from Chocolat.
* Despite what some experts say about the research done this gives the layman a very good background to Cathar France.
* I found as someone with an interest in French/Spanish and the former Latin speaking areas that the use of Occitanian was very interesting and added historical authenticity, which helped remind us that the south had a different culture to northern France, which created the language and model of what we know today as France.
* Men usually write better/more battle scenes than women and I was pleased that Mosse had the courage to tackle them and the skill and knowledge to do it relatively well.
* Many reviewers have criticised poor proof reading but she at least writes using intelligent and lucid prose. in the past year I have read and been incredibly annoyed at the cheesy/repetitive proise of Dan Brown and Peter James - to the point where I have decided that I hate the authors personally.
In conclusion: overrated but not bad. Could have been much better however but it has aroused an interest in me to read more about the Cathars and take an interest in the region.
On another note, someone criticised Val McDermid for giving a rave review. Interesting as she also gave "breathtakingly good" to "Rome The Emperor's Spy" by M.C. Scott which was so "breathtakingly awful" that it fit into the 1% of books that I could not bear to finish. Wonder what she thinks of her own books?
on 4 July 2008
Like so many other reviewers on this site I had really high hopes for this book. The fact it had been on the Richard & Judy book list suggested it would be the perfect summer holiday read but sadly reading it was like wading through treacle. The idea behind the book is intriguing but it is far too long and drawn out. There are too many subplots that bring nothing to the main story and too many poorly drawn characters for you to really care about them. The last few chapters move quite quickly but it is a long slog to get there. A book like this should be a great addition to your summer holiday - instead it felt like taking on a second job.
on 26 December 2006
This is another Grail tale with a predictable ending, but what made it special for me was the recounting of religious and historic events in France during the early 13th Century - Kate Mosse researched well and brings them alive. I have to admit that the word Cathar meant nothing to me before reading this, but their story should be known by all who value religious freedom and loath opression; I have since been doing more research into the subject, so I must thank Kate Mosse for making me aware of the dreadful deeds carried out, once again, in the name of religion. It's a timeslip story, moving between the first half of the 13th Century and present day, and because the two parts run in such close parallels, I did sometimes confuse the era in which some of the characters I was reading about lived! Some reviewers have expressed frustration regarding the Occitan language used in parts by the author; I have to say that the passages written in this way were extremely short and in no way detracted from the story. (The author does make reference to this at the start of the book).
on 26 January 2006
I like thrillers, crime, historical novels and books with feisty female leads. From the first newspaper articles and reviews I've been waiting for this book to come out in paperback and was looking forward to wallowing in a great read. Unfortunately it wasn't.
The historical stuff was mostly good. Carcassone zinged to life and I want to go and visit. But I got so annoyed at the constant used of Occitan words followed by the translation. So you've got an Occitan dictionary Kate? Big deal. Ever heard the phrase "your research is showing"? So many times someone said "Ben", and we were given the translation "good". Once is enough: it's not that difficult to guess anyway!
Modern-day stuff was awful. Really poorly written, with poorly-delineated unexplained characters rushing all over the place. No thrills at all. I started counting the number of chapters that ended with someone being whacked over the head and "that was the last thing he heard before darkness overwhelmed him.." I would guess that this book was written and edited in a tearing hurry to capitalise on the Da Vinci effect, but it does Kate Mosse (who always seems very intelligent on Radio 4) no favours at all.
And as for the ending. What was that all about? Can anyone explain to me what happened? What was the secret of the grail? What was the secret of the books and the parchment? What did it all mean? Who had captured whom? Who was working for whom? It just felt like a random bunch of people in a cave, some of them wearing robes, some of them with guns (and I'm not giving anything away here). Very flat indeed.
And as for the love interest between Alice and - whatever his name was... well, there was none.
For me the worst flaw was the way Alice dealt with the would-be scary flashbacks she kept having. There was no big, emotional revelation of "oh my God, I have been here before" - which to me negated the whole central thrust of the book.
If this book had stuck to 13th century Carcassone it could have been a real cracker. That's why I'm giving it two stars because it did keep me reading. But I'm astonished that such a pedestrian book can be so well-reviewed. Dare I suggest it's because Kate Mosse founded the Orange Literary Prize and is generally seen as a "good egg" in literary circles?
on 15 September 2005
I bought this books after reading a raft of flattering reviews and some very positive comparisons with Dan Brown (who I have never read but seems very popular) and can only say that I'm enormously disappointed.
The story is pitched as a Grail thriller told in two parts, one in present time, the other in the 12th century but I found both lacking in pace and populated with poorly drawn characters I cared little about. It's also more than a little confusing and seems to have mistaken poor plot definition for mystery and suspense. It takes an age to reach a wholly expected conclusion and left me frustrated and unsatisfied. Can someone also please explain to me why all the French characters need double barreled first names!!!
Only purchase this book if you're looking for a 100 page sprint through Cathar history strung out unnecessarily into a 300+ page marathon for no particular reason.
30th July 2009 : Update
Was clearing out the garage at the weekend and found this book again. Finally I've got something good to say about it: the cover has given me the perfect accent colour for the downstairs loo!
on 11 January 2006
I've long been interested in the many and varied 'grail conspiracies', having stumbled across The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail at the age of 15. The recent outpouring of novels of the subject have been a big disappointment to me, badly written and researched, and this is no exception.
I'm sorry to say Ms Mosse's writing is clumsy to the point where it takes actual effort to read. One of the classic rules of writing is 'Show, don't tell', in other words, instead of telling us that someone is kind, let their actions show us. But Ms Mosse tells us again and again how clever and kind and brave her heros are, while giving us no evidence of those traits. Becuase of this, it feels as though none of her characters have any personality, indeed they often act inexplicably and completely at odds with the despcrition of them we have been given. For example, we are told that Alais' father was entrusted with one of the grail secrets because of his fine qualities, because he could be relied on to protect it against all odds. But as soon as the time comes when he needs to act he buries his head in the sand, procrastinates like a child, and ultimately completely fails in his duty. We are told he is a noble person, but his behaviour in general is short-sighted, bullying, and dense, making it completely implausible that anyone would trust him with a secret and duty of that magnitude.
Her general narrative is no better. She doesn't manage to make anything that happens make sense. I felt throughout that she had planned a string of events that wanted to happen without considering whether they made sense either in their context or in terms of her characters' intentions and personalities. Even in the small scale, within scenes, things have the feeling of jumping around because she misses out basic information while detailing the irrelevent. Characters teleport across the room, seeming to reveal their innermost secrets to a stranger because she hasn't bothered to tell us they've crossed the room and started whispering to someone completely different halfway through the conversation.
The constantly scattered Occitan words drove me up the wall - it was as if she was desperate to show how much research she'd done. Translate or don't translate, but don't do both within the same speech unless that character is *actually* switching langauges halfway through. Equally annoying was the way someone was kidnapped or passed out every five minutes, as if she couldn't bear to leave a passage without a cliffhanger. Her bizarre ideas about what life was like back in medieval times also drove me potty - she seems to have no feel for the past.
I kept reading to the end because I wanted to know what her 'grail secret' was. It really wasn't worth it, being of the Indiana Jones variety. And every other revelation was telegraphed so far in advance that I wanted to scream at the characters, unable to believe they were so stupid that they didn't realise that X was a traitor or that Y was actually Z all along.
I've been trying and trying to think of something positive to say, because generally speaking I believe every book has some good in it. All I can think of is that the author clearly has a great passion for her subject. I wonder whether she was under pressure from her editor to finish it quickly - it feels like a first draft, and I'm sure there is a better novel lurking in there somewhere.
If you're looking for detailed, well-research medieval fiction, I recommend you try Elizabeth Chadwick (the British one, of 'Shadows and Strongholds' or 'The Love Knot' fame, *not* the American of 'Bride Fire' fame) instead. She even wrote a book about the Cathars and the Grail - 'Children of Destiny' or 'Daughters of the Grail' depending on which side of the pond you are.
on 8 February 2006
What I find most shocking about this novel is how something so obviously bad - and please I really do mean bad - turned into a bestseller. How and why did it get amazingly excellent reviews by "critics" in respectable newspapers, how did Richard and Judy recommended it in their bookclub. Did they actually read this leaden tome, or feel obliged to do the author a favour because of her celebrity status and her connections to the publishing world.
While I'm open to reading badly written books with a good plot, or tedious books that are well-written, being both badly written and having a shoddy story is unforgivable. We can argue all day how this got published, but it still comes down to the same frustrating question. Did the publishers actually read this??
The writing is dire and full of mistakes. Missing words, bad grammar, bad spelling, character's names get mixed up. Awful similes and metaphors. Repititious phrases that should have been cut down during an edit (was it proof read at any stage?). It's the sort of novel a first time author would write, one to go on the fire while he/she writes a better one.
As a so-called champion of women authors, Mosse probably does more damage to female authors than you would think possible. Not only because this highly-recommended book is so bad, but mostly because her women protaganists are so unbelievable and basically stupid. She gives our heroine a Phd, but nothing of any substance to prove how resourceful or intelligent she is. There is sex here, but so coy and again badly written you wish Mosse had just not bothered. If Mosse was selling herself as a nobody who'd written a novel I probably wouldn't be so harsh, but when the author clearly states that she's the Chairman of a major women's writing competition, teaches creative writing (what??), and on her website you can take a tour of the book's locations and learn how to write by reading how she wrote Labyrinth .... well my brain has turned to cheese. Fellow readers, beware: pretentious has a whole new meaning.
But if you don't care about all that and just want a good read, sorry, you won't get one. The plot is silly, goes nowhere slowly, and has an ending you won't get, and you won't care because you'll be too busy laughing. The book jumps forward SUDDENLY 30 years and some old man rambles on to our heroine for the last several chapters and tells her what it all means. The end. It's like Mosse wanted to finish this before she went on a luncheon date with her publishing cronies so bashed out the ending with the cat sat on her lap.
It would take a novel-sized review to tell you what's wrong with this book, but please don't believe the "critics" or reviews by the author's friends. Get a copy from the library and learn how NOT to write a novel.
on 13 January 2008
Absolutely dreadfully full of errors, the characters are so bad you end up hoping their stupidity (and believe me they are stupid) brings them to an early death so this terrible, turgid meaningless story comes to an end as quickly as possible. If you want truly excellent female writers then I would strongly recommend Stef Penney wonderful The Tenderness of Wolves and Susanna Clarke's stunning Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
on 22 April 2006
Whilst the subject matter is interesting to me (and also very fashionable at the moment), this book was a big disappointment. I'm baffled that the critics' reviews and comments are so full of praise for Labyrinth, when the book is poorly written. Given the author's profile in British art and literary circles, were some favours called in?
The story takes an awful long time to get going, and it was a bit of a struggle to get to grips with all the characters and their significance, if any. Whilst the medieval sections were interesting and evocative, I could not muster much feeling for the present day characters.
After forcing myself to get past half way, it all seemed worthwhile. The seeds of the plot started to come together, and for a while I was enthralled.
As the story reached its conclusion though, significant flaws in the plot became apparent, and the story just lost any credibility. At the supposedly dramatic climax, I didn't really care what happened because the plot just left me feeling so unconvinced.
on 25 August 2006
The book centers around the mystery of the Holy Grail (or at least this author's take on it) and the people that have fought to protect it or exploit it for the past 800 years. I thought this was a good device, along with linking the main characters from the 1200s to the present day; sort of like people's spirits remaining the same, no matter how different their surroundings are.
However, the author took FOREVER to get to the crux of the story. Based on the hints dropped maddeningly throughout the first 450 pages of a 600 page book, the reader is led to believe that this secret is something that people have been pursuing and protecting and dying and killing for for thousands of years. The secret is then divulged in the last 150 pages of the book, barely giving the reader time to digest it and understand its implications, or to just contemplate the scope of it. Why I should I bother about the protagonist risking her life to protect something if I don't know what it is? How is the reader to sympathise and relate to the characters if they barely have an idea as to what motivates them? More attention should have been paid to this bit of the story.
So basically, its a good idea but more could have been done to develop it and truly draw the reader in, or at least shave off a couple of 100 pages. And yeah, the language was kind of schoolgirlish.