I’ve been reading Kate Mosse since Labyrinth all those years ago and I’m always impressed by the level of detail and knowledge of French history she weaves into her books. Every detail is considered and you have the impression straight away that you’re in safe hands. In The City of Tears she combines her fictional narrative with fascinating real events focusing on the Catholic and Huguenot conflicts of the 16th Century. This is the second book in the Burning Chambers series and I did choose to go back and read the first book. However, due to Mosse’s ability to immerse you in her world, I think this could be read as a stand alone novel. It continues the adventures of Minou Reydon-Joubert and Piet Reydon, characters caught up in a period beset by complicated religious and political wars. Mosse walks the tightrope between these warring factions carefully, illustrating that there is honour and corruption on both sides, but keeping the focus on the family at the centre of these conflicts.
We return to the Languedoc region of France and the wars have now raged for ten years. It’s May 1572 and Minou and Piet travel with their two children, Marta and Jean Jacques, to Paris for the royal wedding of Charles IX’s sister, Catholic Marguerite de Valois, and Protestant Henry III of Navarre. This wedding has the political and religious benefits of uniting both Catholic and Protestant factions, so could mark the start of peace, but it’s a fragile accord. Piet’s old acquaintance Cardinal Valentin (Vidal) is in Paris too, but he’s now an enemy, unbeknownst to Piet he has a plan to kill all important Huguenots during the celebrations. The terrible violence that follows was known as the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre and thousands of Huguenots were murdered. Seven year old Marta is separated from her parents in the chaos and goes missing. It’s a parent’s worst fear, but unable to find her, Minou and Piet have to flee the city without her. The pair are devastated as they cross the border and make their way to safety in Amsterdam. I loved the way Mosse depicted the strain this decision places on the couple’s relationship. They have managed to ensure the safety of their two year old son, but are filled with guilt for leaving their daughter behind.
Minou and Piet only return to France twelve years later after hearing of a woman who bears a resemblance to Minou. Could it be Marta? They have to take a chance and search for their daughter, but danger is still everywhere. They don’t know that family enemy Vidal is there, with his collection of fake relics, that he intends to use with the ambition of gaining power and position. He believes Piet is in possession of a stolen relic and is driven by bitterness and revenge. His evil nature and conviction he is carrying out God’s work, is beautifully offset by Minou who is a strong willed and opinionated woman doing the best for her family rather than a religion. Piet is also more logical and open-minded, he’s a Huguenot by religion, but doesn’t believe there is only one way to God, particularly when religious difference is used as an excuse to oppress and murder. The couple’s return has raised the tension and jeopardy for all their friends and family, and Mosse delivers some suspense filled twists and turns where the hunted and hunter just miss each other.
I felt like I was in the hands of a master storyteller here. Mosse is able to bring historical fiction to life, and really makes the reader care about the lives of people long gone. She delivers the drama at such a pace, her characters barely have time to draw breath. The depth of her research is truly impressive, even if sometimes I found myself having to read very carefully so I didn’t become confused – but that’s my failing, not hers. The family are so well drawn I truly cared about their outcome and the dynamics between them are written with emotional intelligence. The character’s emotions feel so real and add depth to an already absorbing story. My heart broke for Minou at the loss of her daughter, and I was so invested in her grief that I couldn’t see how she would adjust to living without her. The strain they were under and the constant danger they’re in added an intensity to Minou and Piet’s relationship that was so romantic. Mosse’s incredible skill is to make the reader care about and feel a connection with people who lived in the 16th Century. They are so different to us in dress, daily life and beliefs but the themes of family, parenthood and loss are so universal that they cross the centuries. It will be interesting to see where these fascinating characters go next.
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Meet The Author
Kate Mosse is a number one international bestselling novelist, playwright and non-fiction writer. The author of eightnovels and short story collections –including the multimillion-selling Languedoc Trilogy (Labyrinth, Sepulchreand Citadel) and Gothic fiction The Winter Ghosts and The Taxidermist’s Daughter, which she is adapting for the stage –her books have been translated into thirty-eightlanguages and published in more than forty countries. She is the Founder Director of the Women’s Prize for Fiction and a regular interviewer for theatre & fiction events. Kate divides her time between Chichester in West Sussex and Carcassonnen in south-west France.