I seem to be getting through my books at an alarming pace recently! Having finished The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, I went straight into another short story that I’ve been meaning to read for some time; The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse.
I love Kate Mosse. I first read Labyrinth when I was in the South of France on holiday some years ago, and I raced through it, pages turning almost too fast for me to keep up I was so enthralled. It deals with the Cathar persecution in the 13th Century and the importance of remembering the brutality of our history today. The juxtaposition between the past and the present and the constant mystery and building tension keeps you enthralled from first to last page. Just when you’re about to discover something, or just when the tension reaches its peak, you are dragged away to a different time. The way that the medieval character of Alais and the modern day character of Alice’s lives are linked through the centuries and a shared destiny is incredibly gripping and the twists and turns of the story (much like a labyrinth!) leave you guessing until the very end. I had no idea where the story was going to take me, but I was desperate to find out.
The historical element of her writing is another thing I love. I’m fascinated by history and the richness of the detail that she feeds into her stories is excellent. I believe she does a huge amount of research for her books and to capture such distant events and long forgotten atrocities in such vivid detail is astounding. But you never feel as though you’re reading a history book. She brings the times to life so vividly that even the more ‘magical’ elements of her books (The holy grail…eternal life…magic tarot cards…armies of the dead) become completely plausible as you read. I never even stopped to question the appearance of ghosts or the existence of magical texts!
Sepulcre is the second book in her Langedoc trilogy and is in keeping the with formula of its prequel, although the past is much closer to the present in this work. I will admit, I was not as enamored with this book as I was with Labyrinth. It had all the same ingredients but it felt rushed. It felt a little sloppy and I was never as gripped by the book as by the first. That doesn’t mean to say it wasn’t a very good read – it was and I enjoyed it – but I think that the excellence of the first book raised my expectations far too high and anything was likely to pale in comparison. That said, past and present destinies collide, ancient hidden mysteries and secrets are discovered and unwound, plots are uncovered and the mystical is still present!
Citadel is the final book in the trilogy and involved even more recent history – WW2 in fact. This was better than it’s prequel and closer to the brilliance of Labyrinth. The main difference is that we no longer skip from present to past and back again. There is no modern day character searching for the truth of a long dead ancestor. But the other ingredients are there; fates are still interwoven and destinies are tied together by a shared goal and common secret. An old friend appears from the first two books and he is a comforting presence in what is by far the most gritty book in the series. There’s something about the closeness of the events in this book that make it feel more raw – the atrocities and deception and betrayal and all number of crimes against humanity that were committed by friends and neighbours and communities against one another during the occupation period feel to close for comfort. But it is this that keeps you gripping the book.
Once more, there is a mystical secret. Citadel combines the action and adventure of Labyrinth with the mystery and haunting secrets of Sepulcre spectacularly and in amongst all the very real action of French resistance and Nazi action of the War, there is a hidden secret buried in the Pyrenees and the fates of all our characters are tied to one another and to the discovery of this secret.
Now, I’m not quite finished The Winter Ghosts (only 40 pages to go though…) but I can safely say that it’s a very good short story, much in keeping with her themes and style. However, I do think it could do with more. I feel like there is so much left unsaid and so much more that could be present in the book and its a shame she cuts herself off. It feels like it has the potential to be, not necessarily as long as her other novels, but at least a little longer. It just feels rushed, like she is trying to hurry you through the story before you truly get a chance to grip the events taking place. But it’s still a good read, and it still has the secrets and mystery of her other writing. We follow a character Freddie, through the events that shaped his life. He is a broken man for having lost his brother in WW1 and a strange encounter and series of events that befall him in the mountains of the South of France change his life forever, and, of course, the ghosts of the past appear and are liberated through remembrance.
All her books are about bearing witness to the past. She deals with tough subjects and historical atrocities and presses the importance of remembering our history and learning from it. This is all very important, but what it really comes down to, for me, is ‘am I gripped by the story?’. If you’ve read my other ‘reviews’ you’ll see that I love a good mystery and thriller, and Kate Mosse really provides this in her books.
If you like stories where the past collides with the present, where ancient mysteries and long-buried secrets are unravelled and burst to the light, then Kate Mosse is for you. She cunningly weaves historical fact and rich ancient detail in amongst mythical characters and mystical stories passed down from generation to generation. If you want a book where you never know what’s coming next, with winding mysteries and haunting secrets, then Kate Mosse is the author for you.