Servant of the Secret Fire

Random thoughts on books and life in the reality-based community

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The name I've chosen comes from "Lord of the Rings," when Gandalf faces down the Balrog in the Mines of Moria. My Hebrew name is Esther (which is related to the word for "hidden" or "secret") Serafina (which means "burning"). This seems appropriate because although I don't usually put myself forward, I do care very passionately about a lot of things. Maybe through these blogs I can share some of these passions, as well as less weighty ideas and opinions, with others.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Book Review: Labyrinth

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse ***-1/2

Labyrinth focuses mainly on two women, Alice in the present, who finds a mysterious cave while volunteering on an archaeological dig, and her ancestress Alais in the era of the Albigensian Crusade. The link between the two is a set of three books called the Labyrinth Trilogy, which supposedly leads to the Holy Grail. I found this the weakest point in the book – it feels like the whole Holy Grail connection was thrown in to capitalize on the success of The Da Vinci Code, as was the pursuit of the heroine across southern France by (at least self-appointed) agents of the Catholic Church. I never did get quite clear on who exactly was behind the villains or if they were mainly working for themselves.

I found the medieval sections of the book to be the strongest, both in character and in plot; the modern characters seemed to be pale echoes of their prototypes. It’s too bad that the author (or her editors) seemed to be a bit too concerned with jumping on Dan Brown’s bandwagon, because I think that Mosse could have written a much better book if she had made it a straight historical novel about the persecution of the Cathars, an event which, at least as far as I know, has yet to be thoroughly explored in fiction. She would, however, need to delve a bit more into their beliefs; as it was, apart for a couple of throwaway lines about their dualistic theology, they were portrayed pretty one-dimensionally as proto-Protestants of a sort, all of whom seem to have been perfect, in more sense than one. (The Perfect was the name for the more advanced “grade” of Cathars.)

I am not generally a fan of books that switch back and forth between the past and present, but at least, thank God, Mosse did not use the "time travel" gimmick, which has been done to death, except in a very oblique way. I did find the use of untranslated French and Occitan words to be distracting. Surprisingly (since I am an English major), I didn't notice the sentence fragments that annoyed another Amazon reviewer, but one thing that did jump out at me was the figurative language, some of which seemed to be a bit forced, as if the author had written these “great” similes in creative writing class and felt like she just had to use them somewhere. However, all in all I did find this book to be a worthwhile and enjoyable read.

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