Book of the week : Citadel - Kate Mosse

Anyone who’s visited the Languedoc region of France will know how the past haunts the present there. The bastide towns and craggy ruined castles in the Pyrenean foothills are reminders of the Cathar heresy brutally suppressed in the 12th century

This haunting past has proved fertile territory for Kate Mosse in her recent trilogy of adventure novels, beginning with the phenomenally successful Labyrinth in 2005, shortly to be a mini-series, and now reaching its conclusion in Citadel

Labyrinth was concerned with the Albigensian crusade and the destruction of the Cathar heresy in the 13th century, weaving historical truth with the legends of the holy grail that flourished after the final massacre of the Cathars at their fortress of Montsegur

This idea of a connection between the story of a secret Cathar treasure and the grail was given substance in the 20th century by the work of Otto Rahn, a German historian and SS officer who believed that the Cathars held the key to the grail mystery, and that the evidence was somewhere beneath the ruins of Montségur. His writings attracted the attention of Himmler, whose own fascination with the occult, and with the possible ancient pedigree of an Aryan race, led to the founding of the Ahnenerbe, a society dedicated to research into proving the historical origins of a master race

This Nazi connection provides a richly dramatic setting for Citadel. The novel takes place largely between 1942 and 1944, between the occupation and liberation of southern France. The efforts of the French Resistance in the Languedoc are intercut in Citadel with the story of fourth‑century monk Arinius

He struggles across France to hide a heretical document (another echo of the Cathars) in the early days of Constantine’s Christian empire. 1,600 years later the Nazis, Right‑wing Christians and Resistance are all searching for this long-hidden Codex, believing in its symbolic power. The aged yet ageless scholar Audric Baillard is convinced it will help good to vanquish evil

There is a quasi-supernatural element running through the trilogy for Baillard is a veteran of the two earlier books, a mysterious character who has lived for centuries. He has helped other feisty women in the past, as he does Sandrine Vidal, the heroine of Citadel. She is first endangered by her attempts to rescue a dying man who has information about the Codex

Her actions introduce her to Raoul, a Resistance fighter who becomes her lover. But they also arouse the less welcome attentions of vicious Leo Authie, a Frenchman paid by a rich collaborator to find the Codex

When Raoul is framed by Authie for a bomb attack in Carcassonne on Bastille Day, 1942, Sandrine realises that the conflict is one in which everyone has to take a stand

Together with her sister Marianne she sets up a female network, known as Citadel, which over the next two years fights a guerrilla war against the German occupation, culminating in a battle in a hilltop village

Mosse has a masterly feel for time and place, conjuring up the sights, sounds and smells of the Languedoc. The novel combines mysticism and gritty realism pace, tension and interest maintained unflaggingly through almost 800 pages

If you’ve read the first two books Citadel will have even greater depth and resonance but you’ll be far from disappointed if you start with this one. This is a remarkable novel.  It has intrigue, danger and true emotional clout. The ending will leave you winded, but you will want to read on to the very last page. A bittersweet, beautifully written novel, original, thought-provoking and completely engaging

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