The Burning Chambers – Kate Mosse
This latest book by Kate Mosse is the start of a series of books about a feud between two families that takes place in the Languedoc in France, in the midst of the Wars of Religion in the 16th century. Minou, a young Catholic woman living in Carcassonne, is minding her family book shop, as her father has been too ill to manage it for a number of months, since returning from his trip to the north. While caring for the shop, she receives a mysterious letter, and has a chance encounter with a young Huguenot, Piet. Both of these things will change Minou’s generally quiet life forever. As the battle between Catholic and Protestant heats up in the Carcassonne, Minou finds her family has been embroiled in a much older story, not just about religion but also about money and power: one that will directly impact her future.
While heavy in historical context, the story is well written and easy to read, keeping the reader interested throughout. The characters are engaging and the action both interesting and upsetting, allowing the reader to smell, touch and feel the events during this turbulent period. What is also wonderful about this story, is that in a time where events are generally being told from the soldiers, the clergyman’s or the politician’s point of view, we are seeing history through the eyes of everyday women and men, whose lives are dependent on the whims of their “betters”. The complicated lot of women is well described throughout the book, without there being an onerous focus on their suffering or a long drawn out treatise on inequality. It is there, it is understood, it is another layer to the story, and it helps make it so much more interesting. Minou, Alis, Blanche and Madame Boussey are victims and survivors of their times, and their stories are much more engaging because of it. Not to say that the men in this tale are ignored. Monsieur Joubert, Aimeric, Piet and Vidal all are extremely interesting and vital to the story, but it is not just their story, which is why this book is wonderful to read.
What I loved about this book was that it was indeed a story of love, power, greed and adventure, all tied into an extraordinary part of France’s history, a series of violent clashes that could have destroyed the country (and almost did). Any student of European history will recognise the events in 16th century Carcassonne and Toulouse (and the reference to the haunting sentence: Kill them all, God will know his own, from the Béziers Masscare in 1209) outlined in this book right to the last page, where St. Bartholomew’s Day is briefly mentioned, leaving the reader both fearful and concerned for the story’s heroes, despite the seemingly happy ending.
It is not a small book, but I carried it around with me everywhere until I finished the story.
There are only two things I find irritating about this book. The first was the confusing prologue. Once you dive into the story, you’re not really sure why it’s even there. In fact, when I finished the book, I went back to read it again. It definitely made more sense the second time around. It might have been better if it had been split in two: Prologue and Epilogue, just to tie the pieces together more neatly.
The second irritating thing … The sequel is not out until 2020. Booo
To read more reviews about this wonderful book, please go to Goodreads at: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36660443-the-burning-chambers