Presently a fascination exists with European history that is manifested perhaps most visibly on the fiction bestseller list. There are a number of books that namedrop Da Vinci, and if the Templars were still a viable entity (and yes, I know, they may well be cloistered in a monastery somewhere in France, biding their time), they would be collecting royalties right now, or at least suing for the same. The latest entry into the U.S. fray has been a bestseller in Europe for the past year or so --- an ambitious, sweeping work titled LABYRINTH, spanning centuries and continents in its scope.
Kate Mosse treats her subject matter with a calm, steady and confident hand; her narrative approach is unhurried and methodical. LABYRINTH begins in the present, at an archeological dig taking place in the Pyrenees. Alice Tanner, a volunteer, literally stumbles into a hidden cave and makes a discovery that sets into motion a frantic, intense, and subversive search between opposing forces who have been searching for hundreds of years for the very objects that Tanner comes across by accident. Meanwhile, Tanner is stunned to discover a link between herself, the objects, and Alais du Mas, a woman of the 13th century whose father is one of three individuals entrusted with a book connected to the Holy Grail that has the potential to rock civilization.
The novel runs along parallel paths as Tanner finds herself in the middle of tug-of-war between forces she slowly and belatedly comes to understand, while Alais struggles against culture and family to assist her father in preserving the knowledge that he has secretly possessed for decades.
Mosse weaves an extremely skillful tapestry that connects the past and present --- not only Alais and Alice (the most obvious links), but also a number of characters whose connection between two eras is subtly hinted at throughout. Part of the enjoyment of the novel is detecting who is linked to whom, while Mosse slowly parcels out the mystery and importance of what the opposing forces so desperately seek to acquire, and why.
Readers should not expect explosions, revelations and ripped bodices from Page One --- Mosse's style is decidedly European in that her tale and its pacing proceed in their own time --- but the journey here is as important as the destination, and patience is more than amply rewarded on all counts. With LABYRINTH, Mosse has produced a fascinating and engrossing link between two eras, blending and blurring genres while creating two memorable heroines who become as one across the ages.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 7, 2006