Carcassonne, France, in July 1942 is a city on the edge. Caught between the past and the present, the residents of this French city know that by helping the German occupiers, they will possibility hurt a neighbor. But when it comes to putting food on the table, they have little choice. Every resident in Carcassonne, young and old, has suffered.
Sandrine and her older sister, Marianne, carry on alone after their father died two years ago in the war. They endure along with their housekeeper, Marieta, who is now like a mother more than ever. Sandrine, always the stubborn one, is young and truly unaware of what the war means, not only for her and her sister, but also for the city and the country. She goes about her day oblivious to what is happening around her. While out one morning, she comes across a man lying injured in the river and goes to help. As she’s dragging him out of the water, she’s attacked by an unseen person. But before she passes out, she manages to grab hold of the necklace the man is holding.
"CITADEL manages to be a love story full of intrigue and mystery while chasing ancient texts through the French countryside."
Sandrine awakes on shore in the arms of another man she doesn’t know but immediately trusts. She passes out again but comes around after friends of her sister stop to help her. Not knowing any better and unwilling to listen to anyone, she goes to the police, telling them of the attack and what she saw, setting in motion events that will lead her down a dark path in the months and years to come.
At the time, Sandrine may not have understood the weight of her actions, but months later she is fighting as part of the resistance alongside her sister and friends --- an all-female group of French resistance fighters called the Citadel. In trying to protect their homes and neighbors, they smuggle in goods, help smuggle out refugees, and work to sabotage the occupying German forces. Part of the work these women are doing also includes a dark side --- they are looking for a document called the Codex. Legend has it, when the ancient text is read aloud, it will awaken the spirits of the land that will come forth to save those who believe. Sandrine and her friends are working not only to find the Codex, but to keep others from finding it as well. Unwilling to let it fall into enemy hands, they risk everything they have.
Beyond the heroics these ladies take on, there are still the quiet lives they live among themselves --- the love that exists amid death and destruction, the simple act of sitting down to a meal and laughing at something silly. Those things still happen to the characters, and that makes it all the more endearing. Sandrine starts out as a stubborn teenager unwilling to listen and so unaware and disinterested in everything going on around her. When she finally opens her eyes, there’s so much to take in, yet she doesn’t crack under the pressure --- she simply stands to help and do what she can for the people and places she loves. Through the death of another, she finds love, which somehow manages to grow and carry her through very difficult times.
One thing I enjoy about Kate Mosse’s books is the mysticism/magical realism. She manages to infuse her stories with a bit of the supernatural --- something just this side of mystical that fits into the story. In this case, the Codex is that something that gets tossed in but feels very much part of the story and these characters’ lives. This doesn’t always work in stories, but Mosse does it flawlessly.
Coming to the end of the book was difficult. The setting and the characters are not easy to leave; you see the characters make very difficult decisions --- the right ones for them, but choices that will change everything. There is closure at the end, making for one satisfying read. CITADEL manages to be a love story full of intrigue and mystery while chasing ancient texts through the French countryside. All I can say is, time spent with this novel is time well spent.
Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on March 21, 2014