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Labyrinth    by Kate Mosse order for
by Kate Mosse
Order:  USA  Can
Berkley, 2007 (2006)
Hardcover, Paperback, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Alex Telander

If only Kate Mosse had published her novel closer to the astonishing success of The Da Vinci Code, it might have received the literary respect it deserves, instead of coming last in a slew of novels involving the Holy Grail, the Knights Templar, and what they mean in the present day. The Kirkus Review quote on the back of the paperback edition really says it all: 'A quickly paced adventure that wears its considerable learning lightly and of higher literary quality than The Da Vinci Code, to which it will inevitably be compared.' And yet Labyrinth goes more than a few steps further, not just adding original twists to the myth of the Grail, but adding a new depth that hasn't been seen before. As for the truth behind it all, Mosse doesn't offer a note of explanation, but leaves it to the reader's imagination.

Labyrinth opens with one of the two main characters, Alice, working on an archaeological site in southern France, where she finds a hidden cave with two skeletons inside. She also finds a unique ring bearing an unusual symbol - a labyrinth. Since the presence of skeletons makes the site a crime scene, after she notifies the authorities of her discovery, the archaeologists are kicked off the site. The reader is then taken back in time to the thirteenth century to meet the other main character, Alas, a young girl held back by tradition and ritual in a chivalric society where the knight and the priest are strongest. For the duration of the book, the reader follows these two characters, as they live their lives in parallel.

After Alice returns to her hotel, strange things start to happen. Strangers contact her about what she found in the cave, while the police tell her to describe exactly what she saw and confiscate her sketches. Members of the dig go mysteriously missing, and people begin to die for unknown reasons. Finding pieces of evidence, Alice weaves together the story bit by bit, and as she does she discovers that she is intrinsically linked to it all, and most importantly to Alas. But her strange dreams of this unknown girl from the late Middle Ages are the least of her worries.

Alas finds herself caught up in changing and challenging times when the pope launches a crusade against the Cathars, declared heretics who believe that while God is absolute and utmost, the work they do in their lives is by their doing and not God's. It is a time when Christians are fighting Christians - overtly because of their heretical beliefs, but also because the northern French want the rich southern lands. Wrapped in this dense plot is the story of the Grail, which every Christian seeks. It is only when three ancient texts with strange hieroglyphs are brought together that the true way to the Grail will be shown. But this Grail story is not the one that we all think we know, but something deeper and more ancient tied in to the mysterious labyrinth symbol, and reaching back to Ancient Egypt and the founding of civilization.

While the last third of the book seems somewhat rushed as Mosse forges back and forth through time, and relies on present day characters telling what they know of the past, there is an inevitable build-up that results in a climactic ending with an eye-opening shock for the reader. Like the symbol, Labyrinth is a story that begins simply and straightforwardly, but grows more and more complex, until the denouement when all is finally revealed.

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