Review: Labyrinth, by Kate Mosse
All right, friends, here we go - the first stinker of 2022!
This book had absolutely no redeeming characteristics to speak of. I picked it up because the premise sounded interesting - Alice Tanner, on an archeological dig, finds a secret grave that contains some 12th-century remains that might point to the secret of the Grail, lost during the Crusade in the Languedoc against the Cathars and the Albigensians in 12th-century France.
And, truly, after 700 pages, the premise remained the only thing that made this book publishable. I should have known better the second I saw this described as "if The Da Vinci Code were feminist!" Nothing else was any good. Let's go through all the reasons why.
First off - this book is too damn long. It's 7oo pages, and needed to be brutally edited down. We could have lost the entirety of one of the two timelines and the story would not have suffered from it at all. Also - and I realise that this is my personal issue more than anything else - but I really, really hate it when authors writing about a setting that isn't their mother tongue throw in sentences in the setting's original language to show off how much research they've done. It almost always rings false and is always off-putting, and because I notice this in French rather than any other language, the French is almost always just slightly wrong. And, for somebody who's entire purpose in writing this book was "I JUST FELL IN LOVE WITH FRANCE", you'd think she'd at least fact-check some of the most basic things. The most egregious failing, in my book? L'École Nationale d'Administration was in Strasbourg. Not Paris. Come on, Kate. I could have forgiven it being long and annoyingly pretentious if Kate Mosse could actually, you know, write, but she absolutely cannot. The language is overly florid, overly dramatic, overwrought in every sense of the word and yet, despite all the fucking words, nothing ever actually happens. The entire story happens in long stretches of monologues between the characters that the reader listens in on, which is just the most unsatisfying way of developing a plot known to humankind. I also have discovered that as I read more and more historical fiction, I hate supernatural twists. I think it's the laziest deus ex machina anybody can use as a way of patching over massive plot holes without having to do any actual work to wrap everything up nicely.
Which brings us to the second problem - the pacing. Everything important happens off-page, and then we just get a summary of it from a character who just happened to be there. And because of how often she withheld even the most basic of information for the sake of 'mysteries to be revealed', it just meant that by the time we finally had enough information to care about any of this quest, too many pages had gone by for me to give a single flying fuck. The motivation for why these things needed to be found out, why it was a secret considered worth killing for, was just never established in a clear enough way to set stakes for the plot in a way that made me care about it. Mosse somehow managed to make a 700-page epic adventure novel about the quest for the true secret of the Holy Grail utterly, completely pointless. Now that's an achievement nobody should want to have.
Now let's talk about the characters. I'm really over this whole trope of villains being villains only because they hate the good guys, and them having no motivations beyond "I'm a villain and so therefore I am nefarious". I think it's lazy, sloppy, and thoroughly uninteresting, and since in this book everything else was also uninteresting, that was really just the straw that broke the camels' back. Mosse also did this thing where she introduced so many characters that, every time they weren't actively on page, she just... forgot that they existed? The extent of the characterisation in this book was that every character had One Defining Personality Trait, and they were only ever referred to by that trait. Nobody had any emotional growth, nobody went on a journey, nothing happened - and it was all tell not show. So we were supposed to believe that Alaïs was good and kind and smart because Mosse kept telling us she was, instead of her doing anything legitimately interesting or intelligent. And, oh my days, everyone in this book was just so stupid. They all kept walking into the most obvious of traps and honestly I found myself wishing they would all just die so this book could end. And I really wish that the female characters had been described in ways other than having long, shapely legs. I'm not even joking - every single woman in this book was slim with shapely legs. You could be forgiven for not being able to remember anything about who they were, because even the author doesn't seem to think women are anything other than a nice pair of legs.
A colossal waste of time. Beyond frustrating. A fascinating period of history that just got utterly ruined in the pursuit of a shit book.
Nobody bother reading this book. It's utter garbage.