I loved the way this book started, with naive young-for-her-age Alice Tanner volunteering at an archaeological dig in south-western France. Something draws her up the hillside. She finds an old buckle. Then there is a rumbling sound and a huge boulder moves aside to show a door in the rock.
Yes, I know this strains credulity, but the writing was so good, I bought it.
After this set-up, we move back into the past, from July 2005 to July 1209. Alice Tanner is now 17-year-old Alais Pelletier, the favorite daughter of a Bertrand Pelletier, steward to Viscount Trencavel, who holds court at Carcassonne.
Storm clouds are rumbling over this regions as a huge army of French barons and Catholic priests is sweeping south to stamp out the Cathar heresy and grab those southern lands. Alais and her family get caught up in the “ethnic cleansing” that follows, as the northern French lords impose their ways upon the south, and try to eradicate the culture.
As others have remarked, this story is too long. I agree. I found myself skipping large chunks of it towards the end. And I think the reason for that is because the author (perhaps in a rush to finish this book) allows her writing to become careless. For example, she puts large chunks of explanation into the mouth of Audric Baillard, which is boring for the reader to read. This is a pity, because the beginning of this book shows that Ms. Mosse can write compelling prose. Three stars.