I’ve mentioned a few times that I was planning a blog post on women’s Templar novels. I’ve never got around to it; I have too much material to boil it down, and my feelings about these books are complex. But while poking around the Internet, trying to decide whether to start that post or not, I discovered first, that there’s a new one, available in the UK and Canada but not in a US edition as yet (Guardian review here), and second, that there’s a miniseries playing right now on the BBC’s Channel 4 of Kate Mosse’s novel, Labyrinth (Guardian review here, trailer here). Mosse’s first two novels in what’s now a trilogy, Labyrinth and The Winter Ghosts, and her other novel (of the three currently available in the US), Sepulchre, were the “women’s Templar novels” I was planning to write about.
Labyrinth is a big book, and it will tell you a good deal about it to say that, though it appeared nearly simultaneously with The Da Vinci Code, it was accused of copying from it. Mosse’s books are much less ridiculous than Dan Brown’s are, however (though if you’re used to reading this kind of silly, conspiracy-oriented pseudo-historical romance, quite possibly you might not have seen Brown’s books as all that far from the normal). The historical plot concerns the Albigensian Crusade in the Languedoc region of France, in the Pyrenées, and the preservation of a mystical secret through the joint actions of two religious sects, a kind of enlightened fraternity stemming from the Near East, and the adherents of Catharism, a break-off Christian sect being persecuted by the Parisian authorities in alliance with the Roman Catholic church. The present-day plot concerns an amateur archeologist who, after finding a secret and keeping it illicitly, in following it up discovers tremendous truths about herself and the world.
The Winter Ghosts is more concise and ordinarily literary, less of a genre blockbuster. The protagonist is a young man who’s trying to find his way, a recent veteran of the First World War, who suddenly and mysteriously experiences the past history of a woman persecuted in a similar crusade, also in the Languedoc region. Again, the experience of confronting the past allows him to move forward in the present.
The books are appealing and disconcerting at the same time. In the miniseries, John Hurt plays a peculiar, mystical figure whom the present-day young woman consults to learn more about the artifact she’s found. Hurt is just the right type for this character, but I have to assume something is going to be lost from the book. His character, in the novel, was by far the most interesting of all of them, and there’s just no way all his dialogue is going to be transferred to the screen fully and accurately.