My rating: 4 of 5 stars
"Those robbers, those traitors and oath-breakers adorned with the cross who have destroyed me, neither I nor mine have laid hold on one of them who has not lost his eyes, his feet, his fingers and his hands! And I rejoice to think of those I have killed and regret the escape of those who got away." - Raymond Roger of Foix's opinion of the Crusaders invading his land under the guise of heretical cleansing, 1215.
It was Otto Rahn (a member of the German SS and a real person) who invented the connection between the Nazi belief in a superior race (Ayran) and the Cathars in 1937. Rahn also claimed that it was the Cathars who had possession of the Holy Grail and it was these beliefs (completely fabricated) that the Nazis propagated during WWII. Kate Mosse has taken the life and death of the medieval Cathars and this modern, fake Nazi version of history as the basis for her Languedoc series.
It works extremely well.
Citadel is the third (and final) book in the Languedoc trilogy. It is set on the border between France and Spain during the Nazi occupation of the region in WWII. It tells the story of Sandrine Vidal, native Carcassonais, her sister and a group of friends who make up the female resistence group 'Citadel', determined to expose the secrets of the Nazi occupation.
At the centre of the story is the Codex, an ancient text condemned as heretical by the Church during the early middle ages, but saved from destruction by a Christian monk named Arinius, who takes the Codex and hides it in the Pyrenees Mountains. Undisturbed for centuries it is now being sought by the Nazis who wish to harbour its power for their own cruel purpose. However, with the assistance of Audric Baillard, Sandrine and the Citadel network intend to recover it first and raise a ghost army that will once and for all remove the invaders from their homeland.
Although most of the characters in this story are fictional, Mosse makes clever, subtle connections between those that are imaginary and actual historical figures. For example, it is the fictional Antione Dejean who learns of the Codex from the historical Otto Rahn; Sandrine's fictional neighbours by the name of Fournier are Nazi informants, whilst the historical Jacques Fournier was a Cistercian monk who helped bring about the destruction of the Cathar faith during the 13th Century (and later became pope Benedict XII); and the fictional Audric Baillard has a grandmother named Esclarmonde, the historical Esclarmonde of Foix being a famous Cathar Perfect (holy woman).
It is these connections between the past and the fictional setting of the book that made it particularly enjoyable for me. I liked that Mosse held this connection and carried it over and through the distance of time in a sense of "history repeating" - the type that only hindsight can give us. There is wonder in the idea that there are certain traits - not just genetic similarities but inherent beliefs and motivations - that are passed down through generations in a neverending battle of good vs evil.
However, I do have a bit of a gripe: At times the similarity Mosse draws between the persecution of the Cathars during the 13th Century and the suffering experienced by the Jews in WWII is not particularly subtle. In fact, it almost feels forced, which is unnecessary: Anyone who has read the previous two novels (Labyrinth and Sepulchre) will perfectly understand the connection without the need for the author to spell it out to them. I felt as though Mosse wasn't giving me credit as a reader when she did this.
The other, minor complaint I have to make is that the story began to drag a little near the end. I knew there was the big event just around the corner but it seemed to take forever to get there, and then when it finally arrived it was over so quick! Then the story just ended. That left me feeling slightly unsatisfied.
However, what makes this story worthy of a 4-star rating (even 4 and a half stars, really) is the combination of the characters and the setting of the story. Citadel is about ordinary people doing the most extraordinary things to save others, even if they must sacrifice themselves in order to do so. It's a beautiful and inspiring novel about about finding strength, keeping faith, and resisting the influence of evil inherent in ignorance and hate.
I highly recommend this series but it needs to be read in its intended order to truly appreciate Kate Mosse's Cathars.
LAST CHANCE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY FOR 'ROYAL FLUSH':
Author Scott Bartlett has been kind enough to offer one lucky reader of this blog an e-book copy of Royal Flush.
All you have to do to enter the draw is to leave a comment on this post. Please provide an email address so that if you win the author can get in touch with you to arrange delivery of the e-book. Entries will be taken until midnight (Australian Central Standard Time) on Thursday, 31 January 2013. The winner will be announced on Saturday, 2 February 2013.
Giveaway is open to everyone because we all deserve a free book every now and then.
Best of luck!