SUMMARY (from Goodreads): July 2005. In the Pyrenees mountains near Carcassonne, Alice, a volunteer at an archaeological dig stumbles into a cave and makes a startling discovery - two crumbling skeletons, strange writings on the walls, and the pattern of a labyrinth; between the skeletons, a stone ring, and a small leather bag.
Eight hundred years earlier, on the eve of a brutal crusade to stamp out heresy that will rip apart southern France, Alaïs is given a ring and a mysterious book for safekeeping by her father as he leaves to fight the crusaders. The book, he says, contains the secret of the true Grail, and the ring, inscribed with a labyrinth, will identify a guardian of the Grail. As crusading armies led by Church potentates and nobles of northern France gather outside the city walls of Carcassonne, it will take great sacrifice to keep the secret of the labyrinth safe.
The story of Labyrinth evolves around an ancient myth of The Holy Grail, supposed to give an eternal life, but it does not concentrate solely on it. Labyrinth is a story about two women and their intertwined destines in an everlasting conflict of three sides: those who want to protect the secret of the Grail, those who want to exploit it, and those who want to destroy it.
Apart from one or two inconsistencies, the plot flows nicely, easily passing from one theme to another, despite its complexity. Mosse perfectly balances the past and the present, myth and science, personal lives of people and historic events. Both past and present are interwoven with suspense, danger, and suffering. In contrast to the most horrible aspects of life stand goodness, love, and sacrifice.
Labyrinth is an action-packed story, there is lots of events description from the persecution of Cathars and their everyday life to Alice’s flight from those who hinder her uncovering of secrets. Through a very intense motion of events, Mosse pays just the right amount of attention to the characters, which are skilfully developed.
I really liked the portrayal of Alaïs and her husband Guilhem and their relationship. I found the growth of both characters very lifelike. Their strength and sacrifice is a bright spot against the dark times.
Alaïs is an extraordinary character for her time. Belonging to the privileged, she lives in a protective environment, but she pays attention to those who are less fortunate than her. She is, contrary to the custom of the period, an educated woman, she knows how to read and write and she thinks on her own. She is a skilled healer, always ready to help others, especially her father whom she loves very much.
She also loves her husband, Guilhem, who returns her feelings. Yet, he is foolish enough to let himself be seduced into treachery. His betrayal, both personal and ideological, hurts Alaïs very much and puts an obstacle between them. Recognising his mistake, Guilhem devotes his life to redeem himself in the fight for good, which eventually earns him Alaïs’s forgiveness and reunites them.
Mosse depicts the cruelty of the Crusaders (and modern day villains) and the suffering of Cathars (and Alice and her friends) so realistically it made the book difficult to read at times. The harsh parts are softened with illustrations of loyalty, love, and friendship. Reading Labyrinth was an emotional experience for me. It got me sucked into the book, which really makes up a good book.
RECOMMENDATION: Labyrinth has it all: history, romance, suspense, mystery, myth and danger. There are some explicit description of violence and some controversial religious views. It is a wonderful book for everyone who is neither too squeamish about the first nor bothered by the latter.