If writers were breeds of dog Mosse would surely be of the highest pedigree ready to show at Crufts. Her sweeping epics began with Labyrinth in The Languedoc Trilogy and she has returned to her spiritual and often actual home in Carcassonne, in the Languedoc region of France with her Burning Chambers series.
In the first The Burning Chambers we were introduced to the brave young Minou Joubert, her brother Aimeric, sister Alis and her book shop owning father Bernard as the effects of the ongoing French wars of religion meant their lives were upturned. It also began the love story of Minou and Piet Reydon. Despite the differences in their religions their love overcame many threats. But lingering over the story was Piet’s past, based in Amsterdam and how strong forces within France were seeking to end Piet’s life alongside those he loved.
The City of Tears begins with death and threats back in Holland and also to the safety of the now married Piet and Minou and their family at the Chateau de Puivert in Languedoc. They now have two children, older and feisty Marta and young Jean-Jacques, the apple of his father’s eye. Also living with them are Alis, Minou’s sister and her elderly father Bernard along with aunt Salvadora Boussey, a glorious character in the image surely of Dame Maggie Smith!
The family are planning a journey to Paris where a royal wedding is to take place that will hope to form an alliance between the Catholic Crown negotiated by Catherine de Medici and Jeanne d’Albert and Henri, the Huguenot king of Navarre. As leading citizens on their estate the Joubert family rightly have been invited but Minou sees trouble in leaving the safety of the countryside for the melting pot of religious fervour in the city of Paris. Also as they prepare an assassin lies in wait in the grounds of the Chateau.
When they are in Paris they discover the Joubert’s oldest enemy, Vidal will be there waiting on his opportunity to undo the past of Piet’s past for his own gain. The marriage is to take place around the Feast Day of St Bartholomew and Mosse cleverly weaves the horrendous carnage of that event in the city against the personal tragedies that will overwhelm the family.
There is a lot to follow if you have not read the first book I do admit. A necessary family tree of those groups involved is found at the start of the book but it may take a few chapters to get into the story with its past implications. However, the real events of the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in August 1572 show Mosse’s deft research and ability to intertwine characters for whom we soon have a love against the ferment of death building in Paris.
The French Wars of Religion were not something I was aware of in much detail and the Massacre was a targeted group of assassinations and a wave of Catholic mob violence against the Huguenots (Calvinist Protestants). Religion has always played a pivotal part in much war and death. That people can manage to overcome this time of revenge, persecution and loss are shown in the form of Minou and Piet Joubert and sweep them from Paris, Puivert, Chartres to Amsterdam which becomes a refugee city and named as ‘The City of Tears’.
A great family saga that has still more to share. Mosse is not afraid to shock or keep things cosy with traditional happy endings and reflects the fears and threats that religious differences faced at that time in the sixteenth century. Her descriptions of the countryside around Languedoc are drawn from her love of the place and the ferment of Paris is evident. We gain an insight into how Holland played an important part in the world too at this time and also its role in bringing Piet’s past life to the very forefront of why the family still has much to fear even though they have escaped France.
Despite being a big book -500+ pages- the story flows enjoyably well as a personal read and I am sure fans of Mosse amongst book groups will have lots to discuss from the continuing saga about the Joubert family. Here’s to the next instalment!
Review by Philipa Coughlan
Personal read 4*
Group read 4*
Published by Mantle an imprint of Pan Macmillan in January 2021
ISBN 978-1-5098-0687-4 Hardback