Friday, May 17, 2013

LABYRINTH


Review of LABYRINTH by KATE MOSSE
(first in the LANGUEDOC trilogy)

This thick book requires a commitment, but rewards with a brilliant end. I read LABYRINTH for the first time back in my freshman year of college. It took me months and over three quarters of the novel before I felt ensnared by the story, but it became a favorite by the time I finished and earned a spot on my "re-read to review" list. Needless to say, there's an extremely slow build. This story could easily be much shorter, though the length adds its own atmospheric benefits. The characters and historical detail held my attention enough that I kept plugging along, but the pace only breaks into a sprint around the last quarter or so, building towards a fantastic, well-plotted conclusion.

LABYRINTH follows two alternating story lines: in the summer of 2005, Alice makes a strange discovery on an archaeological dig while back in the 13th century, Alais inherits a monumental responsibility. I enjoyed the historical storyline far more than the modern one and found my attention waned easier during Alice's chunks. Mosse's obviously extensive research impressed me, though thankfully she demonstrates restraint and doesn't bog the reader down in unnecessary historical detail. While the book switches between the past and present storylines, these aren't frequent switches by any means. There's a large chunk of each story before returning to the other, a trend that makes investing in the characters much easier but proves annoying if either chunk ends on any species of question mark or cliffhanger. Near the end, these switches also increase in frequency, adding to that building pace.
Two stylistic writing elements distracted me at times: an abundance of passive voice and the switching between present and past tense. (If you're not much of a grammar nerd and don't write yourself, most likely you won't even notice these things.) Near the beginning in particular, before the story had my full attention, I noticed passive voice in nearly every single sentence. As for the present tense, the switching between past and present didn’t throw me as much as the use of present at all. Mosse uses present tense for the present storyline and past for the past. While there's a certain logic to that approach, somehow present tense struck me as awkward for this particular book, enough so that it kept throwing me out of the story. It should be said, though, that I only noticed these aspects on my second reading. In between readings, I only remembered a haunting, spectacular ending and not a thing about passive voice or present tense.

Really, this whole hefty book is worth the investment because the story rounds a corner to a marvelous, memorable ending. Forgive the worn metaphor, but the denouement calls to mind the satisfying snick of a final puzzle piece finding its place.

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