Monday, March 17, 2014

CITADEL


Review of CITADEL by KATE MOSSE
(third in the LANGUEDOC trilogy, review based on an advance reading copy)
My overall impressions of Mosse’s latest book line up with what I consistently say about her work: mediocre writing but brilliant story. As always, some strange gimmicks in the writing (like the phrase “the woman known as Sophie” used in place of the name “Sophie” in the opening, not once but repeatedly) as well as clumsy or grammatically inaccurate sentences distracted me at first. Like I experienced with the first in this trilogy, LABYRINTH, though, once the plot sucked me in I stopped my nitpicking and hardly noticed the writing anymore. Also like LABYRINTH and SEPULCHRE, I found myself increasingly engaged as the story continued: apathetic in the prologue, lukewarm near the beginning, intrigued well before the middle, committed by the halfway point, and zealous as I neared the end.

Though it’s no SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, there are a lot of characters in these books. I did occasionally struggle keeping track of who’s who, but thankfully that was more in the beginning than as I kept reading. What throws me more is the connection between these books. LABYRINTH, SEPULCHRE, and CITADEL are technically a series, though doubtless one of the most loosely connected series I have ever read. (You can easily read one of them at random without reading either of the others.) Set in entirely different time periods, very few characters carry over. Unfortunately, probably due in part to how long it was between books for me, I often found myself fighting to keep the wider arching plot lines over all three books straight in my head. I often worried that I’m missing something, a frustrating feeling for the reader.

The extremely short chapters make this chunky tome of nearly 700 pages a much faster, easier read than it looks from the outside. A long chapter might be five pages. Chapters this short aren’t for everyone, but I definitely think the style works for this book.

Mosse always anchors these novels in rich historical context. Her intensive research shines through without the lengthy bibliography in back and she spices most every scene with historical details. Set in France during World War II, CITADEL follows a group of brave, indomitable young women who form their own resistance group…as well as the man determined to destroy them all for both political and personal reasons.

I sometimes complain about novels, especially World War II novels, leaning on the pathos of their subject matter rather than creating characters who can win over the reader. CITADEL does not fall into this pitfall and Mosse has crafted a touching and heart-tugging story about some of the countless individuals swept up in the chaos of war. Perhaps more so than any story I’ve read to date, CITADEL does an amazing (if chilling) job of demonstrating how horror can become mundane…which is really a new kind of horror in itself. The character Marianne also presents some wise insight into why seemingly “good” people will turn on their neighbors in ruthless times: many people are prepared to betray a stranger, or even a friend, if they can justify it as protecting their own. “Their own” varies from individual to individual: it could be themselves, their spouse or lover, their children, their family, etc. The ones least likely to commit these kinds of betrayals are those who cast the widest net in defining “their own,” perhaps meaning anyone they’ve ever met personally, anyone from their country, or even any fellow human being. Be warned that Mosse doesn’t sugarcoat the atrocities of war. Minor and major characters alike go through some extreme physical and emotional agony for their cause.

I found the ending ideal for this book: a reminder that any individual’s story is one small piece in a greater story about mankind...and it takes a remarkable person to recognize that and sacrifice their own story for the improvement of humanity’s.

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