The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse

the burning chambersTitle: The Burning Chambers

Author: Kate Mosse

Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia

Published: 24th April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 608

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Bringing sixteenth-century Languedoc vividly to life, Kate Mosse’s The Burning Chambers is a gripping story of love and betrayal, mysteries and secrets; of war and adventure, conspiracies and divided loyalties…

Carcassonne 1562: Nineteen-year-old Minou Joubert receives an anonymous letter at her father’s bookshop. Sealed with a distinctive family crest, it contains just five words: SHE KNOWS THAT YOU LIVE.

But before Minou can decipher the mysterious message, a chance encounter with a young Huguenot convert, Piet Reydon, changes her destiny forever. For Piet has a dangerous mission of his own, and he will need Minou’s help if he is to get out of La Cité alive.

Toulouse: As the religious divide deepens in the Midi, and old friends become enemies, Minou and Piet both find themselves trapped in Toulouse, facing new dangers as sectarian tensions ignite across the city, the battle-lines are drawn in blood and the conspiracy darkens further.

Meanwhile, as a long-hidden document threatens to resurface, the mistress of Puivert is obsessed with uncovering its secret and strengthening her power…

~*~

In 1562, France is caught in a war between the Catholics and the Huguenots – a Protestant movement who faced persecution from the Catholics and were called heretics. Carcassonne and Toulouse are at the centre of this novel, where Minou Joubert is charged with taking care of her brother – Aimeric, sister – Alis and the bookstore that her father owns in his absence when she stumbles upon a Will, and a note delivered to her, inscribed with She knows that you live. And so, Minou sets off on a journey to discover the person behind the note and find her father, and ask about her past, and makes discoveries that will forever change her life. Amidst this mystery, is the backdrop of religious conflict between the Catholics and the Huguenots, the latter considered to be heretics, and the ownership of a Protestant Bible feared. On her journey, Minou meets Piet Reydon, a Huguenot convert, who has his own mission. Their missions and tasks will cross paths, leading to a confrontation where it seems those who want them dead, such as the mistress of Puivert, where Bernard Joubert was headed, might just succeed.

The Wars of Religion in France were a sequence of eight civil wars between the Catholics and the Huguenots, ending in millions dead or displaced over the thirty-six-year conflict. If modern wars are much to go by – I don’t think very much has changed since the 1560s.  In a time of darkness and brutality, Kate Moss has done an excellent job showcasing this dark history for what it was, and what it meant to so many – that two factions of the same religion, who followed the same God, and a similar religious text to fall into war seems unfathomable these days, yet for people like Minou and Piet, was very real, and very harsh.

It is a very long book – dense with historical fact, and strong women who did what they could to fit in, were strong and brave and yet at the same time, appropriate for their time – they knew what they had to do, and how to act. Minou, the main character, is caught between these wars and her heritage – she has always known she is not quite like her family – and the way Mosse has dealt with this ensures the mystery is intriguing and holds its own for the entire book, and is also sensitive, showing that Minou’s heritage was something that was worth another woman pursuing her over, going to extreme lengths to draw Minou into her deluded game of cat and mouse. It is this mystery that drives the novel, and the shorter chapters in italics are at first a mystery, making the reader wonder who this person could be – until later in the novel, when things start to become a little clearer, but are still a little murky and need to be resolved. Opening 300 years in the future in South Africa – a time and place that we will hopefully return to soon, hints at what is to come, in a strange yet mystical way. What connection do these characters have with those in 1562?

It is a dark history, and the book is one that a genre cannot be pinned down to. It has history, mixed with suspense, with a touch of romance woven throughout that happens as the war progresses, with the dark, gothic backdrop and mystery that influence everything the characters do. The reader is swept up into the story, living in these times along with the characters, which shows that Kate Mosse’s sense of time and place is evocative and highly emotive.

This is the first in a series. with book two, The City of Tears, due in 2020. A rather long time to wait, but given the depth of this book, will be well worth it for the deepening research that Kate Mosse will be undertaking for it.

Thanks to the NSW Writer’s Centre for a copy of this to read

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The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony with Grahame Spence

elephant whisperer.jpgTitle: The Elephant Whisperer

Author: Lawrence Anthony with Grahame Spence

Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography

Publisher: Pan MacMillan

Published: 1st July 2012

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $24.99

Synopsis: When South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony was asked to accept a herd of rogue elephants on his reserve at Thula Thula, his common-sense told him to refuse. But he was the herd’s last chance of survival – notorious escape artists, they would all be killed if Lawrence wouldn’t take them. He agreed, but before arrangements for the move could be completed the animals broke out again and the matriarch and her baby were shot. The remaining elephants were traumatised and very angry. As soon as they arrived at Thula Thula they started planning their escape…

As Lawrence battled to create a bond with the elephants and save them from execution, he came to realise that they had a lot to teach him about love, loyalty and freedom. Set against the background of life on the reserve, with unforgettable characters and exotic wildlife, this is a delightful book that will appeal to animal lovers everywhere.

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Lawrence Anthony is a highly-respected conservationist and co-founder of The Earth Organization. His previous title, Babylon’s Ark, about his involvement in saving the animals in Baghdad Zoo, is being made into a major film. Graham Spence is a freelance journalist and author.

~*~

In the Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN) region of South Africa, there are many game reserves that host smaller, private game lodges that are dedicated to the protection and conservation of African animals such as elephants and rhinos, hunted for their horns. Thula Thula, the reserve and lodge where Lawrence Anthony lived and worked up until his death several years ago was one such park. When Anthony and his partner, Francoise arrived at Thula Thula, they were soon asked to take a rampaging herd of elephants from another game park before they had to be culled. Lawrence took these elephants in, and spent years building up trust, to a point where they knew him and his family, and where they would visit him to show off new additions, and greet him as he arrived home from overseas.  Lawrence’s experiences with the elephants always amaze him and leave him, and those he works and lives with in awe of these majestic creatures.

Written in 2012 about the previous ten years or so, The Elephant Whisperer shows the beauty of elephants, and what they can teach us, and the amazing side to them that so many don’t get to see. The elephants are central to the book and Lawrence’s experiences with poachers, staff, snakes and family, and their comforting presence at times of distress and highly emotional times illustrates the special relationship Lawrence had with the herd and what he observed in these creatures.

Filled with frustrating, triumphant and heartbreaking moments, Lawrence Anthony’s personality and sense of self and justice shines through and the story is engaging and engrossing – from his battle to get the elephants to Thula Thula, to his negotiations with the Zulu tribes and desire to communicate across cultures and respect each human and animal he works with, to his battle with the poachers in the early part of the book, there is a passion that ensures his love of elephants and legacy lives in through his words and work at Thula Thula.

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

heartless.jpg

Title: Heartless

Author: Marissa Meyer

Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia

Published: 8th November 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 464

Price: $18.99

Synopsis: Long before she was the terror of Wonderland, the infamous Queen of Hearts, she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favourite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.

Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness and monsters, fate has other plans.

~*~

Heartless by Marissa Meyer is the story of Wonderland before it became Wonderland, before the Mad Hatter became the Mad Hatter with his tea party, and of course, before Alice tumbled down the rabbit hole into a world of food and drink that changed ones size, of Mock Turtles and before a White Rabbit is late for something. In this world, there is only Lady Catherine Pinkerton, and her parents the Marquis and Marchioness of Rock Turtle Cove, and Catherine’s dream of opening a bakery. Her parents do not share her dream, especially her mother, who spends all her time trying to force a courtship and marriage between Catherine and the King of Hearts.

As all this goes on, a terrible monster called the Jabberwock threatens Hearts, where the main characters live. The King is useless, so it will become the destiny of an unlikely crew to save the kingdom, even if this means that their fates will be sealed – whether they are fates they seek out or not. It is this climax that will lead the reader into the fate of Hearts, The Looking Glass, and everyone who will come to populate Wonderland.

Marissa Meyer’s origin story for the Queen of Hearts borrows from the world created by Lewis Carroll, but also incorporates other elements of literature. A couple of Shakespeare’s plays are given nonsensical titles to fit in with the nonsense theme, Raven is often known to quote from The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe, and of course, from the works of Lewis Carroll. Meyer has woven all of these together to create a story befitting the world of Wonderland before it became Wonderland. Set in a quasi-Victorian setting, where nonsense survives and the real world norms of the Victorian world are topsy-turvy – it wouldn’t be Wonderland if they weren’t – Heartless is a delightful story that has a bit of everything: fantasy, romance, humour and nonsense, and a sense of adventure that will appeal to many readers who enjoy fantasy or retellings of classic tales, fairy tales or origin tales of key characters and lands. It is well written with well rounded characters.