Reviewed by Robyn McIntyre
From the story of Sparta’s 300, the Maccabees, through to the lunch counter sit-ins of the Civil Rights movement, history has hundreds of thousands of stories of individuals who continued to fight their enemies, though outnumbered. Most of these stories are framed by what the people were fighting against—tyranny, religious persecution, manifest destiny, genocide. In Citadel, Kate Mosse writes about what the fight is for—love.
Romantic love, of course. But not only romantic love.
Citadel is the third of Mosse’s books set in Southwestern France. This time, the story—seeded from a real life story of World War II—concerns women in the town of Carcassone, which has been spared many of the horrors of war because of its location in Vichy territory.
Life, though affected by war-time shortages, goes on quietly for most in this village. But there are a few who belong to the Resistance. They risk their lives to help in whatever way they can to organize, supply, and inform the enemies of Nazi Germany.
Sandrine, her sister, and their women friends are not part of this. Until, one day, Sandrine finds the body of a young man in the river, a young man who turns out to be a part of the Resistance, and the brother of the man she will come to love.
Citadel is two stories with 1600 years between them. There is the story of Sandrine in 1942 and how she comes to be part of a cell of the Resistance comprised only of women, and a young monk in 342 charged with a Codex. It is written in a language he cannot understand, and yet, having it will cause a change in him that spills over into the lives of others and reaches through the centuries to Sandrine.
Stepping in between Sandrine’s cell and the Nazis are a group of fanatics aware of the Codex. They seek to use both sides in their efforts to seize it and destroy it. Their machinations set in motion the events which lead to a final battle and a triumph unlooked for and as spiritual as legend, for where the women and the Codex come together in the fight is both mystery and magic.
Mosse’s prose is straightforward, yet has the lyricism of poetry within it. It mirrors the beautiful countryside of Southwestern France but without losing an iota of the tensions and struggles that can be obscured by that beauty. The characters are well-rounded and very human and because Mosse knows the area and its history well, the story rings like truth.
Though most of the action is contained within a few years in World War II Carcassone, the story itself is epic. It is adventure, sacrifice, victory transcendent, where the bravest act of all is love.
Robyn McIntyre is a contributing editor of LitChat. Read her complete bio here.