The City of Tears by Kate Mosse – an immense book of French historical events seen through the eyes of women

The City of Tears by Kate Moss

This is a powerful book of historical fiction. A second book in the Burning Chambers series, this immense book has just been published in paperback. Returning to France in 1572, this book stands alone as it recalls the major characters with implied backgrounds. They are men and women, children, who represent two sides of the religious movements in sixteenth century France. Journeying from the idyllic countryside to the heaving, overpopulated city of Paris, it sweeps onwards into Amsterdam and beyond, where people vacillate between wanting to live peacefully together following their own preferences in religious practice, to condemning those who have opposing views. Politics and religion are a heady mix, and in this tightly written, well paced novel, an extremely dangerous one. The proposed marriage of two royal families, the joining of ambitious dynasties, is supposed to be witnessed as the raising of new hope, but instead leads to trouble for many present. Seen through the perspective of one fictional relatively wealthy family group, and especially the women, it begins to appear that not everyone is going to survive, let alone remain together. Ambitions, the desire for revenge and so much more seem to come together against those hoping for peace and tolerance. This is a powerful book, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it. 

The book opens in May and June 1572. An older woman, Marikan, prays for guidance. Past tragic memories and a present dilemma leave her uncertain and troubled. Should she reveal what she remembers, what little she knows, or should she preserve a silence against her duty? In a way a dilemma is solved, and tragedy is set in train. At a far away place, Chateau de Puivert in Languedoc, a younger woman, Minou Reydon- Joubert, the Chatelane considers the troubled past and the seemingly peaceful present. Her father, her aunt, her sister and brother are all present, together with her husband Piet, daughter Marta and small son Jean-Jacques. Her husband is  strangely silent, but essentially it is a loving relationship, probably after the traumatic events as recorded in the first book. It is a special day, as Minou has decided that they will all go to Paris to witness the marriage of Marguerite de Valois to King Henri of Narvarre. This is an important and unexpected joining of two houses by marriage, houses that have long been divided by religion. Most of Minou’s family follow the Huguenots in religious practice, but many inhabitants of France follow the tradition of strict Catholicism. By the time of this book the Wars of Religion have raged through France for ten years, and as in any civil war, neighbours and even families have been divided. With this marriage it is to be hoped that peace and reconciliation will be achieved, but with vested interests on both sides, nothing is certain. There are those for whom religious differences  are almost excuses for violent action, and there are worrying signs of danger even in the countryside, and definitely in the overpopulated streets of Paris. 

This book, like others produced by Mosse, tackles the troubles of French history head on, and is certainly not a gentle read. The writing is phenomenally strong, featuring determined individuals of every age and background. An informative historical note is included, and this book uses fictional characters as a means of conveying huge truths of the time. It is an admirable and big book in every sense, and I recommend it as a really memorable reading experience.