One of the things that goes with Travel is Books (in fact Books go with just about anything). On the recent trip to SLC, I brought along Ysabel by Kay and Labyrinth by Mosse. They both sounded interesting, although I was more interested in Ysabel, having previously read Kay’s excellent Last Light of the Sun (you know, that Viking thing!).
Somewhat to my surprise, after finishing Ysabel, and getting started on Labyrinth, I noticed that they shared a common thread, in that they had strong roots in France (I guess I had not read the blurbs closely enough!). Ysabel is set in Provence, Labyrinth in the Languedoc. The books are an interesting contrast – Ysabel is bound up with the history of the region (in particular the conflicts between the Celts and the Romans), but the central storyline is based on what appears to be an entirely fictional thematic element. Labyrinth heavily leverages the Grail legend, and the conflict between the Cathars and the Catholic Church. In fact, the books briefly cross paths with the mention of the (in)famous quote from Arnaud-Amaury, the Papal Legate to the Crusaders, during the seige of Beziers: “Kill them all. God will know his own”. Ysabel is also a “coming of age” story, as the main protagonist is a 15 year old boy. Parts of this aspect of the book are cloying, yet Kay’s evocation of the history and atmosphere of Provence is primeval and richly rendered. Overall I found the book enjoyable but not especially deep. Labyrinth I also enjoyed, but the Grail legend is getting a bit tiresome for me as fictional backdrop, and I did not find much novel (no pun intended) in Mosse’s handling of that aspect. I found the last half of the book to be a bit Liszt-ian in that is seemed to go on and on….although, as my flights were delayed and I did not land in Boston until 2am in the morning, this was not all bad 8). Mosse provides a bit more historical backdrop than Kay, although much of it comes in the last 30 pages when the reader is anxious to get to the dénouement. Kay’s characters are rendered with a bit more motivation and backdrop as well. Both are good airplane reads, but neither will change your perspective on life, the way that say, Gates of Fire will. If you have time for only one, go with Ysabel.