The Burning Chambers

Written by Kate Mosse
Review by Jasmina Svenne

In Carcassonne in 1562, bookseller’s daughter Minou Joubert is baffled and unnerved when she finds an anonymous note addressed to her pushed under the door of her father’s shop, warning her that “She knows that you live”. Her father has been acting strangely ever since his return from a business trip, and she suspects the two things are related. Meanwhile, Huguenot convert Piet Reydon is in Carcassonne on a dangerous mission for his cause—one that imperils his life but throws him into contact with Minou. But as Piet and Minou struggle to stay one step ahead of their hidden enemies, religious tensions are rising, threatening to boil over into civil war.

I admit this is my first Kate Mosse novel, but I can see why she is so popular. Minou in particular is an engaging heroine: warm-hearted, courageous, and liberal-minded in a period when the slightest suspicion of heresy could lead to denunciation and the Inquisitional prison in Toulouse. The secondary characters are deftly sketched in, like Minou’s siblings: resourceful seven-year-old Alis and mischievous, restless teenager Aimeric. I also like the fact that the two central villains (whose identities I refuse to disclose) have plausible reasons for becoming so warped and dangerously obsessed with religion and power, having suffered from abusive or underprivileged childhoods. The plot twists and turns, with some clever use of dramatic irony to heighten the tension, when the reader is privy to information that has not yet been revealed to the protagonists, thus putting them in danger of trusting the wrong people.

This is billed as the first of a series of novels, chronicling the ongoing feud between two families over the generations, from the 16th to the 19th centuries. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.