The Last Troubadour
The year is 1240, and Ramon Troubadour has returned to his beloved Carcassonne. The once beautiful town, a cultural center of the Occitan, has been reduced to slums and ruins thanks to the Cathar crusades of the French and the fear and horror of the Inquisition. Ramon has returned to rescue The Jewel of the South, the key to the secret holy relic of Montségur – for which a dying pope will kill, and a king will go to war. Helped by a nameless one-eyed knight, a fighting damsel, a witch, and a circus of colorful entertainers on dancing horses, Ramon must use his famous voice and sense of humor to make new allies and rescue The Jewel – and prevent a new crusade.
The plot is complex and the action, once it gets going, moves quickly. The conceit of associating characters with the Major Arcana of the Tarot is an interesting one, but I found it confusing in the beginning as I was trying to get to know the plethora of characters. That said, Armstrong does a good job of weaving character lines and points of view together well, and Ramon is a winning protagonist. The combination of historical thriller and fantasy elements is seamless and engaging, and the historical details of life in Carcassonne during the Inquisition realistic.
However, this book would have benefited from another pass across the copyeditor’s desk and a stronger editorial hand. The number of typos, and the repetition of salient plot and historical points, was distracting. However, if you can overlook these issues, the story is engaging and the characters interesting and clearly drawn.
This book is the first in a trilogy, Song of Montségur; the next book, The Last Quest, will be out in Fall 2008.