Pan Macmillan, Mantle| 19 January 2021 | 562 pages|e-book |Review copy|4*
Kate Mosse sets out in her Historical Note the history of the French Wars of Religion that took place between Huguenots (Protestants) and Catholics from 1562 and 1598 and explains that The City of Tears is the second book in The Burning Chambers series of novels set against the backdrop of 300 years of history from 16th century France and Amsterdam to the Cape of Good Hope in the 18th and 19th centuries. And there is a useful list of the principal characters and the historical characters at the beginning of the book, that helps in remembering who was who and how they were connected.
It’s been four years since I read The Burning Chambers, the first book in The Burning Chambers series, and time has moved on ten years since the events in that first book. You don’t have to read the first book before reading The City of Tears as with four years between the two books I didn’t find it hard to pick up the story, but I do think you need to read the Historical Note to get the background details of the French Wars of Religion first.
There is now a precarious peace in the French Wars of Religion and it looks as though that peace could be maintained as the queen mother, Catherine de Medici, has negotiated a marriage between her Catholic daughter Margot and the Huguenot Henri of Navarre. But that union is opposed by the hardline Catholic faction led by the Duke of Guise. As the novel opens Minou Joubert and Piet Reydon, now married and living in their castle in south west France, are preparing for their visit to Paris for the wedding.
This is a complicated story centred on Minou and Piet Reydon and their family. The wedding took place followed by the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre on 24 August 1572 when thousands of Protestants were murdered by Catholic troops, in Paris and across France. I’m not going to go into any more detail about the story other than to say it’s a compelling story of chaos and fear as Minou and her family escape, though suffering dreadful losses, including the disappearance of her seven year old daughter, and almost losing their lives. There’s murder, conspiracies, stolen relics and innumerable secrets are brought to light.
It is an enjoyable book, but because of its length it does lose pace in parts. It is not a book you can or would want to read quickly. The strength of the book for me is in the characterisation and the settings. Kate Mosse has thoroughly researched the period and the locations, rooting it firmly in the time it was set. What I particularly like is that she identifies that the characters and their families, apart from the historical ones, are imagined, inspired by ‘the kind of people who might have lived: ordinary women and men , struggling to live, love and survive against a backdrop of religious war and displacement.’ Just as devastating today, as it was then.
It is also a book that is strong on developing the characters, so that you feel for them as they struggle to survive all that is thrown at them, as it is certainly a tragic story. Having said that the ending is a positive one, except for cliff hanger on the last page that hints at what is to come in the third book, The Ghost Ship, a sweeping historical epic about love in a time of war, due out in July this year.