This book mixes historical fiction with the paranormal, with the latter genre dominating the plot.
The story, set in the Languedoc region of France, goes back and forth in time between the present and a time some 800 years earlier.
[Historically, the Languedoc was a region in the central south of France and northern portion of Spain, also known as Occitania. Both names come from the Occitan word for “yes,” which is “òc.” Dante was apparently the first to have used the term “lingua d’oc” to distinguish this region from others in France where the word for yes was “oïl” or “oui.” Today, “Languedoc” not only refers to approximately this same area of France (in Spain the area is called Northern Catalonia), but also to the single-biggest wine-producing region in the world, responsible for more than a third of France’s total wine production. And in fact, the Languedoc vineyards were the first to be replanted after the devasting fungus Phylloxera hit France in the 19th Century.]
In the 11th, 12th, and beginning of the 13th centuries in Languedoc, the very interesting Christian sect of Catharism was particularly strong. (You can learn more about their beliefs here.) Pope Innocent III (who served from 1198 until his death in 1216) was determined to wipe out this challenge to his hegemony (especially since Cathars rejected tithing) and eventually authorized a crusade to eliminate the Cathars. Like many other leaders throughout history, he required a popular justification for the invasion, and found one in the 1208 assassination of his papal legate Pierre de Castelnau, who had gone to Languedoc. Pope Innocent III declared Pierre de Castelnau a martyr and launched the Albigensian Crusade. (Cathars were also known as Albigensians.). By the mid-13th Century, the Languedoc Cathars were all but eliminated.
The question of whether the Pope actually had de Castelnau killed in order to make a case for the subsequent attack on the Cathars has never been answered, so this is the mystery around which the author constructs her story.
The main protagonist, Lia Carrer, was in Seattle working on a doctoral dissertation about the Cathars – in particular, their belief in reincarnation – when her husband Gabriel died in an accident. She wasn’t up to finishing her dissertation until now, eighteen months later, when she goes to Languedoc to get started again on her research.
Before long however, she is surrounded by people who originally lived in 1208, and the only explanation seems to be that this phenomenon is a manifestation of the Cathar reincarnation doctrine. However, none of the characters in the book, including the one supposedly doing a dissertation, seem to understand what “reincarnation” actually means. ( Newly released souls go into new bodies, not identical bodies somehow moved forward in time.) What happens in this story is closer to paranormal and yet that also doesn’t fully explain much either, like how all the 1208 people suddenly became fully functional 2008 people (who know how to use their IPhones better than I do), or why Lia keeps running into random other 1208 people with messages for her. (The eventual theory of a hole in the fabric of time that all the characters simultaneously managed to find is not only unconvincing but still doesn’t address all the plot problems.)
In any event, after all that, there was really no good or even definitive resolution to the story.
An Afterword clarifies which parts/characters/places are factual, and which were created by the author.
Evaluation: I enjoyed learning about the Languedoc region and Catharism, but wish the plot had been constructed better.
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc., 2016