Filler content with heresy

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #28:-

Jeanne Kalogridis
Harper Collins hb, 385pp, £16.99

The Burning Times is set in medieval France, an age in which heresy and rumours of witchcraft were harshly dealt with. In the walled city of Carcassone the young Abbess Marie Francoise awaits trial, accused of a pact with the Devil. When the Inquisitor Father Charles is taken ill the task of interrogating her falls to his scribe, Brother Michel. Michel once saw the Abbess perform a miracle. He believes that she is a saint and will take any step to spare her the auto da fe. But sight of the Abbess provokes a powerful physical response in him, and as her confession unfolds, containing as it does the story of the Race, a mystical sect connected to the Knights Templar and involved in worship of a mother Goddess, Michel is forced to question not only his faith but also his own identity.

Kalogridis’s novel is beautifully written, capturing perfectly the spirit of the period in which it is set, an age of superstition and bloody war between rival belief systems, her prose so vivid you can almost reach out and touch the roaring flames and smell the roasting flesh, hear the screams of the dying and see the angels glowing with an unearthly radiance. We follow the characters through war and plague, trials and ordeals, love and domestic life, learning to care for them as the larger picture of which they are a part is gradually revealed. The author’s evocation of the Race and their worship, with its hint of a spirituality far different from that of the patriarchal Church and a secret history behind all that we know of the past is compellingly done. What makes it stand out is the depth of emotion Kalogridis brings to the work, the feeling that for her this is a heartfelt story containing much of truth, one that moves her profoundly and therefore must of necessity also move us. Highly recommended.

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