Title: Citadel (Languedoc #3)
Author: Kate Mosse
Publisher: William Morrow, 2014
She relates that a plaque in the French village of Rouellen, near Carcassonne, commemorates 19 prisoners who were put to death by the Nazis shortly before the end of World War II. Two of these people remain unidentified, and are honoured as “two unknown women”. This proved to be a perfect story seed for Mosse.
She is known for her other books, Labyrinth, Sepulchre and The Winter Ghosts, but Citadel is the first of hers that I’ve read and my interest is suitably piqued to pick up the rest at some point.
In Citadel, we mostly follow in the shoes of Sandrine Vidal, who begins her active participation in the French Resistance in 1942 when she stumbles across a young, unconscious man by the river. Though Sandrine is young, she has a lot of spirit, and a keen sense of justice.
Through her sister’s involvement with the Red Cross, she gets a taste for her work, and eventually runs an underground network that is code-named “Citadel”. With the aid of the love interest, Raoul Pelletier, and the mysterious Audric Baillard, she finds herself in a dangerous dance with Captain Authié who, apart from collaborating with the Nazis, is also on a shadowy quest to retrieve a document known only as the Codex.
If the Codex is found and its words spoken, an army of the dead will supposedly rise to bring victory, and so far as I can see, it’s been the enigmatic and unusually resilient Baillard’s mission to stop the Codex from falling into the wrong hands.
Raoul and Sandrine’s romance is touching and somewhat tragic given their circumstances, but it’s clear that they inspire each other during the darkest times when it seems that France is doomed to remain under the Nazi yoke. Mosse also sketches in believable secondary characters; it’s easy to care about Lucie, Max and his sister Liesl, Marianne, Marieta and Suzanne – who all seem like people who feel real – who keep me turning the pages.
So often war stories deal with heroes at the front line, when we forget about the many thousands behind the lines who might not have been great movers and shakers in the bigger scheme of things.
I feel that Citadel is a suitable tribute to these souls, and even if I struggled at first to get into the story, I was soon swept away by Mosse’s vivid evocation of Languedoc during the tail end of World War II. This is a worthy read about courage in the face of great adversity.