Kimmich brings fresh eyes to an oft-studied period of European history and offers the opening for what promises to be a strong sequence of historical fiction.
The religious and political controversies of 13-century Europe have been an unexpectedly rich vein for recent novelists to mine. So it’s a testament to the quality of Kimmich’s volume—set in Europe during the early 1200s—that he offers an original contribution to an established niche. The book opens in Languedoc with its hero, Olivier de Mazan, ready to play witness as his mother is accepted as a priestess into a growing—and increasingly suspect—Christian sect. But that’s just the beginning of the book’s spiritual intrigue. Olivier learns of ancient scrolls that reveal Jesus married, had children, and produced a familial line—a concept that could rock the church to its foundations. After this revelation, Olivier is drawn into a maelstrom that will see his family threatened, his country imperiled, and his faith challenged. In preparing to set this drama in motion, Kimmich read widely among the histories of the era in both English and French, and his research pays off. His narrative not only brims with detail, but it also holds up under scrutiny; you could teach a class from this stuff. Yet the author’s thick descriptions of European lore are never overlong. His story moves nimbly, consistently enticing readers through every thrilling twist and turn. Perhaps only in one case does Kimmich’s devotion to authenticity lead him astray. Trying to fill his heroes’ mouths with period dialogue, Kimmich gives them lines that sound like a kind of faux Middle English. With all their “mayhaps,” “wots,” and “forsooths,” his characters too often seem like extras in a Monty Python sketch. Yet the admirable verisimilitude of the rest of his rendering means that these linguistic blips don’t distract much.
An exciting, educational ride through medieval times.