The Burning Chambers is the story of two women, Minou Joubert and Piet Reydon, living in sixteenth century France during the Wars of Religion between the Huguenots and the Catholics. As a novel, it is dense with historical fact, and our female protagonists are portrayed as realistic, brave and resourceful. Both women are keenly aware of what they must do and how to act in order to fit in during this perilous time.
Minou, who has always known that she is not quite like her family, is caught between these wars and her heritage. The way Mosse grapples with her conflict ensures that the mystery intrigues the reader and holds its own over the course of the entire book. Her portrayal is also sensitive, showing that Minou’s heritage is something worth protecting, as another woman pursues her over it and goes to extreme lengths to draw Minou into a deluded game of cat and mouse. It is this mystery that drives the novel, as well as the cryptic, unidentified, shorter chapters in italics which make the reader wonder who the speaker could be. Some aspects start to become a little clearer later in the novel, but many remain a little murky and in need of resolution.
The novel’s prologue opens 300 years in the future in South Africa—a time and place that will hopefully be returned to soon—hints at what is to come in a strange yet mystical way. What connection do these characters in 1862 have with those in 1562?
France’s Wars of Religion is a dark period in history, and this book is one that cannot be pinned down by genre. It contains history of course, mixed with suspense, as well as a touch of romance woven throughout the war’s progression. The backdrop is dark and gothic, and an atmosphere of mystery shrouds the characters’ actions. Mosse’s sense of time and place is highly evocative and the reader is swept up into the story, as if they are themselves living in those times along with these characters.
This is the first volume in a series. with book two, The City of Tears, due in 2020. Whilst two years is a rather long time to remain in suspense, given the depth of this book, the wait will be well worth it for the depth of research that Kate Mosse will be undertaking.