The book is set at the beginning of the 13th century in Languedoc. Young Bridget has just watched her mother Magda passing away in a Pyrenean cave. Magda had been accused of heresy and tortured almost to death by some black friars (Dominicans) . Now Bridget, her only daughter, despite fresh grief has a duty to perform. She remains the last of the Daughters of the Grail, direct female descendants of Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus. As such, she has some special gifts like healing powers, the ability of glimpsing the past and the future and the control over fire. She must make sure her bloodline is continued and her gifts - passed on. In other words she must have a child (but not necessarily a husband). Soon enough she finds the man who suits her the best but unfortunately the young Raoul de Montvallant gets married the same day Bridget sees him for the first time; what's more his young wife, Claire, is a very beautiful girl. Bridget decides not to act on her own desire but she knows one day she and Raoul will meet again.
Meanwhile the peaceful, spiritual movement of the Cathars gains more and more supporters, Claire and her mother-in-law among them. Even Raymond de Toulouse, the prince of Languedoc, is accused by the Pope of supporting them silently; the war, or rather the crusade, is imminent. Of course religion is just an excuse for the French king to invade, rob and occupy rich lands of Languedoc. Simon de Monfort, one of the Northern barons, is appointed as the commander of the French troops and the bishop of Citeaux represents the Pope and the Catholic church. Raoul and his father decide to join stronger French army as it is the best line of defense but soon enough they can’t stand participating in the atrocities against the Cathars and their own people as well. Bitter Raoul deserts after the horrible slaughter in Beziers. He enters the service of Raymond de Toulouse but even by doing so he can protect neither his wife nor his little son, Gillaume nor his land. Gillaume is taken in secret to one of his grandmothers but Claire remains at Montvallant when the French attack; she is raped and imprisoned by Simon de Monfort himself; in captivity she gives birth to his child, Dominic who is taken from her right after the birth and is raised among other de Monfort’s children. De Monfort keeps the rape and the parentage of Dominic as secret as possible. He hopes the boy might one day claim the lands of Montvallant.
Raoul doesn’t know about the plight of his wife; he meets Bridget again and they become one-night lovers. As a result Bridget bears a daughter, calling her Magda, after her grandmother. They hide among Cathars in their stronghold on the top of Montsegur and enjoy quiet life for some time. Bridget didn’t want to keep Raoul close as she saw in her visions Claire’s ordeal. Although Raoul finally finds and frees his wife she has become just a shadow of her former self, unable to love, forget and forgive.
The next generation – young Magda, Dominic and Gillaume – will have to fight their own weaknesses, the French and black friars as well and their fates will intertwine endlessly. Finally everybody will meet on Montsegur but only few will escape the terrible fate of Cathars and other people defending the last free stronghold of Languedoc.
What I liked:
Plenty. The plot was not only interesting, quick-paced and well-constructed but also close to historical facts. Of course I am fully aware that it is not a medieval history textbook but, as far as I remember, everything was more or less in accordance with the real events. Even a decent bibliography was featured at the end of the novel. The fact that the authoress visited Montsegur really impressed me a lot! And you can feel it on the pages! After reading such a book you want to find out more about those events and I suppose it was one of the aims of the author. Well done!
I liked the characters as they were an interesting bunch, well-rounded and full of passion. Bridget, Dominic and Claire were my favourites but I also liked Raoul whose love-hate relationship with the world in general was really poignant. I loved the fact that all main characters kept reappearing here and there and their lives were so closely connected, almost like the lives of people in a Greek tragedy.
The theory behind Daughters of the Grail was not the same as in the “DaVinci Code”; because of that I liked it even more.While I'm not a big fan of the entire controversy about Mary Magdalene, this is definitely one of the better versions of the story. Oh , and the Knights Templars were added to the whole brew – a very interesting move!
Image by Lawrence OP via Flickr
What I didn’t like:
The baddies, especially Friar Bernard, were underdeveloped a bit – I would like him less black, maybe a tad more conflicted. Also I can’t help mentioning one detail which, in my humble opinion, was not in accordance with history. We were told that Magda, Bridget’s mother, was tortured by the monks. Well, Dominicans didn’t torture their victims themselves. Of course they led the Inquisition and were vicariously liable for all this horrible attrocities but they usually left torturing and murdering – the dirty and bloody work- to the lay arm of justice. Well, perhaps there were exceptions.
The final verdict:
Finally a Chadwick book I can honestly recommend - it really wasn't bad at all! I even hope she continues the story!