THE BOOK OF LOVE by KATHLEEN McGOWAN.
Fresh from her successful hunt for the long-hidden scrolls written by Mary Magdalene, journalist Maureen Pascal receives a strange package in the mail, containing what looks to be an ancient document written in Latin and signed with a symbol. Its author, Maureen discovers, is Countess Matilda of Tuscany, an extraordinary woman whom history has overlooked - or covered up - and she's demanding the return of her most precious papers.
Soon, Maureen finds herself in a race across Italy and France, where new dangers await her and her lover Sinclair as they begin to uncover secrets and shine new light on the hidden corners of Christianity in their search for The Book Of Love, the Gospel written in Jesus's own hand.
As Maureen learns more about Matilda, a warrior countess who was secretly married to a Pope, she begins to see the eerie connections between herself and Matilda, connections she must unravel quickly if she is to stop the wrong people finding The Book Of Love and hiding it forever ....
.... Outer back cover.
FIRST SENTENCE (Prologue: La Beauce, France, AD 390): Heavy beeswax candles dripped along the perimeter of the cavern, illuminating the cramped meeting space.
MEMORABLE MOMENT (Page 216): But she had determined to approach the marriage bed with strategy, as just another battlefield where she would have to fight to protect what was rightfully hers. In this case, she was protecting her soul.
MY THOUGHTS: Ah, where to begin? I have so many things to say about this novel, alas not all of them good.
The second 'quest' for journalist Maureen Pascal. Whilst this reads well as a standalone novel I do recommend that the first book in the series, The Expected One (see my review HERE), be read first as, apart from it being a much better story, as a reader you'll have a greater understanding of the characters which, though not always too important in sequels, I think vital in this instance.
Not entirely what I was expecting - more of a love story and less of a thriller. Despite the synopsis on the back cover suggesting that the main body of the story was devoted to Maureen's story the opposite was in fact true with the major part of the novel being given over to the life, loves (and battles) of her 11th century counterpart, Matilda (Tilda).
Seamlessly blending fact with fiction though obviously well researched to its detriment at times this read more like an essay than a novel. Also a bit of a hard slog due to the incredibly small print, reading was made even more difficult by the use of italics to hi-light certain passages which made me worry that I was concentrating so physically hard on what was actually written that I was missing key elements of the plot.
Telling the story of two women, Matilda (Countess of Tuscany) and Maureen (the author herself?) who separated by time are connected by destiny, The Book Of Love spans several countries over several centuries and also includes dream/vision sequences as well extracts from the Book Of Love, a Gospel supposedly written by Jesus himself, not to mention the occasional sub-plots. Not overly problematic in itself as you always knew where and when you were its just that the story occasionally jumped from one woman's story to the others leaving such large gaps (well over 100 pages at one time) that I felt certain threads of the story were at best disrupted and, at worst, lost.
Though not a horrendously bad read, it just doesn't hold up to comparison with Book 1, I felt that though it obviously would have been a totally different story without the inclusion of Maureen (or, for that matter, the woefully under-used Berenger Sinclair) Matilda's epic story was more than enough.
As to whether or not I'll I be reading Book 3 and what I believe is the final book in the series? Of course I will.
KEEP IT OR NOT?: A Christmas gift, I'll be keeping it as I feel a second reading maybe warranted.
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