Hi! Recently I received a copy of the brand new historical book ‘Beyond the Pyre’ by Steve Costello in exchange for a review, and I’m really excited to get going with this, as it is the first review copy I’ve received from an author.
‘Beyond the Pyre’ follows the story of Ben and Catharine, two ‘witches’ in the twenty-first century who can travel into the spiritual world. One night, while on holiday in Carcassonne, France, Catharine is led by her spirit guide to speak to a young woman from the thirteenth century, Elionor. Elionor is the wife of Louis, a soldier who is fighting on the side of the Cathars in the religious conflict that rages in 13th century France, between the Cathars and the Catholics.
Soon Ben and Catharine, each in their own way, are dragged into the religious conflict of the 13th century, and they begin to share an unusual affinity with both Elionor and Louis. It soon becomes clear that there is a deeper connection than first assumed between Louis and Ben, and Elionor and Catharine, and ideas such as spirituality and reincarnation are introduced.
As Ben and Catharine communicate with Louis and Elionor, a quest for Cathar treasure also underpins the whole storyline, and in both the present and the past the quest for this treasure consumes both faiths, uniting both centuries.
The 13th century couple and the 21st century couple are also united by the presence of ‘Les Deux’, evil twins who are determined to avenge the Cathar faith in both centuries, and who will stop at nothing to find the mystical treasure rumoured about throughout the novel.
As well as the plotline that follows the entwined lives of Ben and Louis, and Catharine and Elionor, about half-way through the book the narrative also turns to another young woman called Serdica (or Sophie), who is fighting on the Catholic side of the religious war. This therefore presents the human element to the other side of the war, showing that not all Catholics are like the ruthless ‘Les Deux.’
‘Up until the point where she [Serdica] met Marie and Guilhabert outside Lyon, deceit, untruths or telling people what they wanted to, or needed to hear, had been easy.’
One of the things I liked about this book was the setting. I thought that the use of the same French areas when speaking about the 13th and 21st century was a really good idea, and it meant that, whether I was reading a part of the novel that was from the 13th century point of view, or the modern-day viewpoint, there was continuity in setting.
I also really liked the backdrop of religious conflict. Before reading this novel, I didn’t know anything about the religious conflict in France during this period, and I must admit my French history is a bit shaky, so I really enjoyed understanding this period of French history. This also meant that the book was educational, and I really admire the research that went into the novel with regards to French culture and history, with specific place names and people being used to give the historical aspect of the novel a real feel.
‘How many years have I spent with this army or that, working to wipe out those who choose to worship God in a different way to the Catholic Church?’
I also loved the female characters in the book! I love strong female characters, and this book was full of them. The main female characters were Catharine, from modern-day Britain, Sophie, a French Catholic supporter, and Elionor, a Catholic who supported peace between the faiths. Personally, my favourite of these characters was Elionor, and I loved the banter that went on between Elionor and her husband with regards to women’s position.
Catharine was also a strong female lead, and I liked again how Ben saw her as his equal, and the links between the two couples throughout were interesting and, often, adorable. I thought the fact that the 13th and 21st century couples mirrored each other was also a great element.
‘He knew that ventures into the spirit world could be draining, and Catharine never did things by halves.’
Finally, I really liked the switch in narration of this novel. I am a sucker for books that use a switch between modern-day characters and those in the past, but with a link between both, and ‘Beyond the Pyre’ offered this aspect.
By constantly switching focus, sometimes choosing to focus on Ben and his relationship with Catharine in the modern world, sometimes choosing to focus on Catharine’s relationship with Elionor’s spirit, and sometimes choosing to focus on the relationship between Elionor and Louis in the 13th century (amongst other focuses!), the book was really interesting, and I felt like I got different sides of each story, with the focus on Sophie later in the novel, as well as more minor characters such as Marie, building up an image in my mind of the struggles of each character.
However, there were some things that I wasn’t as keen on while reading the book. I thought that the novel often went into too much detail regarding spirituality and, while spirituality was an interesting and necessary element of the novel in connecting the 13th century characters to those in the 21st century, I thought that the passages on the deep aspects of spirituality were often longer than was necessary. I also thought that there seemed to be some unnecessary repetition within the book, making me think that perhaps the book could have been a bit shorter but still got in all the information it needed to.
I would also say that the style of writing explained everything as it went along and, while this meant that everything made sense to the reader, with some revelations I would have liked more suspense or building up. Revelations such as that regarding the link between Ben and Louis seemed sudden and anti-climatic because there wasn’t much build-up towards them, which was a shame.
The ending also seemed quite sudden, and the ambiguity of the ending made it seem as though there was going to be a sequel to the book, although there was no indication of this at the end of the novel. Personally, I’m not great with ambiguous endings unless it seems to work, and with this one it just all felt a bit sudden, but saying that, it did add a sense of drama to the end that made me want to know more, so perhaps that was Costello’s aim!
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book and learning about the history of the French crusade against the Cathars. Although clearly there were things that I wasn’t as keen on when reading this book, I thought the characters were brilliant, and I loved the link between the different centuries, as well as the switch between persepctives and the interesting use of setting.
Like the sound of this book? You can find more information about Steve Costello on the Austin Macauley Publishers website. You can also visit his blog, where you can find lots more updates on his recent work. If you want to buy this book, head on over to Amazon!
Thank you again to Steve Costello for sending me a copy of this book, and for giving me the opportunity to review it!
Have you read this book before? Did you enjoy it, or does it sound like the kind of thing you would enjoy? Let me know all your thoughts in the comments below!
Currently reading: ‘House on the Strand’ by Daphne du Maurier