Book Review: The Lake of Learning by Steve Berry and M. J. Rose

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For over a decade Cassiopeia Vitt has been building an authentic French castle, using only materials and techniques from the 13th century. But when a treasure is unearthed at the construction site—an ancient Book of Hours—a multitude of questions are raised, all pointing to an ancient and forgotten religious sect.
Once the Cathars existed all across southern France, challenging Rome and attracting the faithful by the tens of thousands. Eventually, in 1208, the Pope declared them heretics and ordered a crusade—the first where Christians killed Christians—and thousands were slaughtered, the Cathars all but exterminated. Now a piece of that past has re-emerged, one that holds the key to the hiding place of the most precious object the Cathars possessed. And when more than one person becomes interested in that secret, in particular a thief and a billionaire, the race is on.
From the medieval walled city of Carcassonne, to the crest of mysterious Montségur, to a forgotten cavern beneath the Pyrenees, Cassiopeia is drawn deeper and deeper into a civil war between two people obsessed with revenge and murder.

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I’ve loved Steve Berry’s Cotton Malone series for years now, but have always been fascinated by Cassiopeia as a character, always wishing that she play major roles in Malone’s stories. So, it’s been wonderful to see the author give her a series of her own.

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While The Museum of Mysteries (my last encounter with Cassiopeia) was an okay read, I still wanted more adventures with her and this book didn’t disappoint. I’m always interested to know which historical aspect Berry would decide to dive into, so I was not surprised to be immersed into a new religion, the Cathars, which I knew nothing about. While it’s not possible for a newbie reader like me to discern fact from fiction in the story, I’m amazed by how seamless the incorporation of historical elements was in this book. And I was definitely intrigued by this religion which believed in duality (which is also the basis for the Dvaita school of thought in Hindu philosophy though a bit different) because it feels like such an antithesis to the beliefs of Christianity. Reading about the crusades is always painful, but getting to know that people of the same religion fought and slaughtered because of differences in the way they practiced it was even more horrifying. And as informative as the whole thing was, I also thought it worked wonderfully as the backdrop for this novel, and was exactly what I would usually expect from a full length Malone book.

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I think the medieval religious historical find worked perfectly for Cassiopeia as well because of her intense respect for historical preservation. This was an adventure that I completely believed she would embark on and I enjoyed following her. She is also a very cool thinker and doesn’t go headlong into confrontations, unlike the heroes we read about in similar spy thrillers. She kept her wits about in every situation and acted at the right moment, only doing what was necessary. I also really liked seeing her as the owner of her family enterprise and how she handles the business, because that’s not a side of her we usually get to see when she is hanging out with Malone. I was also pretty amused by her thoughts about him, remembering his words when finding herself in a bit of a trouble, because he hardly seems to follow those words himself.

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In the end, this is a short novella which thoroughly entertained me and I didn’t want it to be over. It also had a pretty abrupt ending and could have done with an epilogue or another chapter. If you have enjoyed the Cotton Malone series by Berry and always wanted to know more about Cassiopeia, then this series is perfect for you. It’s also perfect for fans of books which utilize the trope of archeological/historical mysteries being solved in contemporary settings. It is also possible to be read as a standalone, but I don’t know if the emotional connect will be the same as those of us who have known these characters for many books now. Now my only wish is that the author duo decide to make the next book a bit longer.

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One thought on “Book Review: The Lake of Learning by Steve Berry and M. J. Rose

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  1. The children crusade and following the slaughter of the heretics in South France is a fascinating topic in medieval history – the inquisition started right there. It’s also the (projected) showplace of the Holy Gral myth (Wolfram von Eschenbach‘s Parcival might have be located at Montsegur) – „Holy Blood, Holy Grail“ features that place.

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