Let me start by saying that I love historical fiction, stories that take place in Languedoc, Cathar history and a good time slip/paranormal element. Since In Another Life has all those elements, I had to read it. I promised myself I wouldn’t have unrealistically high expectations – after all, it’s the author’s first published novel and it’s very ambitious in scope. I didn’t need to manage my expectations. This book is as good, if not better, than many other historical fiction works I’ve read by more experienced authors.
We meet Lia as an emotionally bereft woman, still reeling from her beloved husband’s tragic death 18 months earlier. The impact her grief has had on her career has only makes matters worse. She’s been denied tenure and has been unable to complete her dissertation on Cathar history and religious beliefs. She comes to Languedoc to try to heal, in the kind of perfect guest house we ALL wish we had available for as long as she needs it, so she can regroup. Almost immediately, Lia is swept into a story that transcends time, stirs mysteries of a centuries-old assassination, political machinations, and promises a chance at love.
The writer takes us on a journey that starts in 1208 and ends in the present day. Ms. Johnson tells the tale so deftly, and with such a sure command of her narrative that this reader simply felt pulled along in the currents of time and place that she crafted. It’s obvious from the language that the writer knows and deeply loves the Languedoc region. That love is writ large in her elegant and evocative descriptions of place.
On reflection, was left thinking that Lia could be just a touch rounder; her struggles to let herself love again are some of the best character exploration in the book. Moments that we see her friendship with Rose are bright points that could have been exploited a tiny bit more. I found, too, that I wanted to see Father Bonafe more overtly torn, or Lia less accepting of the priest at face value. But these minor issues in no way dilute the pure enjoyment of reading this book.
There are rich descriptions of landscape and the physical places in story. As I read, I wished for a map. There is a map! Unfortunately, I missed it, but will now go back and check the map to answer some of the questions I had about where parts of the story occurred. Paperback buyers who get the Kindle preview be wary — the map seems to be in pages that are skipped when the Kindle file is opened. I think that’s how I missed it.
This writer is one to watch. I thoroughly enjoyed In Another Life and look forward to reading Ms. Johnson’s future books.