About the Book

 

Deadly family conflict in the aftermath of the French crusade against the people of Languedoc

Vital Moysett has spent half his life burying the tragic mistakes and deadly secrets of his youth, but in an instant he learns that even being the most celebrated cathedral architect in France and a favorite of Louis IX is not enough to protect him from his enemies’ rage.

When his latest design suffers an inexplicable collapse, the terrified locals believe the devil himself pulled the daring vaults down. But Vital sees evil of a very human kind—and the threat of even greater destruction to come.

His frantic search to identify the next target turns into a maddening series of philosophical riddles and strangely personal attacks motivated by knowledge of his childhood that no one still alive could possibly have.

With the help of his unusual wife and the famed encylopedist Vincent of Beauvais, he follows his tormentors to the glorious cathedral at Chartres, knowing he is stepping right into their trap.

The story behind the story

Thirteen-century France was a battlefield of ideas, pitting the orthodox northern French against the troubadour culture of the fiercely independent south with its unique spirit of paratge. These nonconformists stirred the ire of the Roman church, too, because the church believed it had a mandate from God to save the souls of everyone on earth, even if that meant visiting violence upon those who refused to be saved.

With both vulgar riches and eternal life at stake, the conflict poisoned every aspect of life, turning neighbors into spies and siblings into mortal enemies.

When years of preaching failed to convince the Cathars of Languedoc to join the Catholic fold, the church called for a crusade. Northern French nobles responded with a mix of motives both high and low, from piety and genuine fear of the danger of letting this “heresy” survive unchecked to the basest greed motivated by the promise of land in the south.

The brutal military aspect of this so-called Albigensian crusade was its most dominant feature, but it was far from the most interesting. The conflict was fired by deep philosophical differences, even down to the nature of truth itself. Is truth an ideal to strive toward, or is it a weapon to use against one’s enemies? Who gets to define the truth—the pope, the king, the philosophers and theologians filling the new universities? What value does any truth have, if it can be toppled by superior logic or more forceful persuasion? And how can anyone choose the correct path, when Cathars and Catholics both claimed to hold the unassailable truth?

At a time when European civilization was rebuilding from the scant inheritance left to it by the “Dark Ages,” these questions were not abstract curiosities but dangerous dilemmas with life-and-death consequences. The shifting currents of truth could transform pious men into murderers and convince a loyal son and brother to betray his entire culture.

What to expect from The Geometry of Vengeance

The Geometry of Vengeance will appeal to fans of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, Michael Ennis’s The Malice of Fortune, and other novels that use mystery or thriller conventions to explore the philosophical and psychological upheavals of distant centuries.

Because it is set in the middle ages and involves Gothic cathedrals, a few readers have approached Geometry expecting it to be like Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. Although the main character in both books is a builder of Gothic cathedrals, these novels have almost nothing else in common. Pillars is a sprawling, epic adventure, squarely in the mainstream of the historical fiction genre. The story is centered around the construction of a cathedral and the social and political forces at play in such an endeavor. Its rich portrayal of medieval village life earned praise from many readers.

In sharp contrast, Geometry focuses on the emotional and spiritual journeys taken by a brother and sister after their family life was destroyed in an act of religious retribution. The siblings’ opposing views on the nature and purpose of truth fuel a conflict that culminates in the vengeance referred to in the title. At the same time, it is a story of atonement and sacrifice in the pursuit of truth and the protection of family.

Most of the characters in Geometry are from the scholarly class, and works of philosophy and literature that were popular at the time—and that would have played important roles in the lives of such people—play important roles in the story. These works include The Aeneid by Virgil and particularly The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius.

Geometry devotes relatively little time to architecture and almost none to the mechanical side of cathedral construction. It is more concerned with the cultural, spiritual, and psychological aspects of Gothic design—and in particular the positive and negative symbolic power that cathedrals in France had in the aftermath of the Albigenisan Crusade.

Geometry is not mainstream historical fiction in the usual sense, and while it is a “deeper” read than Pillars of the Earth and similar novels, it yields rich rewards for readers wanting to get inside the minds of the people in our shared past.

Read the first chapter