From School Library Journal
Grade 7–10—Legend has it that the Blue Flame was lit upon the moment of Christ's death, and whoever has it in his possession will have victory over his foes. But for Parsifal, who was only a child when charged with keeping the flame, the burden is overwhelming, and he retreats into solitude and madness. However, the Flame refuses to be hidden—one evening it flares, illuminating the land of the Occitan with an unmistakable glow. As a result, the Catholics and the Cathars, who once lived together in peace, are now at odds. An inquisition begins. Yolanda, the daughter of a Catholic count, and her childhood friend Raimon, the son of a Cathar peasant, who have fallen in love, become divided by violence. Although it has a promising premise and a potentially exciting story line, this book, set in 1242 France, fails to deliver. Because the point of view shifts from one character to another (including the land of the Occitan itself), it is impossible for readers to become connected with anyone in particular. In addition, this fractured narrative makes it difficult to tell what is happening to whom. The plot progresses in strange leaps, particularly toward the end of the novel, and events that need depth are summarized. The historical detail of the narrative is what saves this novel. Students who are able to read past the awkwardness will find the background information fascinating and will want to know which parts of the story are true and which have been fictionalized.—Heather M. Campbell, formerly at Philip S. Miller Library, Castle Rock, CO
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*Starred Review* Grant takes thirteenth-century Occitania and anchors its tangled religious and territorial conflicts with the story of two young lovers, Raimon, son of a Cathar weaver, and Yolanda, daughter to the Catholic Count Berenger. Under Berenger’s permissive rule, Cathars and Catholics live peacefully, but that changes once signs of the legendary Blue Flame appear. This treasure, said to have been lit when Christ died, is to be returned to the Occitan to keep it free in the paths of righteousness. As the French king works to conquer Occitania, the land is divided from within: an inquisitor arrives to cleanse away the heretic Cathars, and the atmosphere of fear he breeds causes horrific betrayals on both sides. Raimon and Yolanda must do what they think is right in a time when the true path of righteousness is hidden. Characters are as complex as the moral issues they face, and Grant’s nuanced, thought-provoking look at the religious conflicts they face will resonate today. Though the themes are weighty, there is no lack of action, suspense, or romance here as Raimon and Yolanda struggle to save each other. A truly harrowing escape from a burning death and a heartbreaking separation will lead readers eagerly into the next book in the Perfect Fire trilogy. Grades 7-10. --Krista Hutley