Thursday, April 17, 2014

What Is The Book Of Leaves?

In the same weekend that Game of Thrones unveiled its latest shocking plot twist (for anyone who hasn’t read A Storm of Swords), Da Vinci’s Demons continued to weave its own elaborate tale. And once again, we’ve learned some intriguing tidbits about the cryptic Book of Leaves.

Count Riaro has his own theory about the Book of Leaves.**
The Book of Leaves is the object at the center of the show’s biggest mystery. Last season, in the bowels of Castel Sant’Angelo, where the pope keeps his hidden treasures,* we witnessed one of its pages. The page is written in an alien language that Leonardo has never seen, but with the wave of the pope’s hand, the writing magically switches to Hebrew, then to astrological symbols, and even to strange hexagonal patterns. In that scene, Pope Sixtus revealed the book may have Enochian origins. Being an author of Enochian fiction, I loved the angle the show was taking. But in last Saturday’s episode, Count Riario offered another theory about the Book of Leaves when taking to Nico in the Basilisk’s brig:
“His Holiness believes it was written by the Nephilim, the offspring of angels and men. I find that notion romantic, but unlikely. No, I believe it was transcribed by the elders of an ancient civilization in Crete, nine thousand years before Christ, in a place that later became the lost city of Atlantis.”
So maybe the mystery surrounding the Book of Leaves will take an Atlantean turn? Yet even if Riario’s theory is correct, it may not rule out the pope’s. For one, some legends hold that Atlantis was an Antediluvian city, which means that if it existed, it was before the Great Flood. This was the time of Genesis 6:1-4, when the “Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterwards—when the sons of God went into the daughters of humans, who bore children to them.”

According to The Atlantis Encyclopedia (yes, there is one, and it’s a handy reference for anyone writing fiction set in Atlantis), “the Nephilim appear to have been fourth millennium B.C. Atlanteans.” And even if the Atlantis of Da Vinci’s Demons existed after the Flood, Genesis tells us the Nephilim lived on past that cataclysm, and they’re even mentioned in the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy (with old king Og, a remnant of the Rephaim, whose bed was nine cubits long (about 13 ½ feet!)). So perhaps the evil pope is still right. In any event, I’m looking forward to how this all unfolds later this season.

Is Lucrezia becoming a hero?**
And speaking of the evil pope, the show gave us an enormous plot twist about the brother he’s holding captive. I didn’t see that one coming! Nor did I foresee Lucrezia turning into a hero as she stays in Rome to save her father. Something makes me think that Lorenzo, who is halfway to Rome, may get embroiled in it too. I like that the writers kept us in Florence and Rome, for part of the show at least, even though Riario and Leonardo are racing across the Atlantic to find the New World.

If you’re a fan of the show, let me know what you think about Riario’s little theory? And if your jaw’s still slack after this past Sunday’s Game of Thrones, feel free to comment. The internet is abuzz with who you-know-who’s killer might be, and I’ve read a few wild conspiracy theories. Of course, the answer lies at the end of A Storm of Swords. All you have to do is read the book :)

* Note, if you re-watch the scene in the episode called The Hierophant, you’ll see that in addition to the Spear of Destiny (which looks a whole lot like the Holy Lance of Constantine) and the page from the Book of Leaves, Pope Sixtus is hiding the Ark of the Covenant! If only Indiana Jones had started his quest in the secret Vatican Archives!

** Photo courtesy of Starz.com

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Blood Eye – A Fierce Viking Tale

This week, I’m pleased to feature another review by Bill Brockman, this time of Blood Eye by Giles Kristian, Book 1 of his Raven Trilogy. For those new to this blog, Bill is an avid reader of historical fiction, but he’s also devoted his life to public service as a Battalion Chief of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department and a 31-year part-time airman in the Air National Guard. His review of Blood Eye follows this image of the book’s cover.


Blood Eye is the first volume of a trilogy, just discovered by your reviewer, which is already complete. Let me begin my review by saying I intend to read the next volume without hesitation. Vikings are hugely popular right now, so let’s have a look at this offering.

Kristian never uses the term Viking (he explains in an historical note), but there is no doubt who the primary characters are – Norsemen or “Vikings from Norway.” We meet the narrator, a teenage boy who knows nothing of his past and who dreams of “great rock walls rising so high from the sea that the sun’s warmth never hit the cold black water.” Named Osric by the villagers, he is apprenticed to a tongueless (explained later) carpenter in a dirt poor village on the south coast of Wessex – Abbotsend – in the year 802. Shunned and feared by the other villagers due to his “bloodeye” whereby one of his eyes is red instead of white, Osric is not at all happy. The local priest considers his bloodeye a sign of Satanic origins.

Osric’s unhappy life is forever changed the morning his dawn fishing trip to the shore is interrupted by the arrival of two dragon ships full of fierce warriors – Norsemen led by Jarl Sigurd. Amazingly Osric realizes he can both understand and speak the language of the invaders. This skill both saves his life and is used by the Norse as they force him to show them to the village. He does so, feeling the guilt of a traitor. After an initial tense standoff with the villagers, led by retired warrior Griffin, a trading agreement is reached and all is well for a day. However, the priest Wulfweard, hating the pagan Norsemen, plots to poison the Jarl Sigurd. Warning Sigurd, Osric precipitates a massacre and his own abduction by the Norse, along with his master, the mute carpenter Ealhstan.

Thus begins an amazing journey of growth and change for the boy, soon to be renamed Raven by Jarl Sigurd. He comes to think of himself as one of the Norsemen, despite fierce resistance from certain factions of the crew, led by the godi (pagan priest) Asgot who wants to sacrifice the two Wessexmen to the gods. But Sigurd sees his own lost son in young Raven, and protects him as they first encounter Ealdorman Ealdred in fierce combat, then in uneasy alliance. The Norsemen are recruited – their dragon ships held hostage – to recover a priceless artifact from the King of Mercia, Coenwulf. (Note, King Coenwulf and King Egbert of Wessex are historical figures, as is Coenwulf’s predecessor Offa.)

Stereotypes are inevitable in this type of historical fiction, and indeed appear in this work. Author Kristian also doesn’t shy away from fully developing the hatred and contempt with which Christian Wessexmen and pagan Norsemen held each other. This, of course, leads to frequent horrific violence against warrior and innocent alike.

Fierce battles, along with trickery, treachery and betrayal on all sides (and some friendship and romance too) follow as Raven and the Norse travel first to King Coenwulf’s hall, then journey into Wales and back to Wessex in an attempt to regain their dragon ships. The Norsemen’s almost supernatural – and at times this strains believability – skill in battle preserve them on more than one occasion. But how often can they overcome near overwhelming odds to fulfill the treasure quest and regain their beloved dragon ships?

Thanks, Bill, for the great review. I’ll be turning my own writing efforts back to Vikings soon, and Blood Eye sounds like it will provide a healthy dose of inspiration. I’ve picked up a copy on my Kindle and hope to read it soon!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Noah Finds Religion—and Stony Angels

I managed to see Daren Aronofsky’s Noah a bit earlier than I anticipated. Having just read the graphic novel, I thought I knew what to expect. And while that was partially, true, the film went in a surprisingly more religious direction. Also, as I hoped, there were plenty of Watchers—the fallen angels of Genesis 6:1-4 and the Book of Enoch—but even these guys threw me for a bit of a curve.


What I can’t tell is whether Noah’s new dose of religion was added to the script by the studio to quell critics or whether Aronofsky’s vision of the film changed a bit from his graphic novel. As I noted last week, the graphic novel has an uber-environmentalist bent. The wickedness of men that causes the Great Flood is chalked up to man’s sins against the environment, and animals in particular, causing Noah to see himself as the savior of God’s innocent creations.

As many critics have noted, this environmentalist storyline diverges from the true wickedness of man that inspires the Genesis version of the Flood. In Genesis, it all starts with the serpent in the Garden of Eden, but he’s nowhere to be found in the graphic novel. Yet in the movie, he appears right after the opening credits! He also can be seen almost every time the movie talks about Original Sin. Moreover, there’s a scene in the movie designed to portray the wickedness of man. Amidst the murder and chaos, Noah sees a man that the movie strongly suggests is the serpent embodied in human form—the Enemy himself inflaming the wickedness that provokes God to cleanse the earth.

This is a 180-degree change from some of the pre-release speculation about the film. And while the story does have Noah turning down a dark path, believing God wants to exterminate all of mankind and that Noah is supposed to help Him accomplish this, the film’s story arch is one of redemption, backed by a powerful message of love. It’s actually done much better in the film than the graphic novel. Noah’s wife, Naameh, embodies the theme of faith, and Jennifer Connelly, who plays her, pulls this off well.

Now let me say a few things about the Watchers. Unlike the graphic novel which depicted them as gigantic, six-armed ogres, the movie portrays them like Middle-Earthen Tree Ents, but made of stone.

I’ve already written about how Aronofsky’s vision of the Watchers diverges from the Book of Enoch and Genesis chapter 6. Contrary to what you might read in the movie reviews, these guys weren’t the Nephilim of scripture. The Nephilim are actually the children of the Watchers and human women. But let’s just say the Watchers in the movie don’t look capable of procreation. Because they’re more like walking boulders than manlike beings.

Their appearance in the movie, however, got me thinking. I wonder if this wasn’t an intentional play on the Book of Enoch. In that ancient text, the actual Watchers rebel against God, mate with human women, and spawn with the Nephilim, who wreak great evil in the world. As a result, God sends his archangels to imprison them in the earth. In the movie, when these beings of light arrive on earth against God’s will, they turn to stone, literally trapping their light within earth. If my theory is right, this was a very clever move by the writers.

Overall, I enjoyed Noah and think it may have been superior to its graphic counterpart. It’s earned some very good reviews (you can read some here and here). And just maybe it will kindle some interest in that curious verse in Genesis—the one Brother Remi is obsessed with in Enoch’s Device. Speaking of Enoch, Methuselah (played brilliantly by Anthony Hopkins in the film) speaks fondly of his father Enoch, and he wields a little bit of white magic too—just enough, in fact, to change the world.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Noah Graphic Novel Promises a Very Enochian Film

In my earlier post on the upcoming movie Noah, I noted that it was based on a graphic novel by Ari Handel. This, it turns out, was only partially correct. In fact, the graphic novel was essentially a pre-production story board authored by the film’s writer/director Darren Aronofsky, as well as Handel and Niko Henrichon. That said, if the movie follows the graphic novel, we’re in for a spectacular ride.

The artwork is worth the price of this graphic novel!
Aronofsky’s story has generated a good bit a controversy, some of which is legitimate. Yet before I touch on that, let me start by stating a few things about the graphic novel’s rendition. For one, the illustrations are gorgeous; it’s a piece of art that I’ll proudly display with my finest hardcover novels. Also, I’m very pleased with the way the story acknowledges one of the most curious verses in the Bible (Genesis 6:1-4) and borrows from the apocryphal Book of Enoch. As an author of Enochian fiction, I’m excited this “mythology” is getting some prime time play!
 
In the graphic novel (and hopefully the film), Noah encounters the Watchers—rogue angels who left heaven for earth. In Genesis, as well as the Book of Enoch, these angles left heaven because of their lust for the beautiful “daughters of men.” This isn’t the case in the graphic novel. There, the rogue angels travel to earth to help mankind after its exile from the Garden of Eden. They teach man all they know, but man eventually turns that knowledge toward war—and ultimately against the very angels who taught them. As Semyaza, their leader, tells Noah, “Your kind turned our charity into our torture.”
Hopefully we'll see some Watchers in this film.
The Watchers now live in exile, their appearance having become monstrous since abandoning heaven. (Imagine a six-armed ogre and you’ll get the picture.) In the graphic novel, I found them to be a sympathetic lot. They even become Noah’s friends and help him build the ark, which was an unexpected twist. In short, Aronofsky’s story may be the most empathetic take on the Watchers I’ve read to date.

An even bigger twist, perhaps, occurs in the character of Noah. His mission is to save the “innocents”—the animals, God’s creations. Man is killing His creations, slaying the rhino, for example, to use its horn to make potions. Noah begins to wonder if mankind should die out, and eventually this conviction becomes a dark obsession. By the novel’s midpoint, Noah proves to be a very hard character to pull for because he’s convinced God desires mankind’s extinction. In the end, this results in a powerful character arc, and if the film stays true to the graphic novel, Russell Crowe seems the perfect actor to pull this off. But whether the story is true to scripture is an entirely different question.

This one's on my Kindle to-read list!
The controversy begins with Aronofsky’s uber-environmentalist take on the reason for the Great Flood. Author Brian Godawa, who penned the historical fantasy novel Noah Primeval, wrote a blog post titled “Darren Aronofsky’s Noah: Environmentalist Wacko” that’s well worth reading. Godawa takes on all the controversies from Aronofsky’s script, including the difficult to reconcile notion that God would stop mankind from harming the environment by annihilating that environment on global scale.

That’s not what scripture says, according to Godawa, who notes that in Genesis, God brings the Flood because of the evil of men—something that suggests more than simply killing animals for food or whatnot. Further, as Godawa points out, greenhouse gasses and global warming weren’t a problem back in Antediluvian times: “And how in the world was Neolithic man able to destroy his environment and cause global warming anyway? Exactly where did the carbon emissions come from? Fred Flintstone SUVs?” According to Godawa, turning “the tale of Noah into an environmentalist screed and an animal rights diatribe does violence to the Biblical meaning and turns it into something entirely alien to the original meaning of the text.”

Aronofsky’s story also diverges from its other source material—the Book of Enoch. In that ancient text, the Watchers’ lust for “the daughters of men” convinces them to rebel against God and travel to earth to mate with human women. And while they also end up teaching mankind the ways of war and weapons and sorcery, they spawn the Nephilim—the giant-like offspring who ultimately wreak so much evil on earth that God sends His archangels, Michael, Raphael, and Uriel, to deal with the problem. They end up imprisoning the Watchers deep within the earth, before God sends the Great Flood to erase all the wickedness the Nephilim and men created together. This, however, is in stark contrast to the sympathetic take on the Watchers presented in Aronofsky’s graphic novel.

Here’s my view, on the graphic novel at least: I agree with Godawa pretty much wholeheartedly on the religious problems with Aronofsky’s tale. Moreover, the take on Enochian mythology that I adopted in Enoch’s Device is far more consistent with Godawa’s and the Book of Enoch than that of Aronofsky. But all that said, I appreciate that different authors can approach the same subject matter in utterly different ways. Aronofsky’s Noah may diverge from the biblical narrative, but I’m eager to see what spiritual meaning may remain once his tale is told on screen. (Here’s is good opinion piece on that point from CNN.)

Had there not been a biblical narrative to compare it to, Aronofsky’s graphic novel would tell a compelling story, even if the main character is very hard to root for. And coupled with the masterful artwork, it does itself justice in this graphic form. The only issue is whether one can separate the art from a more accurate biblical rendition of the tale.

I’m still looking forward to the movie, and promise to post a review once I see it (though it may be a week or two). Until then, however, I’m curious as to your view—do you have an opinion on Darren Aronofsky’s Noah? And, if so, let us know what it is.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Da Vinci’s Demons: Five Questions Going into Season 2

Season 2 of Da Vinci’s Demons debuts tomorrow and the trailer makes it look damn good, so I’ve put together my list of five big questions going into the new season. There are some *spoilers* below, so if you haven’t seen the show, you may want to go to Starz On-Demand. The entire season is only eight episodes, and they’re great fun if you’re a fan of historical fantasy and appreciate an Italian Renaissance setting.





1. Who will survive the insane cliffhanger ending to Season 1?


Episode 1 ended with the Pazzi Conspiracy, a notorious historical plot that went down on April 26, 1478, in Florence when members of the Pazzi family, backed by Pope Sixtus IV, tried to assassinate Lorenzo de’ Medici and his family. Pope Sextus, who is a truly despicable villain in the show, sends his equally despicable nephew, Count Riario, to help carry out the murders, which were supposed to occur by serving the Medici’s poisoned holy wafers during Easter mass. But that plan goes awry when Lorenzo’s brother Giuliano bursts into the Duomo. A swordfight ensues and the pope’s men kill Giuliano (who, incidentally, turned out to be one of the most likable characters on the show). Meanwhile, Lorenzo (who is much less likeable) is left fighting for his life.

By the end of Season 1, Leonardo has saved Lorenzo and the two are safe behind a locked door in the church. But then Lorenzo notices the ring of his mistress Lucrezia around Leonardo’s neck and realizes the two are lovers. Just as Lorenzo threatens to kill them both when they get out of this mess, Count Riario fires some Renaissance-style grenade launcher through the door… and CUT!

We have to wait until Saturday to see who survives. But that shouldn’t be a tremendous mystery since almost all of the show's characters were real people—so history tells us how and when they died. Also, the major death in the Pazzi Conspiracy—Giuliano’s—has already occurred, although a second one is coming up and the weasel will get what he deserves! The one main character who is truly fictional is Lucrezia Donati, so we don’t know her fate. But she’s so essential to the story, I have to imagine we’ll be seeing plenty of her in Season 2.

I think we're looking at the survivors!


2. How long will the show be away from Florence?


The central plotline of Da Vinci’s Demons concerns the quest for the arcane Book of Leaves, a tome that supposedly contains the secrets of the divine. One of the best scenes in Season 1 came in episode 2 when Leonardo discovers a book stolen by the hanged Jew. The Jew was a member of the Sons of Mithras, a group desperately seeking the Book of Leaves before Pope Sextus can add it to the Vatican’s secret archives. Leonardo deduces that when the book’s pages are torn out and properly pieced together, they form a map of a New World, the place where the Vault of Heaven supposedly exists, which contains the Book of Leaves. From the Season 2 trailer, it’s clear the story will take the characters to South America and what looks like a Mayan kingdom. This storyline looks promising, but I’m going to miss Florence and Rome if the show stays away from there too long. Yet with Lorenzo and Pope Sixtus remaining in Italy (as they should, unless this series is going even farther off the historical rails), I have to imagine there’ll be ample portions set in Italy. But only time will tell.


3. What’s going on with the Sons of Mithras?


Since the arrival of the Turk, this has remained a central question on the show. We now know that several significant characters were members of this group: the Turk, the Jew, the Abyssinian, Cosimo de’ Midici (Lorenzo’s grandfather), and maybe even Leonardo’s mysterious mother. Then there’s the statue in the Turk’s lair, identical to the one Cosimo owned, of a lion-headed figure, entwined by a serpent, holding two keys—just like the two keys needed to open the Vault of Heaven. This statute is an actual symbol of the mystery cult of Mithras, who was a foreign god worshiped in ancient Rome. He likely had Persian origins, perhaps linked to Zoroastrianism, and also has been linked to Gnostic mysteries, if my brief research is correct.

The mysterious Turk
In the show, the Sons of Mithras could be shaping up to be an Illuminati-type organization. After all, they’re opposed to the Church and have some devotion to science, as evidenced by Cosimo’s astrolabe which supposedly can help Leonardo navigate his way to the New World. But I still think there may be a magical element to this group. For one, there’s their invocation: “I’m a son of Earth and starry heaven. I’m thirsty. Please give me something to drink from the fountain of memory.” Sounds pretty mystical, right? Also, they’re fixated on the Tarot, and it’s no coincidence that most of the episodes in Season 1 are named after Tarot cards.

Nor has the show shied away from the supernatural. So far, we’ve seen the Spear of Destiny (which pierced through armor with ease), a very likely undead Vlad Dracula, and the strange visions from Leonardo’s childhood in the cave where he sees himself literally as the hanged man, in the position of the Tarot symbol, hinting possibility of time travel or reincarnation (remember the words of the Turk: “Time is a river, but what most fail to grasp is that the river is circular. One man’s death opens the doorway to the birth of the next.”). Who knows where this will go, but it’s one of the most intriguing aspects of the show.

Could he be any more evil?

4. Is the story taking an Enochian turn?


The most jaw-dropping line in episode 7 came when Pope Sixtus was talking to Leonardo about the Book of Leaves. “Its authors were the Nephilim,” the pope said, “the offspring of angels and the women of man.” This is a clear reference to that curious verse in Genesis Chapter 6 and the lost Book of Enoch, and I wonder how far the series will take this in Season 2.

Already, we might have a few clues. In the opening scene of the series, the Turk tells Leonardo that “History is a lie that has been honed like a weapon by people who suppress the truth.” What if that suppressed history was the story of the fallen angels and the Nephilim, the one told in the Book of Enoch that was lost for more than a millennium? Then there’s that invocation: “I’m a son of earth and starry heaven.” The Nephilim were the offspring of humans (earth) and angels (starry heaven). Could this be the meaning of this cryptic invocation? Only time shall tell.

And how freaking evil might she be?

5. Can Lucrezia Donati be trusted?


Where to start? We’ve finally learned that she’s spying for the Vatican to protect her father, who’s being held prisoner in Castel Sant’Angelo by Pope Sixtus. That had me feeling a little sympathy for Lucrezia, but it didn’t last long because, damn, if she doesn’t have an evil streak in her. After all, she framed and then murdered poor Becchi, who was an honorable character on the show; she set up Leonardo for his sodomy trial which could have ended with him being burned at the stake; and then she stabbed and nearly killed Giuliano, long after he’d become a favorite character. Yet just when you think she’s heartless, she helps save Lorenzo’s wife and daughters during the Pazzi Conspiracy. I frankly don’t know how I feel about Lucrezia, but I’m fairly certain she will somehow hitch a ride to the New World and play a big role as the series moves on.

As always, I’m curious as to your thoughts. So let me know your views on Season 1 of Da Vinci’s Demons and what you’re looking forward to when it begins again this Saturday night.

* Images courtesy of Starz.com

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A New Game of Thrones Season 4 Trailer!

Only a few more weeks until the April 6th premier of Season 4 of Game of Thrones. HBO's new trailer shows a lot of action from A Storm of Swords, but might there be a hint of A Feast for Crows?


Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Saint Patrick’s Day is one of my all-time favorite holidays, so today I'm re-posting an updated article from years past about Stephen R. Lawhead's Patrick: Son of Ireland.

I had little appreciation for the story of Saint Patrick until I began the research for Enoch's Device. That novel begins in Derry and tells the story of two Irish monks who try to prevent the apocalypse at the end of the Tenth Century a time when many in Christendom feared the world would end one thousand years after the birth of Christ. Prior to my research, I knew only the most common stories about Ireland's patron saint: the tale of the trinity and the shamrock, and his chasing the snakes out of Ireland (which has no native species of snakes, by the way). Back then, Saint Patrick's Day was merely a good excuse to drink Guinness at a raucous Irish pub. But once I began my research all that changed, especially after reading How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill. I cannot recommend this book more strongly to anyone who is of Irish descent or who’s even remotely interested in the amazing role the Irish played in the survival of Western civilization during the Dark Ages.
Cahill’s book contained the first account I had ever read about Saint Patrick. Here's the abridged version. By the beginning of the fifth century, with the Goths and Huns threatening Rome, the Roman garrison in Briton became depleted as troops moved back to defend the continent. This exposed Briton to attacks by foreign enemies, including the Celtic Irish who ravaged Briton’s western coast. One of the largest raids occurred around the year 401 A.D., when literally thousands of Britons were captured as slaves by Irish raiders. One of those captured was a teenage boy who we know today as Saint Patrick.

Patrick was a Romanized Briton and the son of a noble family. He was not born “Patrick,” and his original name remains in question, yet at least one source has him named Succat. Patrick served his enslavement as a shepherd to an Irish chieftain named Miliucc, who ruled a kingdom in the hills of Antrim. According to legend, Patrick remained captive for six years before escaping after hearing a voice in a dream about a trader’s ship that would return him to Briton. After finding the ship and returning to home, Patrick eventually made his way to Gaul at a time when hordes of Germans were crossing the Rhine to engage the Roman army. There, Patrick studied religion, became a priest, and later a bishop – the title he held when he returned to Ireland as one of its first and most famous Christian missionaries. It is with this background that I read Stephen R. Lawhead’s Patrick: Son of Ireland.
Photo credit: Sicarr
I had anticipated that this novel would tell the story of how Patrick converted the Irish Celts to Christianity. I was wrong. The book actually tells the tale of Patrick's early life, before he returned to Ireland. Aside from a brief epilogue, the novel provides no account of Patrick’s later years which earned him his sainthood. Instead, the author focuses on Patrick’s captivity and enslavement. And this is where the novel truly shines. Patrick’s enslavement introduces him to a druid named Cormac and his sister, Sionan, the woman with whom Patrick falls in love. After surviving several failed attempts at fleeing his captivity, Patrick, with Cormac’s aid, escapes his brutal life by agreeing to serve in a house of druids, and eventually studies to become a bard. This is where the novel becomes both fascinating and controversial.

The bards and druids of Lawhead’s Ireland can use magic, which firmly places this novel on the fine line between historical fiction and historical fantasy. Many of the druids and bards who teach Patrick are also members of the Ceile De, essentially Christian druids who believe in the one true God. Patrick ultimately becomes one of the Ceile De; he never becomes a priest or a bishop, though this is not necessarily foreclosed because the novel ends before the reader learns what becomes of Patrick later in life.

Not surprisingly, this plot point is controversial for those who feel the novel downplays or even eliminates Patrick’s Roman Catholicism. After all, they argue, the Roman Catholic Church would never have canonized a druid. But I view Stephen R. Lawhead as taking artistic license for the sake of his story. And overall, his story works – especially the two-thirds or so of the novel that take place in Ireland.

Although it was not what I expected, I enjoyed this novel, very much at times. And while the author may have taken artistic license with his subject, it works well in the end, telling a story of faith once lost only to be discovered again.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day everyone!