Patrick: Son of Ireland
(Morrow, hardback, 454 pages, $25.95; February 2003.)
Muirchu is quoted as having found four
for Patrick: Succat, when he was born; Magonus, which means "famous";
Patricius, when he was ordained; and Corthiriac, when he served in the
house of Four Druids. The quote appears before Lawhead's book begins,
and its meaning becomes clearer as the book progresses and its fascinating
protagonist follows his fate.
Somewhere around AD400, Succat was a brash young Welsh nobleman. Finding
his lessons boring and seeing little use for learning, he spent much
of his time drinking, fighting and wenching along with his peers: Scipio,
Rufus and Julian. They were drunk not only on wine but on the invincible
Roman Empire, of which they represented a remote outpost. It was therefore
a drastic shock when Irish barbarian raiders attacked. For Succat, finding
himself a prisoner -- nay, a slave -- of the Irish was beyond shock.
But Succat was made of sterner stuff than even he realized, and he managed
to adapt and survive, never losing the resolution to escape and go home.
Succat's resources prove to be surprisingly strong. He has strong language
skills and extraordinary abilities of observation, analysis and synthesis.
He picked up far more than he realized from those boring sessions with
tutors; and his fighting skills, the only part of noble training that
he enjoyed, are impressive.
The Irish King Milliucc expects and generally receives full submission
and absolute obedience from his subjects, and even more from his slaves.
He does not treat his people badly, but he tolerates neither insolence
nor rebellion. Succat is expected to tend sheep under the guidance of
Madog, another slave originally from Britain. Madog, who has been a
slave so long he doesn't even remember freedom, rarely speaks, but he
does help Succat back to health after his two failed attempts to escape.
The first of these attempts produces a beating; the second a crippling.
There is a warning that any further attempts will produce a beating
that ends in death.
Succat is finding that the barbarian Irish are people, too. He is finding
that these people care about each other and that they are fiercely loyal
to those they call their own. They are accepting of strangers, but expect
the same loyalty in return. He further finds that he is fascinated by
the Druids, whose influence is stronger even than that of kings. They
seem not the creatures of the Devil he had always believed, but rather
guardians of knowledge and seekers after learning. One in particular,
Cormac, earns his respect and, in turn, protects and respects him.
There is someone else that gets into his heart and his mind and his
soul while he is in Ireland. Her name is Sionan, the sister of Cormac;
she serves Milliucc, and her influence is strong, as is she.
As the story goes on, Succat acquires new names, new skills, new friends
and new enemies. He spends time in Britain, in France and in Rome, and
his journey is that of legend. His heart remains where he first lost
it, in Ireland, and he became the patron saint of that fabled land.
I will not spoil the well told chronicle by revealing further details;
I will tell you that this is a book that's much worth reading.
The story Lawhead recounts is based on historical fact but describes
Patrick's "missing years". Little evidence exists of these times, and
so this is an historical fiction rather than a biography. Some of the
powers exhibited by the Druids may belong in the realm of fantasy --
or perhaps modern science has not yet caught up with the ancient skills.
The novel leaves the reader with the desire to learn more about these
subjects, these times, these people. Yet it is complete and remarkable
Review by Chuck Gregory.