infinity plus - sf, fantasy and horror non-fiction: reviews, interviews and features
infinity plus home pagefictionnon-fictionother stuffa to z

Patrick: Son of Ireland

by Stephen R Lawhead

(Morrow, hardback, 454 pages, $25.95; February 2003.)

Muirchu is quoted as having found four cover scannames 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 in itself.

Review by Chuck Gregory.

Let us know what you think of infinity plus - e-mail us at:

support this site - buy books through these links:
A+ Books: an insider's view of sf, fantasy and horror (US) | Internet Bookshop (UK)