Stephen R. Lawhead leads readers through the turbulent life of Saint Patrick in this thoroughly researched tale of historical fiction. Patrick: Son of Ireland chronicles the life of Succat, the son of a Briton nobleman, who is captured in a raid and thrust into slavery in the wilds of Hibernia, known today as Ireland.
Lawhead takes the available historical information, makes note of what is missing and fills in the blanks with splendorous flowing prose. Told in narrative form, the novel follows Succat as he takes on various duties -- and names -- as life deals him blow after blow. Succat went by four different names during his lifetime: Succat, his given name; Corthirthiac, when he entered the tutelage of the Druids in Hibernia; Magonus, as a soldier in Gaul; and Patricius when he was ordained a senator in Gaul. The narrative form allows us to follow Succat’s thoughts and see exactly what it is that leads a person to become a saint.
Some might think a book about a religious leader to be less than engaging, but nothing in this case could be farther from the truth. Succat is constantly faced with change. Succat goes from sleeping in a shepherd’s hut to palatial living in a villa staffed with servants to watch over his wife and child. As a soldier he saved the life of an important political figure, surviving a bloody conflict that wiped out his entire legion. From there, he soon became a senator before returning to Ireland, where he allows all of these experiences to shape his destiny.
Though the book is about a burgeoning religious leader, it does not preach. At no time is the reader beaten over the head with a holy staff. Even an atheist will enjoy this book. Throughout most of the novel, Succat is still coming to terms with his own beliefs.
The one time the book does have serious religious undertones is when Succat is asked to meditate in a cave. During his meditations, Succat has a vision that hints at his future sainthood. Similar to Christ, Succat did not emerge from the cave for three days. The parallel symbolizes that the man who was Succat died in the cave and a new, more powerful and open-minded Succat was born upon his re-emergence.
The novel is peppered with characters who influenced Succat’s life for better or worse. He meets a close-minded Christian priest who is enthralled by the power of the Church, a naïve noblewoman, a senator who treats Succat like a son, and a Druid who is more like a brother than a mystic teacher. All of these people and events lead Succat to take actions that will engrave his legend upon the tablet of history. But the greatest part of this tale is not that Succat becomes a legendary figure, but the personal journey he undertakes to attain that status.