The Light of Tara: A Novel of Saint Patrick

It’s easy to lose yourself in the story of St. Patrick, as told in The Light of Tara, a historical novel by John Desjarlais. The writing is poetic and you’ll feel as if you’re part of every scene. The author makes masterful use of dialogue and biblical parallels. I’d wholeheartedly recommend The Light of Tara to teen and adult readers. 

About the book:

While the Roman Empire crumbles into chaos, the flickering light of civilization is in the hands of a teenage pig-keeper and shepherd at the edge of the known world. His name is Succat. We know him as Patrick. 

As an indolent teen, Patrick is abducted by pirates from his British villa and sold to a druid chieftain in remote Hibernia.  In misery, he embraces the faith he once loathed. He learns Irish language and lore, befriends the chieftain’s son and falls for the feisty daughter, making a jealous enemy of the druid’s apprentice. Fearing for his life and obeying a strange vision, Patrick escapes, leaving the girl he loves and returning home after a hazardous journey. But he is shaken by an insistent dream: the plea of the Irish to come back.

He resolves to do so. But first he must overcome a suspicious church, a backstabbing mentor, and his old rival who is now the Archdruid of Ireland, sworn to kill him and eager to enslave the beautiful woman Patrick left behind.

Can he save Ireland from darkness — and free the girl he once loved?

Question for the author:

What inspired you to write historical fiction (especially about a time we know little about)?

Writers can be inspired by a time, a setting or a character. For me, it was all three.

I had written The Throne of Tara: A Novel of Saint Columba in 1990, after scripting and producing a documentary about Church history. I became fascinated by Irish monasticism and Celtic spirituality, by the monks’ love of scholarship, prayer, and poetry, and by their ardent evangelization. Soon after that book was published, I wondered if a “prequel” of sorts, a book about Patrick, might be a natural follow-up. After all, I’d already done a lot of research into the general period and the culture. I turned to contemporary mysteries instead. But I saved my notes.

So, nearly 25 years later, I picked it up again. I wanted people to know “St. Patrick’s Day” was more than beer, corned beef, a green river in Chicago, and a parade in New York to celebrate Irish identity. The historical Patrick was a revolutionary figure. Against tremendous odds, he persevered in faith to bring God’s message of forgiveness to his former captors at a time in Church history when such evangelization across cultural lines was not really known. The Church was preoccupied with combating heresies and with managing a chaotic, crumbling Roman Empire, as many bishops became the de facto governors of their districts while “barbarians” ravaged the land. There was little interest in ‘evangelizing’ the so-called barbarians when bishops were more busy ransoming Christian captives from them.

Patrick’s daring and determination were inspiring, and more so, his long obedience to an insistent call — against his better judgment — to return to the people who brutally enslaved him in order to bring them the gospel of true freedom and love. He knew their language and their lore, which he realized pointed to Christ. One of their great heroes, Cuchulainn, was bound to a post with a hawthorn crown and lanced in his side while being mocked by pagan priests. Who does that sound like?

Historical fiction can be escapist by transporting readers to a distant time and place in an entertaining way (and even provide some knowledge). But it can also engage readers to think about the present time, and to see how people in the past met similar challenges. Patrick’s bold willpower — and submission to God’s will — advanced the light of the Faith and preserved the lamp of learning at a time when barbarians burned the libraries of Europe and plunged the Continent into a Dark Age.  

About author John Desjarlais:

John Desjarlais, author

John Desjarlais, a former producer for Wisconsin Public Radio, taught literature and creative writing at Kishwaukee College in Illinois for nearly 25 years. His novels include The Throne of Tara (Crossway 1990, a Christianity Today Readers Choice Award nominee), Relics (Thomas Nelson 1993, a Doubleday Book Club Selection), Bleeder, Viper (A Catholic Arts and Letters Award nominee), and Specter (Chesterton Press, 2008, 2011, 2015), and The Light of Tara: A Novel of Saint Patrick. Blood of the Martyrs and other stories, released through Amazon Kindle Select in 2012, contains short fiction that previously appeared in such periodicals as Critic, The Karitos Review, The Rockford Review, Apocalypse, Conclave, Lit Noir, and Dappled Things. He received Honorable Mention in the 1997 Writers Digest Competition and was a fiction finalist in the 2016 Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction Contest. A member of Mystery Writers of America and the North Carolina Writers Network, he has been listed in Who’s Who in Entertainment, Contemporary Authors, and Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers. Visit his website at JohnDesjarlais.com.


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Cover image: Stencil

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

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