I bought Byzantium, a novel by Stephen R. Lawhead, when Justin Taylor blogged on it. I love to read fiction, but when I do, good plots tend to dominate my free time and steal some hours when I should be sleeping. Being robbed of shut-eye, however, pays me back with more vacuum capacity for sucking the marrow out of life. Reading great literature is as stretching and strengthening as it is taxing and exhausting. Often I need a little extra push to plunge back into this fiction vortex, the push that pulls me away from something I “should” be reading and forces me to read something I’ve been wanting to jump into.
In this case, the push came from Andrew Peterson, who made an offhand remark in a book review that he had named his first-born son after the main character in Lawhead’s Byzantium. That’s a pretty strong shove!
So I commend to you this novel: set in the middle ages, about the journey of an Irish monk (a man not unlike Saint Patrick), who is a scribe involved in the production of a famous manuscript, is made the slave of Vikings, stands before the Emperor in Constantinople, is enslaved by wicked Saracens only to be befriended by noble Muslims, and through these many adventures sees a Beowulf like figure, King of Skania, converted to Christianity.
Need some more motivation? The Irish Monks practice believer’s baptism by immersion!
This is a fascinating trip to another time and place, combining history and fiction. Lawhead explains:
As for Aidan mac Cainnech, he is a fictitious amalgamation of several Irish saints who were active at the time. No one person did all the things my Aidan did in the book, but the events described in Byzantium were based on the kinds of actual adventures pilgrim saints of Aidan’s day endured.
In another Q&A, Lawhead writes:
Many of the events mentioned in the book – the political upheaval, the intrigue within the Islam court, and others – are genuine. I wanted to make the book as historical as possible without sacrificing the story – after all, it is not a history textbook, but a novel. With me, story wins every time.
Byzantium is a story that waters seeds of hope, fertilizes soils of perseverance, and puts the sun’s life giving rays to unfolding leaves of virtue. Go ahead, travel from Ireland to Arabia through Byzantium and back at the end of the 9th Century. Cross the seas on Viking ships and the deserts on Arabian horses. Tread the paths of an Irish Monk on a journey through the death of vanity to the resurrection of faith.