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“Truly captures the genuine Struggle between the Mundane, the Profane and the Divine
Armed with careful scholarship and a deep insight into the personalities, tragedies and triumphs of his characters, Melvyn Bragg weaves an engrossing and remarkably authentic tale of the struggle to save Christianity in its original purity, even as it barely clings to life during the dark ages of the British Isles. This is an historic tale of true triumph through great tragedy of real people and the communities they served - or cruelly dominated - deftly mirroring the eternal struggle we all face between our dual natures of godliness and devilry.
The background and locale of the story is historical, as well as most of the characters Bragg summons from the dead pages of history. The protagonist herself is a mysterious and only partially mythical figure known as St. Bega. Her intense inner conflict between her most deserving earthly desires and her ideally pure devotion to God serves as a personal parallel for the historic struggle between Christianity and pagan rituals which had hitherto served, yet chained mankind to a barely sustainable earthly existence.
As in true life there are no pure heroes, only men and women doing the best they know how to do in the circumstances they find themselves. In the face-off between Bega, servant of the new "one God," and the priestess of the old gods of stone and sky, druids and druidesses are portrayed - quite accurately - as largely benevolent and wise stewards of an ancient magic, and whose advice the sometime fanatical Christian monks and abbesses would have been better off to accept on occasion. The Celtic Church, though clearly superior in true devotion and spirituality, cannot match the necessary pragmatism of the falsely pious and worldy Roman church, whose demands that the Celtic church accede to the authority of Rome have much more to do with a raw lust for power than they do with saving souls. Indeed, the religious enemy is clearly not the pagan druids and priestesses, but the enmity between professed followers of Christ.
Finally, this is a story of sacrifice. True and noble sacrifice born of faith and love for one's fellow man no matter how undeserving they may be. This is not your Sunday School version of sacrifice where, in the end, God rewards the valiant with all the glory and worldly riches they had denied themselves in His service, but the true, Christlike sacrifice where one gives up his or her most cherished dreams to bring about a better world for others. Then, finally perishing in the struggle, as they realize those dreams will be left forever wanting, the only reward they are left is a knowledge that such a sacrifice has been acceptable to God and has, indeed, brought a measure of divinity into a world which so desperately, though ignorantly, needs it.
If you're looking for simple, swash-buckling adventure, pass this book by. If you are not willing to accept Christianity or paganism on their own terms, don't bother. If you're ready to truly ponder what true devotion to God is, or requires, both in your own soul and society at large, then you truly owe it to yourself to read this work.”
OGolly wrote this review Wednesday, March 4, 2009.