St. Patrick is among the best-known of Catholic saints. He is celebrated each year in March with fun feast day traditions. However, much of the life of this popular saint has been lost in the mists of time. We know basic facts about his life and many legends that may or may not be true. I’ve always found myself curious about this amazing saint (and others), wishing I could step back in time to meet them. Thanks to the imagination of author John Desjarlais, that’s exactly what I did in The Light of Tara: a novel of St. Patrick.
I received this book for review courtesy of the author; all opinions expressed remain my own. This post contains affiliate links; as an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
The Light of Tara plot summary
In A.D. 404, Patricius Magonus Succatus is a spoiled sixteen-year-old, the eldest son of a former Roman commander turned Catholic deacon. He should be studying his Latin and learning how to run his family’s manor, but he’s more interested in sneaking off to hunt with his best friend—or to woo the pretty new girl who has arrived in the village, fleeing from raiders. Then the raiders attack the village, taking Succat captive.
In Ireland, Succat finds himself the slave of the druid Miliucc. When he’s injured by a boar, Miliucc’s daughter Brona nurses him back to health and becomes his friend. He’s reassigned to watch the sheep, where another shepherd named Ossian helps him learn both Gaelic and sheepherding. Brona continues to visit Succat, as does her brother Gosact, a would-be bard who teaches Succat the legends and histories of his people.
As Succat tends the sheep, snippets of Scriptures read by his mother come back to his mind. He finds himself praying again and wishing he’d paid better attention, instead of tuning out his mother’s voice. Some days, as he prayers, he falls into a reverie, and the sheep seem to speak to him. One day, six years after his capture, Gosact nudges Succat to obey a recent dream and escape to the coast. There, he finds a boat to Gaul.
Returning home as the prodigal son, Succat is given a hero’s welcome. He swears to his mother that he will not leave here again. And yet… he feels that constant tugging in his dreams. God wants him to do something more. His path back to Ireland as a bishop is neither easy nor swift. His own ignorance holds back his learning. A confession made about a sin committed as a teenager causes controversy. And when he does return to Ireland, he must face his old master, a druid who wants vengeance.
My thoughts on The Light of Tara
I’m a long-time lover of historical fiction. A story is the best way to learn about times past, and John Desjarlais spins a gripping story. I wondered how he could make such a giant of a saint real and relatable to modern readers. Succat seems to step off the pages in all his overweight, arrogant stubbornness—a boy whom God will slowly transform. John paint that transformation slowly, showing us the key moments in St. Patrick’s life and yet also filling in the details in between with deep insight into faith, history and human character.
With vivid descriptions and concrete historical details, John draws readers into the place and times. John’s knowledge of Irish history and legends shines through The Light of Tara. I really loved the way he showed that St. Patrick’s time in Ireland was a training ground for him to later return and evangelize this people whom he knew so well. It reminded me of St. Isaac Jogues living as a captive among the Iroquois and then also returning (despite threat of capture, torture and death) to preach the Good News to them. Both of these saints had enormous love for God, a love that led them to step fearlessly into danger and follow God’s call on their lives.
St. Patrick is a risk-taker, a persevering planner, courageous, determined in the face of danger, driven by faith. He is certainly no quiet academic; in fact, he calls himself an “ignoramus” in his memoirs. He’s a man of action, initiative, and daring. ~ John Desjarlais
The Light of Tara is written for adults, but teens may enjoy it as well. There are brief references to Succat’s teen crush on Aeliana, and his later romantic interest in Brona, but there is nothing inappropriate (as I’d expect from a Catholic writer). The story starts when Patrick is 16 and ends when he’s almost 30. His disinterest in faith at the beginning of the story, and discernment of his vocation throughout the novel, may interest teens and young adults who are going through the same process.
If you enjoyed The Light of Tara, you may also enjoy I Am Patrick, a documentary about the patron saint of Ireland. This documentary shows fantastic footage of Ireland and the landscapes John describes in his novel. The documentary also adds to the historical details that John stitches together in a story.
More about John Desjarlais
A former producer with Wisconsin Public Radio and retired professor of journalism and English, John Desjarlais writes historical novels and contemporary mysteries. His first novel, The Throne of Tara: A Novel of Saint Columba, was a Christianity Today Readers Choice Award nominee. Blood of the Martyrs and Other Stories collects short fiction previously published in a variety of literary journals. A member of Mystery Writers of America, the Catholic Writers Guild, and The North Carolina Writers Network, Desjarlais is listed in Who’s Who in Entertainment, Contemporary Authors, and Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers.
To find out more about John and his books, drop by his website. You can also follow him on Facebook. If you want to read any of John’s novels with your book club, contact him for study guides. The Light of Tara is available on Amazon.