Books: The Monk Who Came in from the Cold

"A ninth-century Irish monk travels to Byzantium and beyond in this rousing historical novel by the author of the best-selling Pendragon Cycle."

Byzantium,by Stephen Lawhead (HarperPrism/ Zondervan, 646 pp.; $24, hardcover). Reviewed by Tim Stafford.

The crossover novel—a work of fiction written from a Christian point of view, yet appealing to general audiences—is an uncommon thing in this century. Catholic writers like Graham Greene or Evelyn Waugh have managed the trick masterfully, but their faith was so tormented by doubt that many believers, while admiring the art, may find the Christianity tortured out of recognition. Only a few Christian novelists have achieved notable sales while writing about a Christianity anyone would want to follow. (Susan Howatch and C. S. Lewis have done so in their very different ways, and Frank Peretti, too.) It is not easy to include God in a story aimed at a skeptical, materialistic audience, or to describe faith for those to whom pious is invariably pejorative.

Stephen Lawhead deserves notice in this context. He writes popular fiction, mostly found in the fantasy/science fiction section of your local bookstore. With his Pendragon series he became an undeniable commercial success, especially in the United Kingdom. Delving into the legendary history of early Britain, when Druids and Christians contested the future of the Celts, Lawhead wrote about people of faith and even showed the supernatural in a way that was not off-putting to unbelievers. He tapped the growing interest in Celtic lore, and, like all successful novelists, he told a good yarn.

Byzantium, Lawhead's hefty latest effort, is something of a departure from his previous work in that it contains no fantastic elements (it is historical fiction), and most of the action takes place far from Britain. His protagonist, Aidan, is an Irish monk sent off to Constantinople ...

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Books: The Monk Who Came in from the Cold
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December 9, 1996

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