I recently had the opportunity to read an advance release of Sword and Serpent, a great new Catholic novel written by Dr. Taylor Marshall. (If you have yet to be blessed by Dr. Marshall, I’d encourage you to visit www.taylormarshall.com and read his blog and listen to his podcasts full of down-to-earth, practical advice and theological instruction. He is also the founder of the New Saint Thomas Institute, an online school of theology where you can learn the faith at your own pace without paying exorbitant tuition rates for university courses! www.newsaintthomas.com) Marshall’s new novel, a seamless genre-blend of historical fiction and LOTR-style fantasy, is a retelling of the story of St. George and the dragon geared for a young adult audience, but is readily accessible and enjoyable by people of all ages who love epic tales of romance, adventure, and chivalry.
Set during the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian, Sword and Serpent introduces us to an empire in which the old pagan ways are failing, and Christians are viewed with suspicion, and often outright hostility. A new persecution is on the verge of breaking out, and in the midst of this, we meet a youth called Jurian, which is a nickname given to Georgius by his father, a Legionary and Legate whose death had a suspicious air to it, but which left Jurian and his mother and sister impoverished and outcast from a society in which they had at one point been nobility. As persecution begins here and there against the Christians, Jurian and his sister are forced to flee, and make their way toward Rome to hopefully find some family and a future. Along the way, Jurian meets other Christians, among them notable saints such as St. Christopher, St. Blaise, and St. Nicholas, who help him along his journeys, both physical and spiritual. Meanwhile, in Cyrene, we’re introduced to the priestess Sabra, who has been serving an ancient god that demands human sacrifice, lest in his wrath, he destroy the city and its inhabitants. But when the priestess herself is chosen to be the next sacrifice, will she still perform her duty to the god, or will she flee to preserve her life and doom the city?
The novel is about 350 pages of action, intrigue, humour, and wit, with lovable characters, shocking, tear-jerking moments, and a vivid, historical setting. Jurian is far from the plaster-cast mould of Saint-ness, and Sabra is far more than simply the damsel-in-distress. Marshall captures eloquently the characters’ motivations, desires, failings, and virtues in a way that brings them to life. Of particular note is his portrayal of St. Nicholas, whose enigmatic insights and quirky sense of humour leave the reader scratching their head at one moment, and laughing out loud the next! Through it all, the themes of courage, sacrifice, virtue, and love and illustrated, and God’s providence weaves its tapestry through the choices, triumphs, and even failures of each character.
Far and away, though, the greatest triumph of this endearing story is Marshall’s ability to tell a good, captivating tale about Christians and yet not have it feel like a preachy “Christian” book. Taylor Marshall’s first foray into fiction stands on par with my favourite fantasy fiction, the Chronicles of Narnia, and I eagerly await a sequel! Be sure to contact the Branches store to order copies of Sword and Serpent to give to the readers on your Christmas list this year!