I don’t often read Christian fiction.I have a standing prejudice against the entire genre; however I do love Church history and a good historical novel. So Henry Vyner-Brooks novel, The Heretic, caught my eye. Set in 1536, Brooks tale follows the life of Pacificus, a British, Benedictine monk with a leperous brother. Pacificus was once a noble man and he fought in one of the last crusades against the Saracens (Muslims from the Ottoman empire). He is a tortured soul who bears the scars of too much killing and he struggles against his past to live out his vocation as a monk.
Unfortunately for him, the quiet life of St. Benet’s Abbey evades him. England was in the middle of her Reformation and all her citizens find themselves stuck between Church and State (a rock and a hard place). The novel opens with the arrest of a heretic, an Anabaptist woman. Pacificus hides her children (one of whom, he finds out is his niece). His brother, Simon the leper, shares the faith of the woman and her children while Pacificus remains a faithful monk.
However he is also pulled into intrigue. The Church in England was reorganizing and those who were friendly to reform rose and power, while those bishops, traditionalists and churchman who were against reform, find ways to resist (or plot against the king). Despite the fact that Pacificus has a past and is an adept killer, he has a strong moral center and is not seduced by power or sedition. But all around him is murder, conspiracy, torture and betrayal. With the help of his Anabaptist friends, a benedictine novice with a whore-half-sister, Pacificus struggles to navigate the political and spiritual realities of the English State church. They also plot together on how to save the woman (the children’s mother).
The Heretic is a historical novel that reads like an adventure story. The first hundred pages or so, were slow and I had difficulty getting into it, but the next five hundred pages were gripping. While Christian fiction can be preachy, the theology and faith experience of the characters serve the story. And the story has just enough love and romance to keep you happy if you go in for that sort of thing.
On the whole I really enjoyed The Heretic. It is one of those romantic tales with a happy ending for the characters you care about. I give this four stars.
Notice of material connection: I received this book from Kregel Press (the North American distributor for Lion Fiction) in exchange for my honest review.