Monday, June 27, 2011

Book Review: Augustine Came to Kent

When I first saw this book, I thought, “Wait, when did Saint Augustine go to Kent? I thought he had lived his whole life in Africa and Italy.” Well, more fool me! This book is a fictional account of the mission of that other historical Saint Augustine to re-convert Britain to Christianity in the late 6th century.

The story follows the life of Wolfstan, who arrives in Rome a captive from England. Sold on the slave market, he is spotted by Pope Saint Gregory the Great, who when told Wolfstan and his companion are Angles, remarks famously, “Not Angles, but Angels!” Wolfstan becomes a ward of Saint Gregory, marries, and has a son-—Wolf. But he always feels a call to return to his homeland. When Saint Gregory calls for a mission to England to be led by the abbot Augustine, Wolfstan and Wolf are eager to brave the perils of the long journey and bring a new birth of Christianity to pagan England.

I found this book to be a good mix of history and fiction where momentous events are related through the eyes of a minor player--Wolfstan’s son, Wolf. The characters are likable and sympathetic, if not terribly colorful. The story flows well and is easily approachable for young readers ages 9 and up. As such, it is a good introduction to a period of the dark ages of which many (your reviewer included) are ignorant. My only quibble is that I wish the story had more narrative drive. There is action, but it always seems to happen “off camera” to be related later. That aside, I think there is enough happening to hold young readers’ attention, particularly girls who may be more in tune with the developing relationships between the characters.

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