Penelope Wilcock in her new book The Hardest Thing to Do Book Four in The Hawk and the Dove series published by Lion Hudson returns us to the monastery of St Alcuin.
From the back cover: 14th century Yorkshire: the time of Chaucer.
The Hardest Thing to Do starts one year after the end of the third book, The Long Fall. The peaceful monastery of St Alcuins is settling down and adjusting to the new abbot who has be chosen to take the place of Father Peregrine.
Then a deeply detested enemy, Prior William, arrives seeking refuge. Reluctantly taking in the man who so ill-treated their much-loved former leader, the upended community must address old fears and bitterness while warily seeking reconciliation. But will William the refugee spread poison, or receive healing?
In her fourth book in the series, Penelope Wilcock wrestles with the difficulties of forgiveness and the cautions of building trust. What is truly the hardest thing to do?
Welcome back to St. Alcuin. Ms. Wilcock is giving us the first of three sequels to the celebrated The Hawk and the Dove trilogy takes place one year after the end of The Long Fall. What would you do if an old enemy came to the door seeking refuge? Prior William is not loved nor trusted but he is telling them a different story. How are they supposed to handle this? This is fascinating stuff. Betrayal, Forgiveness and Trust are just some of what has to be dealt with. Ms. Wilcock is a highly gifted author who knows how to give us deeply human characters that have strong emotions. Ms. Wilcock has given us a unique story that will capture your attention as you read and flip pages as fast as possible. I recommend this book highly.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Lion Hudson. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.
The brothers of St. Alcuins are back in this fourth book, preparing for the new abbots return. Brother John is now the Abbot and has returned after a years training in Cambridge to take up the position of leader of St. Alcuins. He doesnt feel up to the task of filling Father Peregrines shoes. As he begins his service, he is overwhelmed with the details and never-ending duties of his office. He still has the heart of a healer and sometimes wonders if he has made the right decision is becoming abbot.
In addition to all his new responsibilities, an enemy of Father Peregrines shows up at the doorstep of the monastery seeking admittance. This throws the brotherhood into division as to how to proceed with this newcomer in their midst. Some want to refuse him admittance while others plead to show mercy and the love of Christ to him. Can the brothers come to a uniform decision or will this be a splinter that continues to fester until the infection spreads unchecked.
I would recommend reading the series in order from the beginning before reading this fourth book. I have enjoyed this series tremendously. The writing evokes emotions and touches the heart. I cant imagine having less in common with monks in medieval England, but their emotional and spiritual struggles ring true to me in this day and age. The author writes with great depth and has researched well her topic. I feel as if Im right there in the monastery with the monks, living life with them daily. Readers will see humor in some characters, legalism in some and great compassion and mercy by showing the love of Christ in others. This series is definitely on my keeper shelf and I hope it will be on your shelf as well!
This novel is the fourth in The Hawk and the Dove series. It is a little different than the others in that it goes day by day through the season of Lent.
Lent is the time of taking away comforts. Yet, for Brother Conradus, the hardest thing was remembering to do all he had been told and asked to do. For Brother Cormac, the hardest thing to do was break the fast after Holy Week.
For Brother Tom, the hardest thing to do was forget past injustices and be willing to show grace to an enemy. This difficult task comes to the forefront when John returns to the abbey. He'd been away to Cambridge for a year of training to be the abbot. Upon his return, prior William arrives, destitute and in need of a place to stay. While John wants to show grace, Tom cannot forget the injustice William showed to Father Peregrine.
This novel is a good study in character. I loved how John, on his journey back to the abbey, gave away all his food and money. He is a giving and humble man. He is uncomfortable when he is shown deference because he is the abbot elect. He learns that nearby St. Dunstan's had burned and most of the monks, detested by the community, had died in the fire. Not prior William, however.
The good character traits of the monks at St. Alcuin's Abbey are tested when prior William asks for residence. Many know this William and do not like him at all. While John wants to show grace, the monks are adverse to having such a horrible man in their abbey. Is William a man who should be shown mercy or is he really a wolf in sheep's clothing?
I enjoyed this novel. I continued to learn about abbey life, this time specifically about Lent and what meager food they ate. I was also faced with some good spiritual lessons. One was illustrated by Brother Tom. He has a quick temper and must frequently ask for forgiveness. ...Brother Tom wondered how other people managed ordinary people outside the monastery walls who tried to muddle along without this discipline of humble contrition to heal the wounds made by human carelessness. (118) That reminded me of how infrequently at church we are reminded of our sins and are given opportunity to repent, even silently.
There are other lessons too, such as trying to see a situation from another's viewpoint before being so quick to pass judgment. And then there is forgiveness. Do we forgive past hurts, unconditionally, even when the mean person has not repented or asked for forgiveness?
I recommend this novel to those who enjoy historical fiction. You'll learn a great deal about how an abbey functioned during the fourteenth century. You'll also meet godly men who struggle to follow the rule of St. Benedict as they follow Christ.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.
"The Hardest Thing to Do" is book four in a most wonderful series. I marvel at the way Penelope has imagined the whole world of St. Alcuin's Abbey, peopling it with fine, deeply human characters and plotting it with startling surprises and satisfying resolutions, and then giving us that world through her novels.
If a monastic community in the 1300s sounds too far removed from your daily life to be remotely relatable, then think again. The men of St. Alcuin's are each distinct unto themselves (and they become more themselves as you meet them in each episode) but they are Everyman too. The essential struggles of being human- choosing and renouncing, becoming and accepting, receiving and losing, growing and remembering- are their struggles, and yours and mine too.
The other thing I really enjoy about this series is their integrity, by which I mean that they have no pretense. They're not a story varnished with "Christianity" so that they can stay within the bounds of "Christian Fiction." Instead, they're the stories of men who've sworn to lay down their very lives for a Risen Christ. The brothers' preferences and attitudes, their time and energy, their animosity and comradeship, their doubts and prayers and work and calling- it finds its grounding in the Gospel.
Because of this, and thanks to the sensitive heart of the author, the character's conversations and meditations (and most of their meditation is really wrestling with God!) show us what they're learning about life and the One who gives it. There's a lot for a thoughtful reader to think about, and it all belongs to the characters of the story. It's not an awkward sermonette from an author, who interrupts the story to deliver a Christian PSA.
Because of this, if a non-religious friend thought the books sounded interesting, I'd loan them in a heartbeat.
If I've piqued your curiosity at all, do yourself the favor and get this series onto your shelf
Plot: It's Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, and the monks of Medieval St. Alcuin's Abbey are going about their daily routines, eagerly awaiting the arrival of their new abbot, John, who was formerly the abbey's infirmarian and had just spent a year at Cambridge preparing to take up the role of abbot. His return was expected any day now and Brother Tom, the abbot's esquire, has been keeping busy getting the abbot's rooms ready for him. On the road, John - still an infirmarian at heart - helps many of the people he meets; one of the men he comes across on his journey is an Augustinian monk from St. Dunstan's Priory which, he is shocked to learn, has recently suffered a catastrophic fire in which many of the monks perished. Troubled by this news, John continues on his journey after helping the man as much as he could. His safe arrival causes relief and joy to fill the abbey, and John begins to settle in his new role as abbot.
When William, the former prior of St. Dunstan's, shows up on the abbey's doorstep a few days later bruised, burnt and hungry, discord and tension spread rapidly among the brothers - fueled by Tom's keen memory of William's cold-hearted cruelty to their former abbot. John, with the burden on responsibility on his shoulders now and being a kindly person, tries his best to keep the peace. But winning forgiveness and a place in the abbey will be a hard battle for William, even with the abbot's goodwill. In fact, it will be the hardest thing he has to do.
Likes/Dislikes: I liked all the characters, how they all interacted with each other and grew in this story. It was amusing to be reading their conversations and find out what each one considers to be the hardest thing they have or had to do. I also especially liked how Tom and William grew throughout the course of the story. It was very interesting to read a book set primarily in a Medieval abbey without having knights, damsels in distress and all the glamorous figures one thinks of from that time period popping in and out of the tale. All in all, a very enjoyable, highly recommended read.
Rating: PG-12 and up for reading level although not necessarily a children's book.
Date Report Written: February 11, 2012.
I received this book free from the publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed in the above review are my own.