The Chronicles of Xan, Part I: Shadow in the Dark (Second Edition, OakTara Publishers 2013) by Antony Barone Kolenc

The Chronicles Trilogy unfolds during Lent of 1184 AD. The author invites the reader to feel, see, hear, taste and smell life as it was. The smells aren’t always pleasant. With the Rule of Saint Benedict as their guide the monks of Harwood Abbey and the nuns in the adjacent convent “Prayed and Worked” as they lived out the liturgical rhythm, threw themselves into their ministries, labored in the fields or scriptorium, advancing toward a richer personal and communal peace; order and mutual love. Well, almost; Brother Leo was quite agrouch and would argue with almost anyone. Despite his outbursts, charity and peace prevailed.

Bandits violently sowed discord as they raided nearby Hardonbury Manor. They killed or scattered the serfs. A dark robed figure rescued the bleeding and unconscious thirteen-year-old Xan. He regained consciousness in the Abbey’s infirmary and slowly entered the communal life of the monastic orphanage. Brother Andrew became his teacher and father figure; Sister Regina, Xan’s confidant and mother figure. Lucy, also a young teen from the convent befriended Xan opening the possibility of intimacy in their relationship over time. Xan confronted the bullies of the orphanage and won friends among the younger boys.

Soon a frightful mystery consumed the orphan boys: they spied a dark clad figure, perhaps death itself who stalked the monastery. The orphans wondered, “Who is this dark stranger?” Xan no less frightened than the others, earned respect for his bravery and wisdom as he and his young friends sorted through the evidence in search of the missing clue to the mysterious shadow and its close association with death.  Meanwhile Xan’s life and that of the entire community suffered from the complex church vs. state conflicts that threatened lives at the monastery. With each chapter Xan grew as a person preparing for his future path.

The Chronicles of Xan fall into the category of Juvenile Fiction, mainly because Xan the protagonist and his young friends carry the story. The young reader can identify with the heroics and wisdom of Xan as well as his everyday problems: dealing with a bully, weighing his feelings toward a girl friend, considering his future and the major problems he faced as an orphan. Xan, like modern young adults and persons of all ages, pondered questions such as, “Why does God permit suffering?” Why does God punish me?” “Is there a God?” “How do we find happiness in an imperfect world?” “How can I forgive those who murdered my parents?” Fortunately for Xan, the greater monastic community had embraced him, offered him security, education, acceptance and guidance as he sought solutions to these troublesome questions.

Antony Kolenc has skillfully woven a story that will satisfy people of all ages. He maintained a high level of suspense, laid out tempting clues along with the red herrings, while he educated his readers. For instance he used dialog rich in phrased likely used in 1148 AD. He defined modern terms that originated in medieval times and carefully described the world in which Xan lived and worked. Kolenc researched the details of the monastic life as it played out during the reign of England’s Henry II with the aid of Dr. Jennifer Paxton, an expert in Medieval History, to insure that the second edition of Shadow in the Dark met his high standards.

The Chronicles demonstrate practical spirituality. Through Xan the readers are challenged to live out their beliefs and turn toward God for answers to their own troublesome questions. Although Shadow in the Dark meets the definition of Juvenile fiction, this adult enjoyed it and benefited from it.

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

The Haunted Cathedral, by Antony Barone Kolenc (published by OakTara, 2013)

How could a story about Xan, a twelfth century English orphan possibly relate to today’s youngsters? Xan was neither caped-crusader nor superhero. Violence destroyed his neighborhood and family. He was poor, undernourished, homeless, and the victim of bullies. His relationship with his girlfriend became very complicated. Xan had no real control over his life and destiny. As a serf, the lord of his manor “owned” him. His uncle could have forced him to move away from his friends and serve as his apprentice in an unfamiliar city. With all this baggage, the reader can see why resentment could grow in Xan’s heart.

Xan’s teacher Brother Andrew reminded the boy that we pray “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And “If someone strikes your right cheek, turn your left as well.” Xan found these scriptures harsh especially after his bleeding mouth had swollen from a bully’s punch and when the Abbot prevented the local lord from executing the leader of the bandits who raided Xan’s village, killed his family and then attacked the monastery, injuring the Abbot.

Xan reflected on his difficulties during a cart ride from rural Harwood Abbey to the major city of Lincoln, its castle and haunted cathedral. His companions on this trip included, Brother Andrew, two armed guards and Carlo, the hated leader of the bandit gang. The relationships between the passengers reached a climax in a confrontation between Xan and Carlo. Could Xan see any good in the bandit? Could he trust Carlo with the lives of others?

While Xan awaited a meeting with his uncle, to decide his future, he toured Lincoln with neighborhood children. They showed him the sights, especially the haunted cathedral. Xan and his new friends attempted to solve the ghostly-mystery. Again, Xan’s analytical powers aided by the advice of trusted adults and the cunning of his companions, brings to light what had confounded everyone else. Carlo provided a key to the mystery, in the form of an unwelcome gift. Xan reluctantly accepted the gift while hating it almost as much as he hated Carlo. As events unfolded, the gift revealed its life-changing significance, suggesting repentance and inviting forgiveness.

Antony Barone Kolenc keeps his readers in constant suspense with his twisted story line while he delivers a powerful emotional punch and material for spiritual reflection. The Chronicles of Xan II: The Haunted Cathedral, speaks to all generations as it represents the pain and promise of growing up in any century. It recognizes the gift of children, their contributions to the community and the need for intergenerational dialogue. Antony Barone Kolenc has carefully crafted this second book in the Xan Trilogy as and excellent resource for educators, parents and youthful students. It deserves a place at the top of reading lists for school reading programs and in the personal libraries of those who love a great mystery.

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

The Chronicles of Xan III: The Fire of Eden (OakTara Publishers, 2013)

The Fire of Eden (Antony Barone Kolenc, published by OakTara Press, 2013)

For better or worse, others have imposed major decisions and their consequences on the lives of children. Nevertheless, even young people have made decisions that affected the rest of their lives. In Chronicles of Xan III: The Fire of Eden like Adam and Eve, most of the characters in this mystery must decide between good and evil, life and death, hope and despair, which calling they should follow and where should they store their treasures. Once decided, the characters must pay the cost and reap the benefits of their choices.

The third phase of Antony Barone Kolenc’s Chronicles of Xan trilogy reveals long hidden secrets of his all too human characters. Their weaknesses fueled Xan’s doubts as to his own pathway. His uncle pressed him to accept his invitation to apprenticeship. The monks of Harwood Abbey offered Xan a place in their novitiate. His relationship with Lucy intensified as providence brought them together.

The story began as a Church-State conflict complicated plans for Brother Andrew’s ordination. Consequently, a party from Harwood Abbey, including its Prior, Father Clement, Brother Andrew, several other monks, Xan and a select group of orphans traveled north to Grenton Priory, more of a wayside hostel than a rigorous monastic community. Among the other wayfarers lurked swindlers, highwaymen and a mysterious stranger. Brother Andrew’s mother, her servants and armed guards, Lucy and her brother all converged on the Priory.  Brother Andrew’s family secrets and his early-life decisions came to light to the discomfort of many. As the assembled cast of characters awaited the arrival of the Prince-Bishop of Durham, a seemingly impossible theft raised suspicion that an evil magician had moved through walls or bewitched the guardians of a priceless treasure.

Meanwhile the children entertained themselves about the Priory. Once the official investigation of the theft began, Xan and his young friends coordinated their gifts and disabilities to address the mystery. Their adventures included surveillance, tracking the movements of priory guests, including the mysterious stranger and a foray into the lair of the evil magician.

At the conclusion of The Fire of Eden each of the many characters, especially Xan, Lucy, Father Andrew and their many friends from Harwood Abbey reached the point where they must each decide what to keep and what to let go in order to gain a better prize. Their lives could never be the same at least not until the author writes another book in the series.

Kolenc represents the conflicts in the lives of the young while offering hope that despite impossible circumstances, with the grace of our loving God and the assistance of loving friends, the people of God can overcome any situation to walk together through every storm life throws at them. In an often dark and hopeless world and a literature that offers little hope, Kolenc’s Chronicles of Xan calls out in the bleakness to guide readers around the obstacles and traps toward hope and happiness. The Chronicles of Xan trilogy belongs on the top of any school or personal reading list for the young and readers of ever age.

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

Race with the Devil by Joseph Pearce



Raised in the Shire, he left its tranquility for an adventure that brought him through battles, dungeons and peril until he found an immense treasure. To possess it, he fought a monstrously evil dragon. We speak not of Bilbo Baggins, but noted Catholic biographer Joseph Pearce.

To know the identity of author Joseph Pearce, you must first meet Joe Pearce, just as you must first encounter Saul of Tarsus to fully understand the greatness of Saint Paul. Like Paul, Joseph Pearce endured more than one beating, stoning (actually they used bricks) and imprisonment. Teresa of Avila equated humility and truth. Through Race with the Devil, Pearce opens his early life to the world, revealing pain, promise and God’s hand in his miraculous transformation.

If you judge a book by its cover, particularly the dust jackets of Pearce’s 2012 Saint Benedict Press publications, Candles in the Dark and Bilbo’s Journey, beware the photos, rich in Hobbit-like dimples and engaging smile. This impression clashes with the cold, determined, mask-like face that stares from the cover of Race with the Devil. When first I viewed this image, I wondered as to the subject’s identity. Imagine my shock at the subtitle: “My Journey (What, this is an autobiography?) from Racial Hatred (This can’t be the noted Catholic author that I’ve read.) to Rational Love.” In this amazement, I share, but in reverse order, the impression of Abbot Richard Yeo, OSB, who in the year 2000, “seemed genuinely astonished that (Pearce) had not only become a Catholic but had written books such as Literary Converts and (his) biography of Chesterton of which (the Abbot) was clearly familiar.” Although mine appears the mirror image of the Abbot’s shock, we both rejoice that “God can indeed mould the most unpromising of clay.”

Pearce dedicated his conversion story to the memory of his father, Albert Arthur Pearce, who taught Joseph to love his heritage, to fistfight-observing the Marquis of Queensberry rules, to appreciate English literature and to educate himself throughout his life. Albert also reinforced powerful nationalistic sentiments and bigotry, all of which played a part in Joseph’s life and set the tone for Race with the Devil.

At the age of sixteen, Joseph founded, published, edited, distributed and wrote for the Bulldog, the newspaper of the Young National Front, an auxiliary of the National Front, a “white supremacist organization that demanded the forced removal of all non-whites from the United Kingdom.” Joseph’s precocious achievement brought notoriety and, if not awards, two all-expenses-paid prison terms. Pearce opposed the immigration of Jamaicans, Indians, Pakistanis and others. (Observe that in Candles in the Dark, Joseph embraced the Jamaican people and the ethnically diverse members of the Missionaries of the Poor.)

His anti-Catholic sentiments brought him “across the sea to Ireland,” not to Galway Bay, but Belfast, “On the twelfth of July when it yearly did come…”* to march with Orangemen, “to the sound of the drum.”* Unprepared for the deadly “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, Joseph nearly became a “statistic.” Many of his friends in the Orange Order later died in that conflict.

Pearce made both friends and enemies. As political positions changed some friends became enemies. In Race with the Devil, Joseph reaches out to his former friends, apologizing for infractions even as small as failing to return a borrowed book or record. Thanks to Albert’s influence, Joseph learned to say something nice even about his enemies, such as the Irishman who broke his nose. The kindness of strangers deeply impressed the young Pearce: the policeman who loaned him the price of a ticket to a Chelsea football match, an adversary who after a heated radio debate, invited Joseph to lift a pint at his favorite pub, as well as the American Jewish attorney who resigned from the British equivalent of the ACLU, when that organization refused to let him defend the anti-Semite Pearce

While still sixteen, Joseph, now a full-time employee of the National Front, commuted four-hours, round-trip each work day. If Hobbits lived in burrows, Pearce spent nearly the equivalent of a day each week in the “Tube.” He read his way back and forth beneath London, completing the mandatory list of White Supremacist, anti-Semitic and anti-Communist tomes. Although still a teen, Joseph’s critical thinking skills kept him from swallowing the entire bait and hook. His reading extended to Orwell to whom Joseph gives credit for part of his conversion. In contrast to Orwell’s bleak, inescapable despair, Joseph considered Alexander Solzhenitsyn a hero who continued to hope despite his confinement in the Gulag Archipelago. In time it was Solzhenitsyn who read the works of Joseph Pearce, opening the door to Joseph’s writing Solzhenitsyn’s authorized biography.

Conversion to Catholicism snuck-up on Joseph Pearce about the time of his second imprisonment. Solitary confinement, like the hours spent riding in the “Tube,” afforded Joseph time for spiritual reading, including two of Newman’s conversion stories, the works of Tolkien, Chesterton and others. Joseph emerged from the chrysalis of prison with his wings not quite ready for full flight. Nourished by the liturgy and a devotion to Our Lady, he still waged many a battle before his acceptance into the Roman Catholic Church and subsequent participation in the Catholic Literary Revival.

Like Bilbo, the dragon slain, Joseph had returned home with treasured faith, but the journey’s not quite done. It may be Joseph’s task to train a Frodo or a host of Frodos to meet and best even greater evils and rescue and share far more glorious treasures. I eagerly anticipate the sequel to Race with the Devil which may well flow from the pen of one of those fortunate few who now studies with this Catholic Literary Giant, Joseph Pearce.

*Modified from “The Old Orange Flute.”

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)