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)

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