This emotional gripping book, set in Ireland during the middle ages, features a scholar and strictly devout Catholic, Brother Artt, who in a dream believes he’s been sent a vision from God to find a remote sea island and retreat there away from all the corrupting influences of humanity.
In this vision, he sees two others at the monastery he’s visiting as coming with him on this quest and asks the head of the cloister for permission to take them with him. One Trian, came to the monastery at age 13, his parents turning him over due to an undisclosed defect. The other, Cormac, came late to religion after losing his wife and three young children to the plague. Both acquiesce when asked by now Prior Artt: Trian to escape the crowded monotony of the monastery and Cormac feeling honored in his old age to have such a purpose.
After a tumultuous sea voyage on a fragile hide sailboat, the trio finally comes across two scraggy rocky outcrops in the sea, and names the bigger one Great Skellig. Home to innumerable birds and wildlife, but with no fresh water and poor soil for any vegetation, the settlement is off to a precarious start. Trian, all energy and muscle, figures out how to secure food for the trio. Cormac, a talent builder and farmer, works ingeniously to create an altar, church and shelter as well as coax seeds he brought to life.
Meanwhile, Prior Artt who equates religious devotion with suffering, prioritizes copying manuscripts to secure their glory through the ages over anything to secure their survival. As provisions dwindle and winter approaches, the Prior refuses to allow trading with nearby islands or the mainland, and suddenly the group’s survival is in question.
From there, the tension between the trio devolves to a crisis point.
Thought-provoking about what can devolve from rigidity and religious blind faith.
Thanks to Little Brown and Company and NetGalley for an advanced reader’s copy.