Savior follows the trials and tribulations of two young men, Rudolf and Conrad, who, against the wishes of their family, join the Christian Crusade in the 13th century to fight for the true faith in the land of the infidels. It is a time in history when religion pervades every aspect of life.  Both men want to escape their home – one for the promise of adventure and glory, the other to escape his own inner demons. The focus of the story is on Rudolf’s struggles with depression and anxiety, and his path to healing.

Rudolf is a young man with everything to live for – he has a fiancé from a good family who loves him, respectable social standing, the means to provide a comfortable life for his prospective family, and the opportunity to inherit a fortified abode to keep his family safe. Yet, he feels only hopelessness and darkness. His life is a living Hell and godless. Depression was not recognised as an illness in this era; it was considered Satan’s work.

Rudolf and his brother are persuaded by the Pope’s emissaries to join the army being assembled to retake the Holy City, Jerusalem. The Church offers salvation to those prepared to join the fight, for when fighting for God, there is no sin too evil or heinous that will not be forgiven. Martyrdom guarantees glory.

“Life indeed is a fruitful thing and victory is glorious, but a holy death is more important than either. If they are blessed who die in the Lord, how much more are they who die for the Lord!”

Martha Kennedy’s depiction of depression is spot on. It presses in upon Rudolf; he is under siege. Rudolf is torn apart by his obligations to his family that are, from a very young age, too heavy a burden to bear. He sinks into a black void from which he cannot escape. Every effort he makes to pull himself out of the mire is stymied by ignorance, superstition, and political agendas. The best that he can hope for is a ‘peaceful’ death in God’s service.

By setting the story against the backdrop of the holy wars, Kennedy taps into our collective anxiety about events in our world today, where recourse to force as a means for seeking peace appears to be the default option of the righteous and powerful.

If we choose, we can learn much from the history of holy wars. There are many quotes from the Christian scriptures and much sermonising in the novel. Some may see this as overly repetitive, but the repetition serves an important purpose. It illuminates the power of words. They become a mantra with the power to brainwash. Later, they will also demonstrate the power to heal. With these religious passages, Kennedy also illustrates that while culture, race and religion may divide us, we are more alike than we realise. The language of the Crusades is the language of Jihad. There are parallels today in the increasing militarism of the Christian religious right and other extremist religious forces. However, if you think that secularism is the solution, then the muscle-flexing of secular ideological superpowers belies this.

The novel highlights the futility of war, and the dangers of blind faith in ideology. The actual battle is dealt with swiftly in the book. Greater emphasis is given to the trauma, both physical and mental, that the war causes. Broken, Rudolf must find a way to live in this world for the ‘peaceful’ death he desired is denied him. Through the love, care and compassion of a wise man, Rudolf is given the weapons to finally find his faith.

I enjoyed this story immensely, even while I fretted about the dark shadows gathering apace in our world today. Kennedy tells a powerful story with skill and sensitivity. Her characters are three-dimensional and the Reader can sympathise with, and relate to, them. The story of Rudolf’s depression is woven carefully into the story. Kennedy explores Rudolf’s world, both mental and physical, in meticulous detail. She does not lecture but lets history do the talking. While the power of institutions can seem overwhelming and unstoppable, Kennedy hints that, like Rudolf, an individual can make and find peace through kindness, compassion, hard work, patience, mercy and nurturing the land that sustains our minds and our bodies.

I highly recommend this book.

My review will eventually appear on GoodReads.  For other reviews of Savior, and information on how to purchase the book, see here.

Information Note:  Savior came to my attention through Martha Kennedy’s blog.  Prior to discovering her blog, I did not know Ms Kennedy.  I did not receive a free copy of her book, nor did Ms Kennedy suggest I read it.  My decision to read and review the book was purely my own.





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