In Book 5 of The Hawk and the Dove series, Abbot John is still feeling his way in his new position at St. Alcuin’s Abbey, where he is devastated to learn of the horrific attack on his mother and sister. Saintly women and healers, the two are accused of being witches, then attacked by a group of violently drunk men. While his sister Madeleine, gang-raped, beaten and left for dead, survives the brutal assault, his mother does not. Accompanied by Father William, John visits Madeleine at the convent where she has found sanctuary. But the encounter is more painful than John ever imagined. His sister, now a shell of herself, glares at him with eyes that sear his soul. Hatred and pain emanate from Madeleine, who blames her brother for her horror and their mother’s death. If he had been living with them, instead of leaving to become a monk, the attack would not have occurred. Consumed by guilt and grief, John sinks into despair far darker than the hour before dawn. But God, in His great wisdom, uses an unlikely soul to lead John back into the light.
"THE HOUR BEFORE DAWN is the ultimate comfort food. It gently envelops the reader in another time and place, poetically revealing each character’s strengths and vulnerabilities, unveiling a story that captivates from beginning to end."
Father William is no saint, a fact of which he is painfully aware. His journey into a “spiritual” life was more ambition than vocation. In truth, he does not understand the concept of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Becoming a monk was an escape from the home where his painful childhood was spent at the hostile hands of sadistic parents, and a way to acquire power. After years of abusing that power, he and his brothers-in-crime reap what they have sown. Angry villagers burn the monastery, killing all but William and Brother Oswald. In Book 4, William arrives at the Abbey seeking refuge. After much debate, the brothers of St. Alcuin’s take him in, an act that softens his soul, giving him a glimpse of the Christ he never really knew. He and Abbot John develop an unlikely friendship, and it is William who is at his side when John crumbles.
William tells him, “This is your sorrow, but it is not your fault. It is the way of the world. People lend themselves to working great evil sometimes. That’s how it is. We are made to be able to carry the pain of that, and to recover. But we are not made to bear the guilt. If we try to do that, it crushes us.”
With William’s help and wisdom, John journeys back to the Abbey, wondering if his crushed spirit can withstand the role as Abbot. Indebted to William for getting him through the worst of it, John agrees to help William find Brother Oswald, the other surviving monk. John had seen him months before, starving and living on the streets. Upon arriving in the village, John and William spot Brother Oswald. At least what’s left of him. Brutal villagers had committed all kinds of horrific crimes upon Oswald, including cutting out his eyes and tongue. The two rescue the half-dead monk, bringing him to Madeleine for much-needed surgery. And here God does what goes beyond human understanding. He shines his light into their darkness. As John, William and Madeleine focus on helping Oswald, they find God’s grace, healing through the power of his redemptive love.
THE HOUR BEFORE DAWN is the ultimate comfort food. It gently envelops the reader in another time and place, poetically revealing each character’s strengths and vulnerabilities, unveiling a story that captivates from beginning to end. Author Penelope Wilcock successfully tackles the tough issues of grief, guilt, childhood trauma, and spirits crushed nearly to the point of no return, entwined with themes of the resurrection and ascension. I eagerly await Book 6.
Reviewed by Susan Miura on February 17, 2012