My paternal grandfather left the Catholic church at the age of 16. The reasons were vague, or they weren’t enumerated, because Grandpa wasn’t a talkative guy. But I’m fairly certain he’s the reason why, with a solid Irish name like Byrne, I’m not Catholic.
I think I learned more about Catholicism reading Tiffany Reisz’s The Saint than I did from any of my Catholic friends and the confirmation classes I had as a teen combined.
Eleanor is almost sixteen when she meets Father Marcus Stearns (that’s Soren to you, thank you very much). He’s tall, blond, a Nordic god sent to Earth to guide their parish. And so begins a complex, twisted, and occasionally depraved relationship between a priest and one of his flock.
This is an origin story. If you look at the reading list provided on Reisz’s website, she says you can read the books in the original quartet (The Red Years) in any order, but you must, must read The Siren first. Well, screw that. I read The Saint first, and not once did I feel lost or like I was missing something. In fact, I think when I go back and read the books in the Red Years quartet, the impact will be that much greater, because I have a better understanding of the bond between Soren and Nora.
Nora as a teen is awesome. Her keen wit and intelligence seem like they’d be wasted on people her age, so it’s not hard to see why she’d welcome the chance to spend time with Soren on an intellectual level. And she’s all too human, prone to mistakes (sometimes huge ones) and hurt feelings. Her attraction to him is immediate, and while it would be easy to keep it on the surface, it doesn’t remain that way for very long. It’s hard to tell when her decision to seduce him morphs into a need to understand every part of him, but it’s quick.
It also goes both ways.
I didn’t expect Soren to be as patient with Eleanor as he was. But in addition to ensuring she understood what she was taking on, he wanted to guide her back to the Church, and to God, and he succeeded. Maybe not the way her mother would have liked, but for all their sinning, Eleanore and Soren are believers, in each other, in love, in God.
I was taken out of the story a few times, when it flashes to the present, and focused on Nora and Nico. Their connection felt nascent compared to her bond with Soren, the sex almost…not perfunctory, but definitely not the emotional purging Nora’s thoughts would have you believe it was. The tension between Eleanor and Soren was hotter and fairly riddled with lust in comparison.
Eleanor has a list of questions she wants to ask Soren, and he makes her write them down, promising he’ll answer them for her. When he does, Reisz delivers a slap across the face, one hard enough to leave your cheek stinging and your eyes watering. I had to re-read it a few times to make sure I wasn’t imagining things (I wasn’t).
That’s pretty indicative of The Saint in general, to expect the unexpected. The relationship is a slow burn and doesn’t follow the path you’d think it would. Sometimes I was as frustrated and annoyed as Eleanor. But the payoff, when it arrives, is well worth the wait. You’re brought to the edge, again and again, and when Reisz finally pushes you over, you’re not sure you’ll survive the fall. And you could give two fucks if you do, because you’ll enjoy the ride all the way down to the bottom.
Copy of The Saint provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.