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Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite
Saints and Martyrs, a debut novel by Aaron Roe, is essentially a coming-of-age story…with an interesting twist. The coming-of-age that the protagonist, Damian Kurt undergoes is enlightenment about the Catholic Church’s religious control which his well-intentioned mother has been exerting over him and his younger siblings for years and Damian has had it! But he is so entrenched in his beliefs that his deceased father was close to sainthood, a state to which he himself aspires, that he guilt-trips over every transgression, especially those connected to his sexual urges. Damian is a good boy, desperate to do the right thing, and in a rush to confess his sins and stay in a state of grace. He is obsessed with writing his father’s biography to prove his dad’s sainthood. Of course, the only future for such a good Catholic boy is the priesthood. But when he finally gets his chance to fulfill his vocation, the realities of what really goes on in the Catholic Church are mind-blowing. And given the increasingly bad press the Catholic Church is experiencing nowadays, including the most recent discovery of 215 dead indigenous children from the Residential schools, this novel's arrival is timely indeed.
Aaron Roe’s attention to detail, no doubt coupled with plenty of research, has resulted in a captivating read. There will be many readers, like myself, who were raised Catholic and experienced numbing guilt over their sins, but who, as they matured, questioned what they were brainwashed into believing. The ability to make readers identify so closely with Damian’s growing despair and awakening is where Roe’s strength as an author shines. What a superb job he does! Excellent character portrayals, along with smooth, realistic dialogue, an engaging universal discourse, and a well-executed plot are the hallmarks of Saints and Martyrs. This is an auspicious start to Roe’s writing career, somewhat paralleled by his protagonist. The statement by the enlightened Damian that best summarizes what he’s learned as he comes of age is this one: “Some are saints by what they achieve, others by what they endure.” How right he is! And that said, there are many of us who are already saints right here on earth! Somehow now, after reading Saints and Martyrs, I feel a whole lot better about myself. Thanks, Aaron Roe.