Saints and Martyrs


Young Adult - Coming of Age
334 Pages
Reviewed on 06/09/2021
Buy on Amazon

Author Biography

Aaron Francis Roe teaches English and Communications at Bow Valley College. He lives with his family in Calgary, Alberta. Saints and Martyrs is his first novel.

    Book Review

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.

Ruffina Oserio

Saints and Martyrs: A Novel by Aaron Roe is a humorously narrated story and a rollicking ride that follows Damian, a scared young man who is ashamed of his sins, often hiding in his Grandma Schiller’s basement. His mother is an overbearing woman who nags and pushes him to pursue a religious vocation that does not attract him, which is why he runs away and starts working as a porter. But secular life does not seem to provide the answers to his questing soul. He would love to write his father’s life and prove to everyone that he was a saint. He believes that Mount Angelus Seminary, nestled on a mountaintop, will provide what he needs to become a saint. While in the seminary, he continues to struggle with his sin of masturbation and letters from his Uncle Rick bring startling revelations about the part of his father he didn’t really know. Is his place really in the priesthood or in the secular world? Follow this young protagonist’s spiritual odyssey in search of inner freedom and purpose. Does he have the courage to follow his heart’s deepest desires?

This is a wonderful story that explores the effects of religiosity and fanaticism on growing children. Damian is a character that readers will adore, and if anyone has been in a family where parents want their children to become priests, they will understand the pressure he experiences. I enjoyed the way Aaron Roe explores the themes of sin, spirituality, and religion. The use of irony is brilliant. Damian goes to the seminary in order to expunge himself of his guilt and find his calling, the path to sainthood, but it is in the seminary where he understands that he was made for something quite different. The use of the epistolary style is excellent and it helps in building the themes and exploring the relationships between the characters. This is a humorously told story that challenges readers to rethink their choices, examine their beliefs, and consider the intersection between spirituality and humanity. Saints and Martyrs: A Novel can be read as religious satire, but one that is deep in its exploration of authenticity and true calling.

Romuald Dzemo

A fun read is what anyone would describe Aaron Roe’s debut novel, Saints and Martyrs, but it will be an understatement because the story is just wonderfully written, exploring religious themes and a young protagonist’s quest to understand where he fits into God’s plan. Young Damian is fatherless, and while he wants to believe that his father was a saint, he has issues with his mother imposing choices. His favorite place is Grandma’s basement where he contemplates the crucifix, torn between his desire to be holy and his human nature. When he has had enough of his mother’s nagging, he leaves home to live by himself, but things do not work as he had envisioned. So, he changes his mind, thinking that his mother might be right that his place is in the priesthood. Getting accepted into Mount Angelus Seminary is the first step to sainthood and one that will validate the sanctity of his own father. But he quickly discovers that in terms of atmosphere, the seminary is like a sarcophagus, suffused with a grim sense of death. He still struggles with his sins, and at one moment he has to choose between following what his mother wants for him and what he truly desires. Will walking out of the Church provide the answer to the inner peace he has sought and allow him to serve God according to his own nature?

One of the things that caught my attention was that the blurb mentioned the seminary and the religious conflict in this story. I was curious, because I was once a seminarian and after spending seven years in the seminary, I can definitely relate to the experience of young Damian Kurt. This story is well-crafted and features skillfully developed religious themes. Damian is a character that readers will relate to; a young man torn between the dreams his mother has for him and his own natural inclinations. Characters like Grandma Schiller, Uncle Rick, Fr. Dennis, Theodore and Harold are well-imagined and skillfully written and each fits perfectly into Damian’s conflicting world.

For a debut novel, Saints and Martyrs is a top-rate story with compelling characters, a mesmerizing drama, and strong religious themes. Aaron Roe’s prose is stellar and the dialogues are masterfully written. The humor and the sarcasm lift the entertainment to a whole new level, compelling readers to reflect on their own choices in life and the validity of the influences of those who matter in their lives. At the heart of this book is the question: Are our choices independent or forced onto us by those who, presumably, have our best interests at heart? This novel is a gripping read for those who enjoy sophisticated characters and an engaging plot.

Grace Masso

Saints and Martyrs by Aaron Roe is a compelling novel with strong themes of religion, personal growth, family, and vocation. Damian Kurt is a young man who believes that his father was a saint, and even if he struggles with his base nature, challenged by masturbation, he believes that he can write his father’s story and prove that he was a saint. His mother nags at him and emotionally tortures him by throwing his sins at him. Nevertheless, when he has had enough of her controlling nature, he leaves home, determined to live a secular life. However, life out there is not what he had imagined it to be, and he runs back, accepting to go to the seminary to pursue sanctity. But Mount Angelus Seminary turns out to be a morbid place that has anything but the inspiration he has longed for. Can he make it through the seminary or follow his own heart’s desire for a meaningful life in the secular world?

Saints and Martyrs has strong religious themes, sophisticated characters, and conflict in the inner world of a young man in his search for meaning and his calling in a world filled with religious fanaticism. The characters are fully drawn and I loved how the author develops the family dynamics in Damian’s home, allowing his interactions with his mother, grandma, and siblings and their worldviews to come out in the story with clarity. The young protagonist struggles with the idea of sin and his mother makes it even more complicated for him by reminding him of his trespasses too often. There are twists that readers will not see coming and surprises that Damian meets along his path. The setting is gorgeously written and readers will enjoy how the author creates the world of the seminary, a place that, contrary to what Damian believed, lacks the sense of joy and the freedom that he seeks. Saints and Martyrs is rippling with humor, a story about making life’s choices, and one that explores the influence of a mother in a son’s calling. Great writing, exceptional plotting, and characters that make wonderful companions.

Vincent Dublado

Saints and Martyrs by Aaron Roe casts a wary and dramatic look at a sensitive topic that involves the Catholic Church as the tale focuses on a young man named Damian Kurt. Raised in a devout Catholic family, Damian is a homeschooled boy who wants to follow his deceased father’s footsteps by becoming a saint and, by the grace of God, join his father in heaven. But the road to sainthood is not easy, and he must expunge his own sins as part of his step to sainthood. Moreover, he must free himself from the shackles of his extremely pious mother, who has educated him about creationism and the flaws of evolution that she has similarly imparted to his siblings. After an accident that leaves him with a concussion and a list of sins that continues to accumulate, he decides to leave home and explore the possibility of priesthood in a mountaintop seminary. Here he expects to find solitude and a sanctuary that appeals to his spiritual senses. But what he finds is a paradox to what he truly seeks.

While this is a fictional story, the level of realism makes you think that this could have even happened. Aaron Roe’s writing impressively balances the scope of his storyline with the sense of intimate and unwavering faith that the characters display. Damian has an unshakeable faith, and you find that most of the scenes have something to do with him contemplating his sins to the point that he is unconsciously debasing himself for the sake of forgiveness. By the time he enters the seminary, where he comes to discover the hypocrisy that he is not ready for, it hits you as the reader with a much harder impact. Perhaps because in reality, a sacred institution such as the Catholic Church has the propensity toward ominous self-protection and taking refuge in the security of the cloth. Saints and Martyrs is a sobering tale that will open your eyes.