St. Patrick’s Gargoyle is a fantasy set in an alternate version of modern Dublin, in which gargoyles are the avatars of angels, set to watch over certain buildings. It seems like a fairly straightforward, if often dull, assignment until a terrible evil begins to awake under the ruins of an old, old church, and Paddy (the gargoyle from St. Patrick’s Cathedral) must enlist the aid of a human being to prevent disaster from taking hold of the world.
I (Barbara) have long been a fan of Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni Chronicles, and so when I was wandering the shelves of the local library, looking for some light reading, I picked up this book. Although it is set in a slightly adjusted version of our modern world, it does not fit into the urban fantasy genre. The only supernatural beings frequenting the land are gargoyles, which turn out to be the earthly appearance of avenging angels, each guarding a building. The evil that threatens the world is a demon that had been contained a millennium ago by a Templar and who now is beginning to break free as the bonds that hold it wear down with age.
The book seems to be a work written to fit into the Templar Series, which imagines events that might have happened if the Templar Order had not really been destroyed in the early 1300s. In this imagining, the Templars were not hording wealth but protecting items of magical power, including a statue that contains a powerful demon, and sacred relics. In this book, the Templars seem to have died out … or are unreachable at a crucial junction… and their spiritual heirs are orders such as the Knights of Malta, the Knights of St. John, etc., which means that it does not fit into the Templar Series exactly but has a similar flavor and premise.
In St. Patrick’s Gargoyle, the title character, Paddy, befriends an old man, Templeton, in the course of recovering items that were stolen from the church Paddy guards. In fact, Paddy pretty much requisitions Templeton’s help and old car in order to locate the thieves, deal with them, and recover the church’s property. It is an exciting day for the old man who deals remarkably well with the oddity of having a living gargoyle ride around in his car, giving orders from underneath a tartan blanket. After the day passes, the old man, and friends and family, wonder if he has gone round the bend, and Templeton spends some time around the cathedral afterward, looking to see if there really is a gargoyle at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He doesn’t have long to wait before a great evil in the form of a demon threatens the world, and the gargoyle learns that he needs a human knight in order to put things right … sending him to recruit Templeton to the cause.
- The human, Templeton, is well written. I had a strong sense of who he was and a great deal of sympathy for his life as a pensioner in modern Dublin, living with his kids, mourning his late wife, and escaping occasionally through driving his classic Rolls and meeting with his fellow Knights of Malta. He takes chivalry very seriously, which puts him at cross-purposes occasionally with family and acquaintances, but made me like him all the more.
- There are a few scenes that are very touching and lovely. SPOILER: I probably should have seen it coming, but certain plot developments surprised me.
- Kurtz is a wonderful writer when it comes to bringing history into the narrative, and I learned something of Irish history while I was reading.
- There are many plot holes and complications that make no sense. In the end things happen that make me wonder what we needed Templeton for in the first place. Paddy and the other gargoyles are not supposed to be running around town except at a dark moon, but they are all over the city once the plot gets going – and if they can all hide in the trunk of a car, be as small as they need to be, and become basically invisible to a human, why does Paddy have to hide under a blanket all day when riding with Templeton at the beginning?
- Details are normally Kurtz’ great strength, but I found the minutia regarding differences between Catholic and Protestant dogma boring and pedantic – and it stretched credulity that two laypeople would even have such a conversation. Information about the churches and other buildings adorned with gargoyles (or not as the case may be) was also a distraction from the story.
I finished St. Patrick’s Gargoyle only because I had set myself a goal to read a certain number of books this year. Having invested in half a book, I figured I’d better recoup my time and get credit for completion. The last few pages were the best; so I am glad I did finish it off, but throughout, it seemed that the work did not hold together properly. St. Patrick’s Gargoyle felt like a short story stretched to fit a book through the overlay of too many details about architecture, theology, and obscure modern chivalric orders. While these are details that make the Deryni Chronicles live, they only weighed St. Patrick’s Gargoyle down.
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St. Patrick’s Gargoyle by Katherine Kurtz
© 2012 – 2015, Barbara. All rights reserved.