St. Dymphna (the patron of those suffering from nervous and mental afflictions, whose feast day is today) and I go back to about 1996. I can’t recall when or how she first came to my attention. Did I look her up or stumble upon mention of her? I don’t honestly know.
It was about that time that I began to recognize my anxiety issues and learned what a panic attack was. (So, that’s what I’d been experiencing!)
My problem is relatively mild and fairly-well controlled these days. (I wrote about one aspect of my anxiety issues here.) It is not something I’ve ever felt the need to seek medical attention for. But it was enough to lead me to St. Dymphna.
I specifically relied on her intercession during my engagement, when I worried that anxiety (no irony there, huh?) would mar what is to be the most special of days. I still attribute the utter calm and peace I felt on my wedding day to her intercession. I still call on her from time to time, grateful for a patron who understands anxiety and mental illness.
It’s no surprise then, that I eagerly awaited Susan Peek’s latest novel, The King’s Prey, which she has been laboring over for years! Pretty much the only thing I knew about St. Dymphna is that she fled her mentally ill father, who wanted to marry her. (Yikes!) History offers few more details than that, but I knew The King’s Prey would help flesh out those details, bringing me to a greater understanding of her life and martyrdom.
A historical novel based on the life of Saint Dymphna by Susan Peek, the author of fast-paced saints stories for teens.
An insane king.
His fleeing daughter.
Estranged brothers, with a troubled past,
both fighting to save her life.
Who can be trusted?
An insane king. His fleeing daughter. Estranged brothers, with a scarred past, risking everything to save her from a fate worse than death. Toss in a holy priest and a lovable wolfhound, and get ready for a wild race across Ireland. Will Dymphna escape her deranged father and his sinful desires? For the first time ever, the story of Saint Dymphna is brought to life in this dramatic novel for adults and older teens. With raw adventure, gripping action, and even humor in the midst of dark mental turmoil, Susan Peek’s newest novel will introduce you to a saint you will love forever! Teenage girls will see that Dymphna was just like them, a real girl, while young men will thrill at the heart-stopping danger and meet heroes they can easily relate to. If ever a Heavenly friend was needed in these times of widespread depression and emotional instability, this forgotten Irish saint is it!
Martyrdom is brutal and doesn’t necessarily lends itself to a lighthearted treatment. Then again, this is the Church that made St. Lawrence, roasted to death over a slow fire, the patron saint of cooks.
Susan Peek, wisely I think, intertwines St. Dymphna’s difficult story with that of two Irish orphan brothers, Turlough and Brioc. Both will come to her defense, seeking to save her from her insane widowed father’s attempt to force her into marriage to him.
While Dymphna’s father, the king, is largely an unsympathetic character, for obvious reasons, Brioc’s character allows the reader to delve into the mind of someone struggling with mental illness – not a murderous, villainous person, but a good and kindhearted person who has suffered numerous losses and traumas.
Interspersed with mortal peril, swashbuckling, and glimpses of mental illness are lighter moments, many of which come via the overgrown wolfhound, Sam, loved by Brioc and, begrudgingly, Turlough. The novel also delves into the fractured relationship between Brioc and Turlough, the seemingly insurmountable distance between Brioc and his pregnant wife Lynnie, and several minor characters.
In the end, you’ll be left with a fuller sense of the horror of St. Dymphna’s struggle, the beauty of loving sacrifice, and the power of those sacrifices when offered to God for the sake of another. Ultimately, as with every Christian story, there is a message of hope.
As in all of Susan Peek’s books, the pace is quick, the stakes high, and action nearly nonstop, making it a smooth read.