The Hour Before Dawn

I recently finished reading Penelope Wilcock’s book, The Hour Before Dawn. It’s the fifth book in The Hawk and the Dove series, marking the exact midpoint in the nine-part series. I’ve been steadily reading through these books over the course of 2021, since they were recommended to me by my friend Jason and purchased for me as a birthday gift from my parents. So it should be obvious that I’m already a pretty big fan of these books about a group of men living in a Benedictine monastery in 14th Century Yorkshire.

The most notable feature of The Hour Before Dawn is that it actually doesn’t focus on life at the monastery. At least not to the extent that the other books in the series do. Most of the story’s most meaningful action takes place off-site, in the hometown of Saint Alcuin’s abbot, John. The early chapters of the book are dominated by a horrific tragedy involving John’s mother and sister. This sets off a redemptive arc both for John and for John’s sister, Madeleine. And I appreciated the journey undertaken by each of these characters.

But I think the most powerful part of the story came in the middle of the book, with a tertiary character named William. He’s another monk who was transplanted to Saint Alcuin’s in the previous book from the series. He’s not a major player. In The Hour Before Dawn, however, he plays a helpful role in the stories of John and Madeleine. But the most meaningful part of the whole book (for me) happened around two-thirds of the way through the book, when William experienced an intensely personal encounter with Jesus in prayer. The description of William’s encounter with Jesus was so beautiful that it made me cry. It made the whole book worth the read.

Otherwise, though, I have to say that The Hour Before Dawn was my least favorite book in the series. I’ve found the interpersonal dynamics between the brothers at Saint Alcuin’s to be the best stuff in these stories. And there just wasn’t much of those interpersonal dynamics in this one. It focused more on the characters’ internal processing of trauma and grief. Furthermore, most of the action took place away from Saint Alcuin’s. So I hope that future books in the series will return to those things that made me fall in love with the characters and settings to begin with.

I definitely plan to keep reading the series. My heart is too invested in the stories to quit now. Still, if you’re looking for a book recommendation from me, I would say that you’re better off with the original trilogy of The Hawk and the Dove. And then you can decide for yourself what you want to get to do when you reach The Hour Before Dawn.

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