Lions and Souls is a fictionalized account of the life of St. Mary of Egypt. This lesser-known saint lived during the 5th century, a time when the great lighthouse of Pharos still stood in the harbor of Alexandria, Egypt.
The story, which is difficult to follow, begins with Mary as a young girl in her parents’ home with her mother about to give birth. It then follows her wanton existence until she ends up, years later, wandering in a desert, somehow with a heart worthy of being dubbed a saint.
Consistently vague is Mary’s motivation for any of the decisions she makes throughout the story. At age 12, she is convinced by an evil spirit to leave her family forever and promise to never return. Why she agrees and then keeps this promise is a mystery.
She journeys to Alexandria and falls into prostitution, a career she oddly appears to relish. (Writes author John Loranger at one point: “Giggling huskily, Mary joined him under the warm covers.”) Never does she have a morose moment or a sad spirit, and she even refuses the offer of marriage from a man who loves her.
Then, without explanation, Mary embarks on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, funding the trip by cheerfully “servicing” the sailors onboard. While in Jerusalem she, again without explanation, experiences an epiphany. By this time, the book is nearly over, and what she does to qualify herself as a saint is fuzzy; a short epilogue notes that she lived the last part of her life as a holy person wandering the desert.
Loranger has the beginnings of a valuable story but will need to rework and clarify. If the book is about a saint, the saint’s attributes ought to be emphasized over her pre-saint life. As it stands, readers will be no closer to understanding why Mary was worthy of sainthood than before they began this account, making for an unfulfilling reading experience.
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