Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
“Aiden, I love you like everything.”
I could begin this review of Sierra Simone’s Saint, telling you about the ethereal eroticism of Simone’s writing. I could mention the position of this book in contrast to Priest and Sinner, the way that these books continue big theological debates on faith and life and sacrifice. I could effusively discuss the beauty and depth of Simone’s writing, a style that challenges her readers, providing gravity to the romance genre. I could do all of these things, and if you’re a devoted reader of Sierra Simone, your answer would probably be, “yeah, yeah, yeah. We know this.” With Simone, art is more, and it’s the reason that readers like me eat her stories with a voraciousness born of intentional, exquisite writing. Her Saint is no different.
The story follows the third Bell brother, Aiden. In this book, Aiden has become Brother Patrick aka Brother Lumberjack, living that “monastic life.” It’s been five years since he left Elijah Iverson (yes, Zenny’s brother of Simone’s Sinner) in his farmhouse to join the monastic order. In those five years, while his zeal for God and the monastic life has grown, his love for Elijah has not abated, and he struggles daily to cleave himself deeply to God as a means to pull himself from his tether to Elijah. Interestingly, this struggle continues even though he has not seen Elijah in those five years.
One day, Elijah comes to the monastery to see Brother Patrick and let him know that he is getting married. Thinking this will help in lessening his struggle, it does the opposite. It makes him more rabid for him. Elijah, now a writer for a magazine, decides to write a story about the monks and their business of beer-making, which forces Aiden and Elijah into time together. Much like his brother, Tyler, and his sister-in-law, Zenny, Aiden must contend with his struggles between wanting to give complete devotion to God and his need for Elijah.
Even more, Aiden holds a secret: the reason he left Elijah five years earlier, and he’s not sure that revealing it will make his connection with Elijah easier.
Sierra Simone’s Saint provokes questions about faith. I know that it would easy to focus solely on her ability to craft a story that is titillating and transcendent in equal measure. But there is so much more to Saint, thus focusing on its eroticism feels reductive. Simone uses $ex as a connection, whether its the characters connecting to each other or connecting the story to romance readers. It’s simply a vessel in my estimation, and it draws romance readers to her stories. However, for me, it’s the difficult questions her stories ask that draw me in. With Saint, she’s asking:
Is complete devotion to something, God, an ideology, a morality, innately selfish or selfless? If the original devotion is pure, does that make the actions more selfless?
Is zealousness wrong?
Can one love God and love another without canceling the other out?
Yes, she couches this in Elijah and Aiden’s story. But it made connections for me in our world as part of the COVID debate. The danger of the zeal on both sides of the vaxx/anti-vaxx or the conservative/progressive movements seems dangerous when we should be looking for, as Simone’s book suggests, “a tapestry” of answers. It’s certain I’m reading this into our world, but isn’t that the purpose of literature? Shouldn’t we find ourselves in the stories we read? If we don’t, then why read them? And Sierra Simone is deft at taking people unlike ourselves and showing us where we connect to her characters’ experiences.
Which leads to another profundity of Saint to me. I have a twenty-year-old son, and his current experience with the nature of Aiden Bell’s secret (I don’t want to divulge it in this review) is similar. I’m walking with him through it. Once again, in the elaborate and decadent details of her storytelling, I’m connected to reality. As Simone pours her knowledge and research in the pages of her story, I see my kid more distinctly through the elaboration of Aiden Bell, and it punches me in the heart. This is Sierra Simone’s brilliance.
Is Aiden Bell’s story similar to Tyler and Zenny’s stories? Only in that they make similar choices: to love people while loving God. Their journeys are different, and their reasons are diverse. The challenge of Saint (and I imagine Father Jordan’s future story) is living your beliefs knowing that you have more than two choices. The profundity of that message should hit us all as we remember that we don’t have to exist in the binaries; instead, we can look for more and better ways to love others.
In love and romance,