Welcome to Wednesday Writers! Today’s guest is award-winning author Antony Barone Kolenc. Antony will be sharing an excerpt from the first book in his inspirational historical fiction trilogy The Harwood Mysteries Trilogy, Shadow in the Dark. He’ll also give us a peek into the history behind the series. Welcome, Antony!
My award-winning inspirational historical fiction series, The Harwood Mysteries, tells the ongoing story of Alexander (“Xan”), a peasant boy in twelfth-century England who—along with his friends, Lucy and Christina—must solve spooky mysteries and go on adventures even as historical events unfold around them. Shadow in the Dark (Book 1) was released in July 2020; The Haunted Cathedral (Book 2) was released in February 2021; and The Fire of Eden (Book 3) was released in July 2021. In this blog post, I give a behind-the-story glimpse at the history behind the novels.
Shadow in the Dark takes place at a fictional Benedictine monastery set in Yorkshire, England, in 1184 A.D. The novel begins as bandits attack Xan’s manor, and he winds up at Harwood Abbey being cared for by the “black monks”—named because of the black robes that the Benedictines wore. The novel explores the historical manorial/feudal system in place during this medieval period, which students learn about in their middle-grade social studies curriculum. Seen through the eyes of a boy who is a “serf”—essentially an indentured servant to the lord of the manor where his family lives—the reader gets an in-depth view of how aristocratic landlords met their obligations to King Henry II by having peasants work their land and pay for the right to live in the village by paying rents of crops and livestock. The book also provides extensive insight into the role of the monasteries and monks in preserving, not only the texts of the Sacred Scriptures, but also the great classic works of Western Civilization. Some of the few literate persons in the middle ages, monks spent their time praying seven times a day and copying these great works of literature.
In The Haunted Cathedral, the action moves to Lincoln, England, in 1185 A.D. The setting of the novel mostly involves the two great historical landmarks of Lincolnshire: Lincoln Castle and Lincoln Cathedral. The history of both structures is explored as Xan, Lucy, and Christina investigate whether the ghost of a little girl haunts the cathedral. In particular, the amazing true story of Lincoln Cathedral is revealed, along with the many tragedies and mysteries that occurred within the church through the ages. The climax of the book tracks a major historical event that takes place within Lincoln Cathedral itself during Holy Week in April 1185, with the main characters experiencing one of the most incredible events ever to take place in Lincoln (which reveals the solution to the ghost mystery, too!).
In The Fire of Eden, also set in 1185, Xan and Lucy spend much of the book at a smaller abbey that is suffering under the type of corruption that was too rampant in the Benedictine order at that time. Indeed, in the century leading up to the novel, there were major reforms going on in monastic life, with new orders and reformers attempting to weed out some of the corruption that had rotted away at the beauties of monastic life up to that time. In the process, readers are introduced to some of the history behind the First and Second Crusades, which took place in 1095 and 1147. The novels build upon the ongoing period of Christian influence in the Holy Land and are leading up to major events in the Third Crusade, already unfolding as the protagonists journey through their teenage years.
The series is both entertaining and educational, and has won seven book awards. I hope you enjoy it!
Shadow in the Dark, Book 1 of The Harwood Mysteries Trilogy
By Antony Barone Kolenc
A peasant boy who lost his memory during an attack by bandits must save a Benedictine abbey in medieval England by solving the mystery of a shadowy figure that walks the abbey’s grounds at night.
Xan cracked open the door. Brother Oscar was nowhere in sight, but snores spilled out from his nearby cell. He slid past the monk’s door and down the steps.
Outside, the mist was getting thicker. His breath rose like wispy fog in the faint moonlight. Even with his shoes on, his feet in the wet grass felt as if they’d been frozen in a block of ice.
This couldn’t possibly turn out well. If the Shadow were one of the monks, he might get in trouble, perhaps even a paddling. If the Shadow were an intruder, he might get attacked. And if it were the angel of death—still a possibility—he might lose his life. After all, two times the Shadow had been seen, and both times someone had died.
All right, God, this may have been a bad idea. Can You help me out of this?
His heart was beating almost loud enough for him to hear it. Yet, in the library beneath that painting, Brother Andrew had told him not to fear death.
“Get your senses about you,” he said aloud, forcing himself to move through the mist.
He took cover at the corner of the hedge—the last place he’d seen the Shadow. Even though the wind was cutting like icicles, sweat clung to the inside of his tunic.
Just then, a branch cracked. A figure moved from the other end of the hedge, but it was not creeping near the trail to Lord Godfrey’s estate. It was heading up the hill toward the abbey!
This was the closest he’d ever been to the shadowy figure but, in all this mist, he could barely make out more detail than from the window.
It was dressed in a robe of dark, woolen material, the same as the monks wore. Its cowl hung so low over its head that it was impossible to tell from this distance if there was even a face beneath the hood.
The angel of death in his nightmare had reached with bony, skeletal hands. This figure didn’t seem to have any hands at all, unless they were tucked inside its robe.
Yet an object was at its side, so it must have had a hand of some sort to grasp with. Its body was blocking the object, but it appeared to be long and narrow, round and thin—a staff or reed of some kind, like the one he had seen on Brother Leo’s bed that day he’d first met the monk.
Xan’s paralyzed legs wouldn’t move to follow it. John was right: he must be a dotie fool to do this. What if this were that bandit, Rummy? The young boys might find his dead body crumpled in a heap on the meadow in the morning. Then they’d have nightmares for all their days.
Except if he went back without discovering the truth, they’d have nightmares anyway.
The hooded figure reached the top of the grassy hill—limping slightly, as though in pain—and headed into the granges.
There was no use debating anymore. Xan couldn’t go back to the dorm now without completing his mission. A crowd of young boys probably were pressed around the window slits, watching his every move. They were counting on him.
Want to read more of this seven-time-award-winning series? You can check them out on Amazon:
The Haunted Cathedral
An orphaned boy, forced to journey with the bandit who murdered his family, hopes to communicate with his dead parents by capturing the ghost of a little girl rumored to haunt a cathedral in medieval England.
The Fire of Eden
When a priceless ruby, known as Eden’s Fire, is stolen from a monk on the eve of his ordination, a peasant boy in medieval England races against time and a dark magician to catch the thief.
About the Author:
Antony Barone Kolenc (“Tony”) is the author of the youth historical fiction series, The Harwood Mysteries, which has won seven book awards. He is also the host of “The Shepherd’s Pie,” radio show and podcast, which focuses on issues that impact young people today. He is an author of fiction and non-fiction books and articles, and a columnist for Practical Homeschooling Magazine. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel from the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps after 21 years of military service. He currently teaches law and speaks at writing, legal, and homeschool events. Tony and his family live in Jacksonville, Florida, and are the proud parents of five children and three grandchildren.