We discussed the writing life, and why I chose to write about Helena, the mother of Constantine, in The Pilgrim.
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Are you ready to travel with Empress Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine the Great, on a perilous journey through ancient Judea to Jerusalem?
I hope so, as my new historical novel, The Pilgrim, released today!
To celebrate, I’ll be giving away copies of the book on my Facebook page during the next few weeks.
I’ll announce the winners this evening after 8 p.m. EDT on my Facebook page, so be sure to visit to see if you won.
I’m excited for the release of my new historical novel, The Pilgrim, on Friday, July 17. In these two reader reviews, Judith Ingram and Debbie Phillips beautifully reflect on their own journeys as pilgrims.
Judith Ingram, on Goodreads
Davis Bunn’s historical novel, The Pilgrim, reads like a poem—lyrical and layered with spiritual meaning. The plot moves slowly, allowing the reader to savor the characters’ subtle introspections and heart changes that are the real story.
The title at first seems straightforward, “the pilgrim” being the empress mother of Constantine, recently divorced and shamed, on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. As her journey progresses, however, the troubled young Roman soldier assigned to accompany her reveals himself to be a pilgrim, also, on a journey to recover his lost faith.
By the end of the novel, I realized that I, too, had become a pilgrim, following their journey in faith, waiting for God to act and recognizing His movement in factual church history, which Bunn artfully embellishes with fictional details.
I recommend The Pilgrim to readers who enjoy a thoughtful read that is rooted in historical fact and finished off with vivid descriptions and piercing truths that will linger long after the book is laid aside.
Debbie Phillips, on her blog
Wow, what a book. This is a GREAT historical fiction novel by a favorite author, Davis Bunn. A wonderful, touching tale about Helena, the mother of Constantine; her companions; and her pilgrimage to fulfill the call of God on her life and to walk in the steps that Christ walked while on his way to Calvary. Constantine, her son, has found the Lord and is beginning to change the world. Helena has been given a noble quest, through a vision from the Lord.
Oh, what wonderful characters. Oh what glorious descriptions. A quest that would lead the characters not just to Jerusalem, but to a deep spiritual place that helps them to find a reason to live, a way to forgive themselves for their failings and their past, and a way to join together to make the world a better place, especially for the Christians under Roman persecution.
I love how Bunn weaves a tale and brings me along and helps me to travel with each character on their journey. I felt with each character. I empathized with them. I wished that I could join them on the journey. I wish that I could go now and travel the Via Dolorosa.
This book helped me on my journey to forgive myself; and forgive others who have wounded me in the past. This is a difficult thing for me to do. It is something I have struggled with for the past 3 years. I have not finished my quest. I have not fully forgiven, but I am making progress and this book was one tool that Lord has used on my path to forgiveness.
I have for you two of my favorite quotes from the book…
“She had to forgive herself.
On one level, it was ludicrous. What had she done to deserve her fate? She had every right to be hurt, wounded, angry and even to seek vengeance.
On the other, she knew the truth of this matter. She did not need anyone to be hard on her. She was harder on herself than anyone else could possibly be. Nothing she did was ever good enough. She had spent an entire lifetime striving to do better, to rise further, to be more. Which, of course, was one reason why she remained so upset with her husband. Because he had both failed to live up to her expectations and dragged her down as well.” pg 63
“Helena sat apart and argued with herself. Personal forgiveness meant accepting that she was flawed. Imperfect. Destined to miss the mark, time and again. She doubted whether she was able to actually, honestly, take that step.” pg 64
“I have a world of reasons to worry. I know I am frail. What I want is to look beyond all that.”
Slowly, Macarius turned back. His good eye gleamed as he observed her in silence.
“I want to be ready to serve at God’s command. And I can’t do this if I let fear and regret and anger dominate my life. I want to turn from all that. I want to focus on God. But I don’t know if I can.”
Macarius took her hand and he had the previous night. “Let us pray on this. And keep praying. And trust God both to answer and to give you the strength to hear.” pg 73
I completed this book and find myself inspired, hope filled, forgiven and more ready to forgive others, more aware of this time period, and deeply grateful for the opportunity to read and review it.
I’m touched by the reader reviews of The Pilgrim that are coming in. Today, you’ll hear from:
Please click the link next to each reviewer’s name to read his or her full review.
Anne Rightler, on Goodreads
Not knowing what lay ahead her intent was to walk the path of Christ’s grief and suffering. Helena, rejected wife of a Roman emperor, mother of Constantine the Great, only knew it was the will of God for her to take this path.
Davis Bunn’s masterful historical novel, The Pilgrim, brings readers a glimpse in the life of a woman, now revered as a saint in some religious faiths…a woman who heard from God and would not be deterred. Helena admits to those she meets she has failed God more often than she wants to recall and is told God wants her to know and share in others’ suffering.
She finds solace in servitude; the Empress giving freely that others may live and see Christ in her. The story is replete with characters in need of her healing balm. Broken people who needed to know the forgiveness of Christ in their souls and in their body. Broken people like the readers may be, in need of seeing God at work in their own lives.
Bunn writes of hope and healing and the mending of lives.
Jared Beiswenger, on Goodreads
“…the book has a solid Biblical message throughout. I think the themes will most resonate with those who have suffered great loss in their lives. I can’t relate closely myself, but nonetheless, I was emotionally invested by the climax. The Pilgrim also sparked my interest in the history of the Roman Empire and the early Church. After reading I was inspired to research the true stories behind the novel.”
Eddie Gilley, on his blog
There is drama, action, character development, and the gospel woven intricately within the story lines… There are moral messages of peace and reconciliation…”
Jodelle Svenhard, on Goodreads
The Pilgrim is one of those books that “picks up” around word two.
Effervescent with historical characters you swear you studied in college, but suddenly you find they have emotions and lives and are not remotely similar to the gaudy figureheads you took for granted on the white pages of that dorm-room textbook. They live and breath before you as if someone found a way for them to “string theory” through history and sit by your side. And, indeed, someone did. The author, Davis Bunn, is the spellbinder.
“Sit,” however, is something this book rarely does. The characters charge, banter, ponder, blunder and bluster…. The life of a pilgrim is never dull… At least, not this Pilgrim.
Ha. what an unassuming name. About an unassuming individual…. in an unassuming world… But, it cannot remain unassuming, there is too much warmth. Embers from a forgotten fire that blazed through the pages of history so brightly that even dusty canvas, slovenly habits and our modern digitalized age cannot starved it completely cold or still.
Davis Bunn has found that fire, fueled it with words and faith. In The Pilgrim an Empress, a long buried kingdom and one of the most famous Generals in the world LIVE again.
Enjoy meeting them! I did.
I want to share a beautiful review of The Pilgrim, from reader Sue Stevens:
Complete disclosure here – I am admittedly a big fan of Davis Bunn’s writing – whether history, thriller, fantasy or other. If Bunn wrote it, I’m going to read it.
When I received THE PILGRIM in the mail, I was intrigued and at the same time disappointed that it is shorter than most Bunn novels. When I read a bit about the book and discovered it was based in history, a re-telling of the story of St. Helena, mother to Constantine and a key figure in early Christian history, I was doubly intrigued – I’m a bit of a history geek. And I dove in.
But this is not dry as dust, completely remote, has-nothing-to-do-with-me history. Bunn uses his substantial imagination and story telling talents to practically create out of whole cloth individuals about which there is little detail, if any, in ancient historical texts.
We come to know – and journey along side of – three individuals in particular, all of whom are struggling with horrendous grief and loss: Helena herself, former empress, now divorced, abandoned and stripped of everything she knew in life; Anthony, young Roman soldier who is looking for death to relieve him from his grief of losing his wife and child; and Macarius, former bishop of the now destroyed and scattered church in Jerusalem and crippled for his faith.
Helena is on a quest, responding to a vision she received from God and seeking to walk the yet-to-be-named Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem and bring the news of The Edict of Milan, that all Christians are no longer to be treated as criminals. So that’s the set up. But again – this isn’t dry history; this story is a page turner. I wanted to know what happens next, what danger – and what miracle – lurked around the next bend in the journey.
And yet at the same time, I was brought to my knees, reflecting on my own falling-short, my own griefs and sorrows, on Christ’s grace that reaches even me, on the miracles that God works in simple and wondrous ways.
I’m considering sharing it with some friends who are going through some very tough times right now – I believe it will be a comfort, not because the parallels between their experience and Helena’s are so exact, but because the journey we all take in life is so eloquently spelled out in these pages.
In my upcoming historical novel, The Pilgrim, I recreate an important “scene” from the life of one of Christian history’s most important women: Helena, the mother of emperor Constantine.
The novel releases July 17, 2015, and early reader reviews are streaming in. Below are excerpts from seven reviews. Please click the link next to each reviewer’s name to access the full review.
Click the link to read Chapters 1-3 of The Pilgrim, free!
This is not a long book, but it’s deep. It’s not a difficult story, but it is rich and full.
Passionate and submitted. Regal yet humble. Life-changing. Hope filled. These are words that come to mind when I think about how Davis Bunn unfolds this story. There is a power that leaps from the page.
The characters in this story each make a pilgrimage, a journey of faith, whether it is across the sea or from behind a tree. There is the presence of evil and the battle to overcome fear and even find forgiveness.
When I was done, I was ready to go buy a gray traveling dress.
…It is the story of grief turning to a faith to forgive and to rebuild… The book is appropriate for Lenten reading. Believers and seekers alike will find a solid Christian message in this book while enjoying a lively tale.
…In The Pilgrim, we are introduced to Helena, mother of the famed Roman emperor Constantine, who travels to the Holy Land to fulfill her own destiny and help others to do the same. The charm of The Pilgrim is how Davis takes a timeworn story sitting on the edge of our collective memory and breathes new life into the tale through his flowing, almost lyrical prose. This is a concise, well-told tale that likely will inspire you to seek your own purpose in life.
…This gripping story has a strong theme of forgiveness and serving God. It gave me something to think about even after I finished reading…
…The ending was a little disappointing, in that it read more like a biography and less like the story I had just read. I still give the book 4 stars, though, because Bunn does a good job incorporating research to tell this story of a little known piece of history. For lovers of historical fiction, The Pilgrim delivers that fresh taste of something that hasn’t been overdone.
…The characters are one of the strongest aspects of the book. Their enemies are powerful, overwhelming, though I expected a little more from them at points in the book. Still, The Pilgrim allows us into the lives of Christ-followers in a most difficult period of history. It delights as Bunn’s novels invariably do.
I love history, and learned of Helena’s contributions when we visited Rome. But unless you are willing to plow through the long historical documents, there is little available about the believers of this era. This book fills the gap AND is an enjoyable novel with memorable characters… My only wish? I would love a summary, at the end of the book, to know which events are historical fact and which are filling in artistic details.
…This book filled my spirit as I pictured Empress Helena traveling to Judea and saving countless Christians along the way. I know for a fact she angered Satan in her quest to follow God’s plan for her life.