This novel is considered a classic and has a lot of beautiful language but it is a work that is a great example of what many might call “literary fiction” as it’s not very plot driven and can be a difficult read for some. The story centers around Jean-Baptiste Lamy and Joseph Projectus Machebeuf who are catholic priests that are assigned to New Mexico in the hopes of starting a church and establishing catholicism in the area. There isn’t much by way of story but the book does have a few accounts and reflections by the characters.
Death Comes for the Archbishop does a great job of showing how difficult the world was in the 1800s and there are a few stories here that capture your attention but the narrative is slow and non-linear in terms of us following a straight story of these people. The book can be a bit disjointed feeling at times and there are slow areas in the book that would keep it far from being called a page-turner.
However, it’s not a terribly long read and it’s beautifully written. I think some of the descriptions of the landscapes are fantastic and really help capture the world these men were in. The characters they encounter, the difficulty that comes with trying to introduce a new religion to an embedded culture are well shown in the book as well.
While I can’t say this is one of my favorite classics, it’s worth a read if you like a slow-burn story and more literary than genre-specific books. Again, I might pick it up again as the years go on, but it’s not a novel I feel I need to return to, despite the praise it has received and it being marked as a classic.