Tales of the Nun & Dragon by Adele Wearing – Book Review [Shadowhawk]

Nun & Dragon

Shadowhawk reviews the latest anthology from Fox Spirit Books, which combines Nuns and Dragons in some really delightful stories by authors new and old alike.

“This anthology is all about some of the most creative interpretations of the subject matter, so be prepared to be entertained.”~The Founding Fields

Something that’s hammered home at me this year is how invaluable anthologies are, whether published by small press, medium press, or large press. I’ve read reviews of several such anthologies by my friends in the reviewing blog-space, have written a few of my own as well, and this fact has just stuck with me. The different styles, the different approach to the subject, just the whole varying forms of creativity involved is mind-boggling at the best of times. And this is something that has continued with Fox Spirit’s latest anthology, Tales of the Nun & Dragon, which is an anthology of stories that feature Nuns and Dragons aplenty, but not always as you might expect or even both in the same story. It all makes for a really nice change of pace. When I heard about this through Sarah Cawkwell, a friend who has been previously published by Black Library and marks her first non tie-in published fiction with this anthology, I was quite excited. The idea behind it appealed to me and at the first chance I got, I contacted Fox Spirit, requesting a review copy. The review has been massively delayed unfortunately, since I read the anthology in the middle of September but couldn’t get around to it till now, even though the review was supposed to go up by the end of September. So here it is.

Sarah Cawkwell’s The Ballad of Gilrain is the lead-in story for the anthology. This tale focuses on a young adventurer named Gilrain who is setting out on his first ever monster hunt, accompanied by his faithful companion Therin. What Sarah succeeds in getting right here is Gilrain’s sense of foreboding and his reluctance to go through the hunt, given he has no prior experience. His back-and-forth with Therin livens up the story and the atmosphere of anticipation and reluctant heroism that the author builds up both make this one of the best stories in the anthology by far. A definite great way to kick things off. There is also an accompanying ballad-form of Gilrain’s adventure, which is even more awesome than the short story itself. Reading it, you really get into the mood for an epic-fantasy type grand old dragon hunt where the hero succeeds in his mission and becomes a legend. Oh, and the twist towards the end? You are so going to be bowled over by it! Sarah Cawkwell should definitely write more original fiction. She has a devious author imagination that I really like.

Then we have Mhairi Simpson’s Fire Exit, which is perhaps the cutest story in this anthology, certainly nothing I hold against it! This one features baby dragons and a young girl working in her parents’ inn. The baby dragons, god, the baby dragons. Just the images that Mhairi conjures up with her writing are so breath-taking. Imagine an inn’s main hall full of baby dragons breathing their baby dragon fire and flying around, being cheeky little troublemakers. Sounds like a great idea for a cartoon show to me, one that I’d definitely watch myself. This is Mhairi’s first published fiction and all I could think of after finishing this story was that I want to read more from her.

Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Saint George and Saint Giles is next, and is another firm favourite of mine. Seeking to bring a successful end to a family quest, Sir Adolphus arrives at the convent of the Sisters of Saint Giles pursuing a dragon and looking for information on the beast’s lair. All is not as it seems however for the Sisters have been keeping a secret for a long, long time and Adolphus’ arrival just might upset a fine balance. This is a really short story, only 4 pages long, so its more like flash fiction but in terms of its effect it is no different. Adolphus rigid insistence, Mother Josephina’s stern disapproval, it all made for a really enjoyable story. Reading this story, I’m now quite tempted to try out Adrian’s other work, although that is all of a very different style and scope than this story. Shall see.

Fourth is Fruit of the Forbidden by Jasper Bark. This one is also a dragon hunt but instead the hunter is a shining knight, Percival himself, and he is accompanied by Baron Schlossendorf who are hunting a dragon across several leagues. Apparently the dragon has taken residence in the lands given to an order of nuns, nuns who deny Schlossendorf and Percival entry. The reason I like this story is because it encapsulates a very real sense of wonder and excitement and also shows just how much of roughnecks all these knights and barons were, caring only about themselves and not the common people, not caring about what is right and just. And there are nuns involved. The concept of nuns and dragons comes together properly for the first time with this anthology and it works really well. It all fits naturally. Its a case of the concepts fitting into the setting rather than the other way round.

Definitely a great start to the anthology so far. With 23 stories in total, there is a lot of content here but what helps is that many of these stories are really small, as in the case of Saint George and Saint Giles. It helps to break up the pace rather nicely and keep the reader flicking through. Small doses, big doses, small doses, big doses, and so on. And its not all just fantasy stories either. There are some stories involving the supernatural and the horror, which is another big point in favour of the anthology. Diversity is fun. Diversity is good. Tales of the Nun & Dragon gets that right for a perfect score.

There are some stories that I didn’t like, and some that I didn’t understand at all. Colin F. Barnes’ Journey to Blackfire Deep is one. I just couldn’t get into the story. Lot of humour and some weird names and terms that just confused me.Nils Desperandumby Ren Warom is another. This was even more confusing. It reads like a western with a bunch of gunslingers and bounty hunters and big bad villains involved, except that the gunslinger is a nun. This wasn’t confusing as much as it was… disorienting. There are few others as well, usually for the reason that the authors’ creative interpretation just didn’t work for me. Generally however, such stories are few and far in between, and rest assured that in its entirety, this is an excellent anthology. Adele Wearing has done a great job of showcasing all the different approaches to the core concepts.

But like I said, the sheer diversity of stories? That’s golden. You just got to love bounty hunter style nuns, nuns with attitudes, pouting dragons, nuns who are supernatural hunters, and so on.

All in all, Tales of the Nun & Dragon is quite a good anthology. It starts off really well, the middle is quite decent, and the ending is somewhere in between the two. My advice? Go and get the anthology now!

Rating: 8.5/10

Shadowhawk is a regular contributor to TFF. A resident of Dubai, Shadowhawk reads, reads and reads. His opinions are always clear and concise. His articles always worth reading.