We all know that nuns and dragons go together like shoes and socks, like salt and pepper, like Buffy and Angel; okay, maybe not, but that’s the premise of this collection from Fox Spirit, and it could have gone so horribly wrong. How many different ways is it possible to link the two titular entities? Well, there are twenty-three authors here who have no such problems, finding a plethora of unique scenarios in which to tell their tales.
After a nice anecdotal introduction by Alisdair Stewart, in which he recounts life growing up on the Isle Of Man, Sarah Cawkwell kicks things off nicely with ‘The Ballad Of Gilrain’. Two men – a warrior, Gilrain, and his companion, Therin – arrive at an inn and proceed to tell the story of how Gilrain managed to slay a dragon. There’s some wonderful banter between the two heroes, and the prose is joyfully comic throughout. The story’s companion song, with lyrics by Sarah Cawkwell and music by Adam Broadhurst is equally as enchanting.
‘Fire Exit’ by Mhairi Simpson is another humorous tale in which a young girl, Tereth, desperately tries to rid the upper room of a pub of a dragon’s nest before her parents discover it. The pub, and its surrounding land, fall within a Wychride; a magical place where anything can happen. Simpson does well to maintain the humour whilst moving towards a more action-packed conclusion.
The first creepy story in the collection comes from Adrian Tchaikovsky. ‘Saint George And Saint Giles’ tells the story of Adolphus, a knight tasked with slaying the final dragon. Things start to go awry, however, when our brave hero visits the Sisters Of Saint Giles. A fine story with a twist the greatest medium on earth would not see coming.
Jasper Bark’s ‘Fruit Of The Forbidden’ is a modern fairy-tale magnanimously written. Sister Bernadette refuses entry to a baron and his companion, Sir Percival, who believe the order are harbouring dragons. Since the dragons have caused no harm, and the nuns are breaking no rules, there is nothing the baron can do to gain entry. Or is there? There are comedic moments and a latent tension throughout, and the strange erotic undertones involving the nuns and the dragon make this one of the more surreal entries in a book filled with them.
‘Incident At Wearing Abbey’ by Mark West is an action-packed rollercoaster ride. A lone traveller, Lomax, is on his way to visit the Abbey when he is attacked by an emaciated man in the forest. Rescued by Sister Theresa, he is taken to Wearing Abbey and soon realises that the whole trip might have been a big mistake. West cranks the action right up in the final third, and there are some splendid descriptions of gore and mayhem as the nuns reveal their propensity to use bullets over crucifixes. Fantastic.
Joan De La Haye’s ‘Firelight’ is another creepy one, as Sister Mary Margaret arrives at The Nun And Dragon pub and recounts an encounter with the devil in the woods. The first true horror story of the collection, and it succeeds all the way to its shock conclusion.
Simon Bestwick’s ‘Lex Draconis’ is a strange fantasy telling the story of a nun’s mysterious journey. Sister Leonora is given directions by Father Morton and sent on her merry way. When she arrives at her destination, everything becomes patently clear. There are some beautiful moments here, and Bestwick manages to inject a little humour into an otherwise serious tale.
‘Journey To Blackfire Keep’ by Colin F. Barnes is an amalgamation of sci-fi, fantasy, horror and steampunk. If The Fifth Element and Star Wars had a baby, this would be the offspring. A race known as the Draga are in pursuit of a gem, which has fallen into the hands of a small band of miscreants. This is a fast-paced story with airships, dragons and shootouts. Thoroughly enjoyable.
‘Martyr’ by Andrew Reid tells the story of Lord Perren, who is annoyed to discover that a dragon has been, by way of magic, resurrected. With the assistance of Sister Gilda, they must defeat the beast. ‘Martyr’ is another good story, well-told, and Reid succeeds in keeping his cards close to his chest until the finale.
Ren Warom’s ‘Nil Desperandum’ is a wonderful anecdote of a story. Malk – the narrator – relates his narrative to a packed pub; a tale about an uncouth nun’s pursuit of an enemy. This is one of the funniest stories in the collection, and Warom’s ability to create laugh-out-loud dialogue is exquisite.
‘The Killing Of Sister George’ by Pat Kelleher tells the tale of the eponymous Sister, a cantankerous old nun faced with a recalcitrant pupil. The children refer to the nun as a dragon, but they are blissfully unaware of the more chilling truth behind her countenance. A truly remarkable story with a well-written antagonist.
Cat Connor’s ‘The Bells Of Freedom’ is the tale of a PI’s search for a missing journal. Assisted by his guardian angel – Horlicks – his mission soon descends into something much darker than he anticipated. A brief, nicely paced and interesting story, with the journal’s contents kept a secret for the reader to make up their own mind.
‘The Sound Of Latex’ by Peter Ray Allison might sound like it’s going to be a gimp-fest, but it is in fact a brilliant and hilarious story about a latex-wearing nun and her exploits. From the outset, it’s clear to see you’re in for a gut-busting journey, and the almost Robert Rankin-esque prose is delightfully light-hearted. A real gem.
SJ Caunt’s ‘Loop’ tells the tale of an alien race’s observation of a soon-to-be-destroyed earth. As they watch, with great intent, a battle between a nun and a dragon, we are treated to a masterful switch in perpectives. With great banter between the intrigued aliens, and a remarkable structure, ‘Loop’ is one of the more thought-provoking stories in the collection.
‘Red Nun’ by Wayne Simmons is a brief and brutal tale, and possibly the darkest of the lot. Daryl and Stacey are in a forest, drinking a bottle of Red Nun. The forest is allegedly haunted by the spirit of a raped and murdered nun, and as the story progresses it becomes clear that there might be some truth in the rumours. Short, sharp, and savage; this is Simmons at his finest.
Geraldine Clark Hellery’s ‘Into The Woods’ is part-fantasy, part-splatterpunk. Three friends are on a camping-trip, but one of them has ulterior motives. Beautifully written, ‘Into The Woods’ will have you on the edge of your seat.
‘The Hazel And The Hawthorn’ by VC Linde is the collection’s only poem, and it’s a delightful verse recounting a battle’s aftermath. Very nice, indeed.
Catherine Rogers’ ‘A Nun’s Dream’ is a tale of speculation and spirituality, cleverly incorporating a dragonfly into the story in an effort to answer the question of whether the soul exists separately from the human body. A fascinating story with a very big question at its heart.
‘Benedic Mihi, Pater’ by Jay Faulkner is a sentimental story as a nun summons a dragon from the ocean only to discover that it is, in fact, the father that abandoned her so many years ago. Beautiful and haunting.
‘The Nun And The Dragon’ by Sammy HK Smith is an intriguing one. Ian Kinley is trekking to Drake’s Point after recently separating from his wife, Melissa. He stumbles upon a pub and its strange array of characters, and is told the story of Sister Anastasie, the nun drinking alone in the corner of the room. Evenly-paced with a fulfilling conclusion, Smith is obviously a talented storyteller.
Francesca Terminiello’s ‘Sister Amagda and the Thrice Bound Wyrm’ is the moralistic tale of Sister Amagda who stops at an inn whilst hiking through the valley. She is told of a creature that has been bound with iron, brass and silver to prevent it from escaping. Enamoured, she ventures out to locate the wyrm, assisted by a reluctant woodcutter. Short and direct, this is yet another strong story.
‘The Price’ by KA Laity is the story of Æfgifu, a girl who is sold to the abbey by her parents, much to her chagrin. She discovers a golden cup, and offers it to the abbess in exchange for her freedom, but when a dragon rises up to reclaim the ancient artefact, it becomes apparent that her freedom is not to be so easily won. ‘The Price’ is a coming-of-age fantasy told magnificently by a sorceress of the genre.
Karen Davies’ ‘The Last Hunt’ begins with a band of warriors in a bar. Charged with saving the local area from dragons, they await the arrival of a nun who will lead them to the abbey. However, she is not what the warriors had come to expect; uncouth, rude, and with short blonde spiky hair. ‘The Last Hunt’ is a fitting end to the collection, with a well-considered surprise ending.
Overall, this is a collection of some of the finest fantasy, horror, surreal and often hilarious stories imaginable. Whether you like your fantasy hard or jocular, your horror dark or gory, your nuns clothed or naked, there is something here for everyone. Whoever said that nuns and dragons were impossible to combine should be taken outside and shot.
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