Penny White and the Temptation of Dragons by Chrys Cymri
Genre: Fantasy, Family, Relationships
Book Description from Goodreads: Bishop Nigel smiled at me. ‘Holy water doesn’t harm vampires. Which is just as well, as it would make it impossible to baptise them.’
When I was asked by a dragon to give him the last rites, I never dreamed it would lead to negotiating with his cannibalistic family or running from snail sharks. Life as the priest of a small English village is quite tame in comparision. At least I have Morey, a gryphon with sarcasm management issues, to help me. And if all else fails, there’s always red wine and single malt whisky.
As if my life weren’t complicated enough, a darkly beautiful dragon named Raven keeps appearing where I least expect him, I’ve met a handsome police inspector who loves science fiction as much as I do, and my younger brother is getting into trouble for trying to pick up vampires.
That’s what happens when you’re dealing with an incredible and dangerous parallel world full of mythical creatures. And I have to learn to navigate it all without losing myself, or my brother…
Book Review: This book has become one of my favorites among those I’ve reviewed. It’s funny, engaging, and features some of the best world-building I’ve encountered in recent fiction. So here’s a look at the Narration, Content, Characters, Artwork, World-Building, and my Overall Response.
Narration: 4 out of 5. This is arguably the weakest point of the novel. There isn’t a great deal of description used. The story is told entirely in first person, and while it makes sense that Penny doesn’t see and note everything–since the human mind processes out most sensory input unless it’s significant–she’s primarily interested in what happens, and the narration follows suit. Even when her brother shows up or we meet her bishop, the focus is on the dialogue, not the details of how people appear, which can make it a bit harder to tell the minor characters apart (her bishop, spiritual director, and archdeacon in particular blurred a bit, for me).
But overall, I didn’t mind because I prefer books like Jane Austen where telling us what people look like is secondary to showing us what they’re like and moving the story forward. In real life, we don’t have time to catalogue a person’s appearance. We swallow it, more or less, in one glance while we move forward in talking or interacting, and the narration follows this natural focus on happenings rather than appearances.
The other weakness in the plot, of sorts, is the sheer number of “nerdy” references. There is a host from Doctor Who (who gets the lion’s share, hands down), some Buffy, and a bunch I didn’t even know, and I found I’m not nearly enough of a geek to grasp them all (though I did think there should’ve been a comment about how Penny’s pulling down of her jacket mirrored Captain Picard’s adjusting his uniform from Star Trek: TNG).
Content: 5 out of 5. After I got over my surprise (and delight) at reading a fantasy novel devoid of “big battle scenes” or other, action-adventure type drama, I was very pleased with the content. It’s clean and would be YA appropriate, but the focus is on adult issues: taking care of one’s family, mourning the loss of a spouse, dealing with guilt and regret over their death, etc. Penny isn’t one to mope, though, so it’s not terribly introspective. The pace moves things forward, and there are some confrontation scenes and a mystery to solve. It’s just all packaged in a “this could really happen” sort of way instead of a flashy, Hollywood-esque manner.
Penny is a liberal-minded Christian, and I couldn’t help wondering if the Church of England was really as accepting of homosexual marriages as she made it out to be, but I liked how her relationship with God was a real, interactive thing and not just something she did at a distance for a great Omniscient power in the sky. The other thing I liked about the content was there was no rush into a new romance. There are hints of where things are going, or could go, but Penny is still grieving the loss of her husband, and the book lets her grieve.
Characters: 4 out of 5. Aside from the side characters in England, I loved the characters in this book (I just had trouble keeping English church leaders apart). The gryphon, Morey, was my favorite, but the dragons, the police officer, her brother–they were all very believable, with strengths and weaknesses, challenges and faults. I was really happy to see that Raven had his faults and wasn’t this perfectly amazing dragon that trumped everyone else and cast them all in the shade. The other world’s characters are unique, but I wouldn’t say they’re more interesting or more real than their English counterparts, which I felt was a very good thing.
Artwork: Subjective. Personally, I like the cover. The blues and greens are lovely, and the way the whole thing is seen through a dragon’s eye was cool (though it does make me wonder, if we’re seeing it from Raven’s POV, whether Penny looks as good in reality as she does in his eyes).
World-Building: 5 out of 5. As I said earlier, this had some of the best world-building that I’ve read in a long time. The way the “thin places” are distributed and how each spot felt different, based on what may or may not have happened to create it was great. It was just enough fantasy to be believable but realistic enough to where one could truly imagine such a world existing, and I really, really enjoyed that. (Plus, the whole idea of a “Church of England” of sorts, where unicorns and dragons and vampires and gryphons can worship? Absolutely delightful!)
Overall Response: 18 out of 20, or 4.5 overall. I’d recommend this to anyone who likes a gentle fantasy, grounded in reality rather than a world of magic. Despite my not getting all the references to the earth-canon-of-fantasy-television-shows (or the alcohol references, as those names meant nothing to me), it was captivating, refreshing, and a whole lot of fun. I look forward to reading the next book in the series!
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Note: I received this book in exchange for an honest review.
Copyright 2017 Andrea Lundgren
Photo used by permission from the author
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