Penny is your typical geek: lives alone, watches too much Doctor Who and Buffy, enjoys whiskey maybe a little more than necessary. Oh, and she’s a woman. And a priest. She ends up performing the last rites on a dragon, and the next thing she knows, she finds herself (to her intense delight) liaising for the Church with an alternate world where Welsh is the dominant culture in Britain and vampires, dragons, and unicorns are real.
The geek-stumbling-into-the-alternate-world premise is an oldie but goodie in fantasy literature, and it is handled well here, with the unique addition of Penny’s job as a vicar, as she navigates both the new world she’s discovered, and the troubled waters of female ordainment, same-sex marriage, and declining interest in the church back in her home world. As she discovers, her counterparts on the other side have many of the same problems, with particularly fierce opposition to mixed-race–meaning between, for example, humans and dragons–relationships. The secondary characters, particularly Morey, the gryphon with fundamentalist leanings assigned as Penny’s partner, and Clyde, the young snail shark she rescues, are charmingly entertaining, and I greatly enjoyed the use of Welsh, although sadly, I don’t actually speak a word of it. Maybe that should be next summer’s project…anyway. The prose style is a pleasure to read, alternating between a very British dry wit and moments that I found quite touching, as Penny’s pastoral duties have her arguing over pew replacement one day, and then counseling the dying the next. Priests and members of religious orders are normally side characters in fantasy, so having one as the main protagonist, especially one as sympathetic as Penny, is a refreshing take on a classic storyline. I enjoyed this book a lot, and I think it should have broad appeal to fantasy fans.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.