The Cult of Unicorns by Chrys Cymri

The Cult of UnicornsThe Cult of Unicorns

by Chrys Cymri
Series: Penny White, #2

Kindle Edition, 234 pg.
2016

Read: December 4 – 5, 2017


Sure, all I know about the life of an Anglican priest comes from this series and Paul Cornell’s Lychford novellas, (oh, and one series of Grantchester) and maybe Fantasy fiction isn’t the best source, but man, being a priest in a small village/town in England seems to be lonely and horrible — especially around Advent. Which is where we find Penny White — running on fumes, bouncing from obligation to obligation — with barely enough time for her grieving brother, her gryphon partner and her snail shark (never mind the duties in the parallel world of Daear) — not to mention casually dating a police inspector and a dragon. Throw in a murder mystery and . . . wow. How does she sleep?

Before we get to much of that Penny and her brother, James, go to Lloegyr for the trial in the death of James’ girlfriend. It is quick, decisive, decidedly alien (as it should be) and adjudicated by a panel of 3 unicorns. Apparently, Unicorns are impossibly fair, honest and just so they make the perfect judges. No one, not even the dragons would dare protest what the unicorns decide. Penny can’t help but note how almost everyone she sees reacts strangely to unicorns — she’d probably do the same, however, if she weren’t so dragon-obsessed. When bodies start showing up on Earth with what seem to be unicorn-caused injuries, Penny seems to be the only one who is willing to follow the evidence. At the same time, maybe it’s just me, but it didn’t seem that Penny was too bothered by the murders — and certainly didn’t seem to spend too much energy investigating them. (although, that might have more to do with the obviousness of the culprits and the difficulty getting anyone else on board with it).

James is not handling the grieving process too well — not that anyone does — and I was less-than-impressed with the way Penny was dealing with him.. It really seemed out of character for her. I think it points to a slow-build of a problem for Penny and her dual callings. In the first book, we got hit over the head with the concern that she’d be too focused on the other world too much to do a decent job on Earth, and while it was only brought up once or twice here, I think it’s easy to see that the danger was real. I like how it seems that Cymri is moving this problem to the back burner, just so it can keep growing as a problem while being subtle about it. Professionally/vocationally, things are not going well for Penny, and I think this will continue for awhile.

While writing about book 1, I was worried about an impending romantic triangle — and I like the way that Cymri dealt with it here, much more than I assumed I would when we left it off. I’m not sure I’m ready to breathe easily about it yet, but I have hope (I also haven’t read as many romantic triangles this year as I have in years past, maybe my tolerance for them will increase). Actually, I liked just about everything about the romance angle in this book. Especially Morey’s.

The Murder plotline (and the aftermath) serves as the narrative hook for the book, but doesn’t seem to occupy as much of the time as you’d think. Where The Temptation of Dragons introduced us to this reality (or dual-realities, I guess), this one explores it — with a greater emphasis on Earth. We really spend very little time on the “other side.” Which was okay, really. I imagine that won’t always be the case (glancing ahead at the blurb for the next volume, it looks as if I’m right).

I’m not sure what else to say at this point, but I’m pretty sure I’ve been less thorough than I intended. I enjoyed The Temptation of Dragons and The Cult of Unicorns kept all the charm and wit about that, but grounded the characters and their actions better (or at least more firmly). And really, that’s about all you can hope for from a series — you keep everything you liked in the previous installment and build on it. Cymri nailed that, which serves to make me plan on getting to book #3 faster than I did this one.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post — thanks so much for this book.

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3.5 Stars

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The Temptation of Dragons by Chrys Cymri

The Temptation of DragonsThe Temptation of Dragons

by Chrys Cymri
Series: Penny White, #1

Kindle Edition, 232 pg.
2016

Read: April 24 – 26, 2017


Penny White, an Anglican priest of a small town who seems to be working on becoming a functional alcoholic, is driving home one night when she feels her car hit something. She stops to investigate and comes across a dragon who claims to be dying and requests last rites. Without thinking, she gives them, gets home without further incident and goes to sleep. By the next morning, she’s convinced herself it didn’t happen.

Until the next day, when her bishop asks her to take a role in ministering to magical creatures like dragons, unicorns, vampires, and more in a parallel reality to ours. Being a pretty big fan of SF/F, she jumps at the chance, and ends up ministering in both worlds. A gryphon named Morey is assigned to live with her and help her navigate between the two worlds (and other reasons). Actually, his name isn’t Morey — it’s something long and fairly unpronounceable because it’s Welsh — in the magic reality, everyone speaks Welsh.

I really dug Penny — I could understand her emotional arc and thought it was dealt with in a pretty solid way (I’m a little worried about the semi-triangle thing set up here, and hope it doesn’t get too overplayed in future books). But a big part of Penny’s character — and what helps her adjust to this new life — is her SF/F fandom. I share most of her tastes (including her love for the Seventh Doctor and Ace). Morey was another strong character, and I appreciated that there was a pretty strong theologically conservative voice sympathetically portrayed in this book — I didn’t expect to find myself agreeing with a gryphon’s theology more than with a human’s (a clause I never thought I’d write) — even if there was a patronizing explanation offered by one character (and seemingly shared by others) for his stances. His emotional arc was just great.

The rest of the characters were almost as engaging as these — human or not, they were people. Many of them need more time to be developed, but given the constraints of this one novel, I didn’t think many of them got short-changed.

I thought the plot was pretty strong, and I did quite enjoy it — particularly Penny’s search for balance between her two callings, Penny and Morey’s bonding, and Penny’s family life. But the books isn’t that much about the plot — this is primarily about the characters and relationships throughout. This was more about setting up the series, introducing the characters, species, and worlds — all of which Cymri did very capably. But the book’s core was in the character moments, the characters themselves and this very interesting world that we’re starting to learn about.

This is a comparison that won’t mean much to most of my readers, I imagine — but for those who get when I’m saying, you’ll understand this book. This book reminded me of reading the early volumes of Christopher Stasheff’s Oathbound Wizard series — I think it’s more than intelligent, articulate fantasy monsters and an Anglican/Roman Catholic approach to faith, the sacraments and the world, but that’s part of it. Mostly, it’s the warmth, confidence and charm in these pages that lured me in and kept me interested.

This is truly a lot of fun, give it a shot.
Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post — thanks so much for this. Sorry it took so long.

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3 Stars