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.