Monday, January 18, 2016

The Nun's Dragon, by Christine Emmert

Dante's Heart, January 2014

As a young girl, gathering mushrooms for her family in the woods near their village, Margaret stumbles upon a sleeping dragon. Contrary to his kind's ferocious reputation, the dragon, whom Margaret names Wyver, befriends her. Eventually, her father having died, her mother takes her to a convent to become a nun, and Margaret becomes Sister Agnes Dei.

But Wyver continues to visit her.

Dragons are not well-regarded by the Church, even though they are believed to guard the Garden of Eden, and this is especially true of Sister Clare, one of the most senior after the Prioress, and Father Thomas, the priest who visits from the neighboring monastery to give them the sacraments. Others, such as the Prioress herself, the herbalist Sister Angelica, Sister Miriam in the scriptorium, and even Brother Edmund, who accompanies the aging Father Thomas, are more sympathetic--if not to dragons specifically, at least to Sister Agnes Dei's intelligence, gift for drawing, and desire to learn. Simmering conflicts come to a head with two crises: Sister Agnes Dei is found dead, crushed by the convent's water wheel, and plague comes to the convent in the form of a knight on pilgrimage.

This is an engaging story, raising some interesting questions, and it stands out for treating the beliefs of its mediaeval, Christian characters with respect. These are real, complicated people, even though we can scarcely scratch the surface of most in this short novel. The best have their weaknesses and uncertainties, while the least sympathetic are coping with their own issues, even if these may be more hinted at than fully developed. Even in the face of real temptation, and challenges to the details of their beliefs, characters keep trying to do the right thing, holding to the core of their beliefs even while debating what, exactly, "Christian love" means.

A small but rewarding story. Recommended.

I bought this book.