I like to keep it under my hat, but secretly I’m a massive fan of the Western. From True Grit to The Sisters Brothers, if it’s got horses, heartache and hats in it, I’m your girl. And so Nunslinger was always going to be a treat for me.
I fell in love with Nunslinger from the cover onwards. Look at it. LOOK AT IT. It is BEAUTIFUL. No one could walk past that without closer inspection.
It have also been very cleverly marketed. Released as a series of ebooks over the past few months, apparently written as they went (and this shows in the writing, which is going somewhere, quickly, all the time, but meanders frequently in a wonderfully surreal way), the copy I have, which is out on the 4 December and should be bought immediately because gosh darn it if it isn’t one of the best books I’ve read this yearly purely for entertainment value alone, is the ‘complete series’. I’ve never heard of it until now, but I’m not a massive ebook reader. If you are, and you’ve been hooked on these, I can imagine your sense of superiority now us mere technophobic plebs are discovering it. It’s like those people who read Fifty Shades when it was still fanfic. Everyone wants to be one of them, and everyone jumps on the band waggon. But this waggon trail gets shot at, you are kidnapped by outlaws, and soon you’re immersed in the story, on the run with our heroine and her companions.
Travelling on a waggon trail Out West, on her way to a Mission in California, Sister Thomas Josephine is kidnapped by Abraham C. Muir, deserter from the Union army, as ‘security’ against being shot by his nemesis Captain Carthy. Carthy soon sets off on hot pursuit, and the Sister and Abe start on what turns into a long and complicated adventure that sees them travel from Nevada to Mexico to the Mississippi to Indian Territory to the borders of Canada. It is ridiculously large in scope and does occasionally have a tick box feel of Every Western Ever, but you’re having so much fun that hardly matters.
This read so so so much like it should have been a graphic novel series (which I am in no doubt it will be soon if they’ve got any damn sense). The book is just one picturesque vision after another-by the end of the first part I was wishing I could draw because I could not get the picture of a blood soaked nun firing a pistol up into the sunset, draped over a dying man’s body in the vast Sierra desert out of my head. A nun with a gun is a great (if sliiiiighly blasphemous) idea, and Stark Holborn (the anonymous and genderless author) is very very very good.
As for our heroine; Sister Thomas Josephine is the very definition of the word ‘bad ass’. I hate the word ‘shero’ and hope it dies a death in the fire of a thousand suns, but I’d use it with her. She’s quick to the draw, she’s witty, she’s clever, she’s got everything going for her looks wise but isn’t afraid to take a few scars, and she genuinely believes in her mission. What impressed me the most was that this is a woman who has CHOSEN the life she leads; she wants to help people and therefore continues to be a nun because that is what she thinks will be the path that leads to being able to do the most amount of good. Yes, the idea of a woman in a nun’s habit with two pistols up her sleeves is a really fantastic image, but in this book the whole nun thing stops being a gimmick and starts to take on real purpose and meaning.
And she is a fully fleshed out female character in an action novel. And she isn’t the only fully fleshed out female character. The book uses words like ‘Indians’ to describe Native Americans, the book is set in 1864, but the cast of characters is diverse in terms of gender and race and each character is given a decent back story and motive.
Parts of the book had me literally biting my nails. The chapters are nice and short, but the book makes you keep moving. I had the 600+ pages finished in a week of commutes and lunch hours; I could have quite happily dedicated a couple of days to this and come up for air happy and fulfilled. It will appeal to anyone who likes action and a bit of gore and anti heroes. It also accessible enough language for reluctant or resistant readers not to feel overwhelmed.
I loved it, just loved it. Sister Thomas Josephine instantly becomes my Literary-Fancy-Dress-Character-Of-Choice and I’m going to spend the next week begging my boyfriend to read it so he will want to dress up as Abe.
Read it, read it and get all your friends to read it, and then we can have a big party and not get too jealous of the folks in Bristol, where Stark hails from, who get to go to the launch on the 10th December. If it weren’t so close to Christmas and if I could have feasibly gotten the days off at so short notice I would be straight on a megabus to shake the woman, or man, or neither, by the hand. Wonderful stuff.