NUNSLINGER by STARK HOLBORN
PB, 614 pages, Headline
Nunslinger might just have the best title of 2015. It might just be one of the best titles of 2015, if nuns on the run slinging guns is your cup of tea. Even if you think it might not be, I’d urge you to check out this western-with-a-twist, as you might be in for a surprise…
The year is 1864, and Sister Thomas Josephine leaves the shelter of her convent in St Louis to head to California, to do the Lord’s work in the newly-opened lands of the west. Her wagon train is attacked and she is taken hostage by the drifter Abraham C Muir, who becomes her companion on the long trail she must ride. Chasing them down is the obsessive Union soldier Theodore F Carthy, whose pursuit of the fugitives casts a long shadow over the novel. Sister T-J is thrown back and forth, torn between her desire to good and her desire for freedom, assailed at every turn by the dangers of the Wild West and bolstered only by her unshakable faith and the pair of six-shooters she carries on her hips.
Nunslinger has had an interesting route to publication, originally being released as a series of twelve e-novellas before being drawn together into one 600+ page volume (with spectacular cover art by Phillip Harris). There is a full and satisfying story arc – it’s not a series of twelve shorts, but one story divvied up into bite-sized chunks, resulting in a cliffhanger every few pages. The chapters are brief, a series of short, sharp gut-punches that keep you reading just one more, or two more, and it’s easy to pick the book up for ten minutes and read seven or eight chapters in that time.
It’s a more serious book than the punning title would suggest, though it’s by no means lacking in fist fights, shootouts, bar brawls, dramatic escapes, cross-country chases, explosions and sundry other perils. The story is told through the eyes of Sister Thomas Josephine, and she is truly a remarkable character. It’s easy enough to make a nun a bit of a cliché character, but Sister T-J is something special. No matter what rattlesnakes life throws in her path, her prime motivation, first and always, is her duty to God and her desire to do good, and while that might manifest itself in some unusual ways, that central tenet never wavers. Sister T-J is true to her faith while, at the same time, she is a complete badass. And she encourages those around her to find the good in themselves, even if their faith is broken.
The Six-Gun Sister will have you alternately hanging on to the edge of your seat, and punching the air and cheering her on. She rides a long trail, but stick with her and she’ll take you to the Promised Land.