Vern is a cynical dragon living on the wrong side of the Interdimensional Gap and working off a geas by St. George as a professional problem solver and agent of the Faerie Catholic Church. In this case, he and his partner, Sister Grace, a High Mage of the Faerie Catholic Church, have been asked by the Church to chaperone a few dozen Faerie citizens at a Mensa convention. Should be a cushy job, right? Not when pixies start pranking, Valkyries start vamping and a dwarf goes to the equivalent of Disneyworld hoping to be "discovered." Environmentalists protest Vern's "disrupting the ecosystem," while clueless tourists think he's animatronic. When the elves get high on artificial flavorings and declare war on Florida, it turns into the toughest case they'd not get paid for. Based loosely on the award-winning serial "mystery" in the North Dakota Prairie Dawg.
Jody Lynn Nye: Karina Fabianʼs premiere novel from Swimming Kangaroo Press, Magic, Mensa & Mayhem, made me laugh, everything from quiet chuckles to outright snorts. MM&M brought to mind Craig Shaw Gardnerʼs humorous Tales of Wuntvor, with its phraselong Elvish names and clash of magical races, each with its own culture and quirks that would make a UN official tear out his or her hair. The main character and narrator, a cranky dragon named Vern and his partner, an Irish Faerie nun named Sister Grace, negotiate a MENSA convention in Central Florida in an effort to keep the peace between the Mundane world and the delegates from Faerie, all the while trying to discover the reason a perpetrator has set a host of Brownies loose in an unbridled cleaning frenzy. There are enough puns to elicit groans from even the sternest critic. A quick read and an enjoyable one.
Janey showed me a map of the everglades and I found it with no trouble. It was a little damp for my tastes, but in the heat of the afternoon, the tepid water felt refreshing, and after scaring off anything stupid enough to get in my way, I settled down among the reeds for a snooze. I did devote part of my attention to keeping tabs on my environment, however. Mundane fauna didn't recognize dragons as a natural predator. My size might deter most of them, but I didn't want to take a chance on some alligator or puma with delusions of grandeur thinking I'd make a nice lunch.
Of course that also meant that half an hour into a very nice nap, I became aware of humans talking. Two of them had mouths so foul that if they'd been on television, the conversation would have sounded like this:
"Whoa! What the (bleep) is that?"
"(Bleep) if I know. (bleep) (bleep). Let's (bleeping) stay the (bleep) away from the (bleeping) thing. (bleep!)"
"Like (bleep). I want a closer look."
"(Bleep) that. It looks (bleeping) dangerous. I'm staying (bleeping) far away, (bleep/personal insult)."
"You (bleeping) coward. I'm the (bleep) one who's gonna get (bleeping) close to the (bleeping) thing. You just keep the (bleeping) camera rolling."
Obviously not a tourist group; maybe some natives out for thrills. I stayed still and feigned sleep. I was going to give them the thrill of their lives.
I almost blew it, though, then someone said, "Action!" and PottyMouth screached out, "Sheeeew-Dang! Can you see that big ol'snout hidin' in them thar bushes? I'm tellin' you, chil', I ain't neva seen no gator that size or cullur before."
Big snout? Me? Now he was asking for it.
"Look at them teeth. I swahr, they's the size of my bowie, they is. Jes look."
I heard something snap and a friction sound like a large knife against a plastic case. I waited for him to try to lay his knife near my canines, but he didn't approach, and I guessed the camera was doing a close-up. At least this time they'd get my better side. I wondered who these jokers were.
I heard him put the knife back in its sheath, and he said, "Yessir! This here critter ain't like no critter I'd ever seen. We may've jes found usselves a new species. You know the Everglades is home to twenty threatened species and fifteen endangered, including the Day-Lee-own sable sparrow and the south Florida American speckle-headed turtle. She-oot, we ain't got no turtle here, do we? Let's see if'n we can get ar-selves a closer look."
I waited while he snuck up close, muttering reassurances and facts to me and the camera audience, then as I heard the tendons in his knees creak as he knelt, I opened my eyes and said,
"Shee-ooot! That thar accent is thicker than cold pea soup!"
Religion and humor suffuse this well-imagined and densely plotted comedic mystery, based on a short story of the same title. Cursed by St. George to serve the Faerie Catholic Church, dragon detective Vern now sleuths in the mundane world. His latest (unpaid) assignment is to babysit a group of faeries attending a Mensa meeting. Vern quickly has his claws full juggling crises, from invisible brownies to two elves whose rivalry threatens to become interdimensional war. Distinctly memorable and occasionally silly supporting characters, from Brunhilde the Valkyrie to Native American trickster Coyote, steer the action. While the conclusion sticks perilously close to genre formula and the narrative is jumpy throughout, most readers will forgive the clichés (and Vern’s groan-worthy puns) and chuckle all the way through.
Ask a Cybrarian Book Reviews
This year’s Mensa World Gathering is being held at the infamous Orlando theme park, BillyBeaver™’s Fantasyland. Since the Interdimensional Gap between the Mundane world and the land of Faerie has not been opened long, the Church has asked a very cynical dragon named Vern and his partner Sister Grace, a High Mage of the Faerie Catholic Church, to chaperone…er, accompany… the members of the Faerie community that have been invited to attend this auspicious event in the human world. The attempt to make sure everything runs smoothly is a purely precautionary measure, of course. What could possibly go wrong?
Vern is a highly trained private investigator who is quite certain his talents could be better spent in activities beyond babysitting the pranking pixies as faeries go wild in the Mundane world. After all, this “dragon-eye, PI” is an immortal with the knowledge of the ages, and is renowned as a professional problem solver and agent of the Faerie Catholic Church. Needless to say, babysitting a bunch of mischievous magicals is NOT what this hero has in mind for his next big case! It soon becomes very apparent, however, that real trouble is brewing and threats of an upcoming Interdimensional war must be waylaid. The dragon’s mad sleuthing skills play a vital role in solving this humor-laden mystery.
Vern’s very cynical quick wit would give even Simon Cowell a run for his money. The dragon’s sarcastic demeanor totally compliments the poised and calm Sister Grace in a perfectly comical blend as the pair quip their way through a series of unpredictable misadventures like dealing with a dwarf who has high hopes of being “discovered” on his trip to the human world, and elves quite enamored with themselves as they buzz all over the place high on artificial flavorings and declaring war on the state of Florida! Magic, Mensa & Mahem is filled with colorful unique characters that will capture your heart and your imagination.
This book is an inspired read. Fabian writes with a quick witted fresh approach that will keep you thoroughly entertained and rolling on the floor laughing. You have to pay attention – you don’t want to miss any of the humorous one-liners or groan-worthy puns in this truly enjoyable tale.
Magic, Mensa, and Mayhem is a good example of truth in advertising. Karina Fabian has written a merry romp through a world where social, political, and economic concourse between mundane Earth and the realm of Faerie has become routine, so there’s nothing particularly odd about magical creatures participating in a Mensa conference in Florida, affinity among brainy people being a common denominator in both dimensions.
However, sinister forces are afoot, so it’s up to dragon detective Vern de Wyvern and his partner, Sister Grace McCarthy of Our Lady of the Miracles, to make sure everything goes smoothly.
Ms. Fabian peppers her story with wry social commentary and puns galore, assuring a chuckle on almost every page. No ox is left ungored, from Magic Kingdoms(tm) to environmental protesters to nefarious corporate profiteers, to bloviating politicians. Everybody gets a heaping helping of Vern’s sardonic wit, and despite all manner of obstacles, including drunken pixies, obsessive-compulsive brownies, starstruck dwarves, lovelorn valkyries, and the master of disaster himself, Coyote the Trickster of Native American lore, Vern and Grace prevail with style and, well, grace. It’s lighthearted, diverting entertainment for everyone from eight to eighty (though some of the puns and double-entendres may fly over the heads of younger folks).
I’d recommend this book on its entertainment merits alone, but something else struck me as I finished the last few pages. Underneath all the yuks and puns and magical farce is a very profound story of personal transformation illustrated by an unlikely character–Vern himself.
Without going into a lot of Vern’s backstory (read the book for that), Vern was, for millenia, a typical, fire-breathing, knight-noshing engine of intimidation and destruction, until he was captured by the Faerie version of Saint George, stripped of most of his dragonly powers, and dragooned (sorry, the puns are contagious) into the service of the Faerie Catholic Church, the dominant faith in Fabian’s Faerie realm. To regain his former magnificence, Vern must cultivate a life of good works and service to others.
Despite his protestations to the contrary, Vern is a dragon in need of salvation, and his downfall is pride. He has a traumatic conversion experience and enters God’s service. He discovers the power of humility, loyalty, and friendship. He adopts spiritual disciplines. He learns how to control his anger and solve problems cooperatively, not depending on his own strength and abilities. He learns to put others before himself.
As Vern grows spiritually, he also grows physically, slowly regaining the powers he surrendered at his conversion, but he is now able to use them humbly and responsibly. It is the reverse, but not the opposite, of the “un-dragoning” of Eustace in C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Vern is re-dragoned, becoming the truly noble creature of God’s imagination he was always meant to be.
Ms. Fabian is a Catholic writer, so it’s not surprising that references to her faith emerge in this story. They are handled in a simple, unselfconscious manner consistent with the universe she has created. She’s not shy about expressing her faith, but her story is not in any way a Catholic tract in disguise. The themes are universal–everyone, on some level, is looking for redemption and transformation.
Vern’s metaphor speaks most poignantly to Christians, I think, because it lies at the very heart of what we believe is true about our relationship with God. He reaches out to us and changes us, though we’ve done nothing to deserve it, and then He leads us on a lifelong journey in which we become conformed to that divine image which was our original birthright. We become the people we were always meant to be. Maybe this is why I found Vern such an appealing character. I can see a lot of me in Vern.
Whew, all this depth in a funny little story about a dragon. Who’d have thought?
Go buy a copy of the book and enjoy it. Karina’s also set up a webpage for the book with discussion forums and more details about Vern and his other adventures at http://www.dragoneyepi.net.