The Voyage of the Short Serpent
In an unspecified year, a Church cardinal sends a letter to a bishop with orders for a special mission. The remote Greenland settlement of New Thule has been out of contact for over fifty years, and now rumors have reached the Church that the settlers have turned to all manner of heresy and paganism. The cardinal sends the bishop to see if the colony truly has gone native and, if so, to restore it to the Church’s control. He is instructed to take inventory of treasure, monitor property, collect tithe, and – oh yeah – see if the people are all right. Ready to eradicate sin and restore order, the bishop heads off to the icy wastelands on a ship called the Short Serpent. After a grueling (and gruesome) journey, what the bishop finds at New Thule is more shocking than he could have imagined, but that is nothing compared to what happens next.
The Voyage of the Short Serpent is a short book, but it packs quite a wallop in its few pages. The story is full of historical detail with regard to shipbuilding, navigation, Church policy, local geography, and the horrors of the settler’s life, all told in a literary epistolary style with almost no dialogue. The writing style is somehow both offhand and pointed, describing the most disturbing scenes with a callous detachment that hides what feels like a kind of dark glee. As the story goes on and the bishop’s report becomes less and less intelligible, the sense of morbid amusement grows even stronger. This is not a story for the faint of heart (or the queasy of stomach) — part literary tale, part historical tragedy, part horror show, it is a book that defies genre and defies expectations. Short, shocking, and strangely celebratory – a dark and definitely recommended read.