This is a tough book to review, and I’ll tell you why.
This book has the most beautiful language I’ve seen in a long, long time. Perhaps ever. (Aspiring authors, DO NOT READ THIS. You will cry and feel like a failure by comparison.)
It’s evocative and paints a vibrant picture right in your mind—not as clear as someone like Jim Butcher, though. More like it plants the seed and lets your imagination run wild from there. Which is a much more powerful technique if you ask me, especially in the realm of Fantasy.
This is going to sound like a back-handed compliment but I swear it’s not. If there was ever an argument for telling instead of showing, A Stranger in Olondira is it. I’ve hardly seen a city or culture described so well. The world-building isn’t handed to you in stuffy, stilted prose. It’s like reading a master’s idea notebook, but it’s been edited and written to be a work of art in itself.
This novel reads like a poetic dream, and it’s an important reminder of why I fell in love with language and just how powerful it can be.
So, why only three stars? Well, the thing is…nothing really happens.
I got more than halfway through the book without understanding what was going on, who the characters were, or why I should care.
In a way, I almost feel like I’m too stupid for this book. Like when you go to a museum and look at a painting that others have written millions of words of critique about and have scrutinized closely for decades. You can appreciate the artist’s skill, sure, but I’ve never been much for “literary” works and I’ll be honest in saying that much of this novel passed right over my head.
But you know what? Points for fucking ambition, that’s what. Sofia Samatar will have a beautiful writing career, and I’m looking forward to what she publishes next.