21 SF/F Authors Project, Book 21: A Stranger in Olondria

Books & Mags

My latest reading project finishes with A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar (2013).

21 Authors A Stranger in Olondria

Jevick is the second son of a well-to-do pepper merchant from the village of Tyom on Tinimavet. When it becomes apparent that his big brother isn’t capable of continuing the family business, Jevick gets the training and attention instead, including a private tutor from the northern land of Olondria. Jevick learns to speak and read Olondrian, and falls in love with literature, which is non-existent on his native island.

After his father dies, Jevick takes his place on the yearly pepper selling trip to Olondria. On this journey, his first foray out as a merchant, he attends the Feast of Birds celebration and becomes haunted by the ghost of a sick Tinimavet girl. Seeking a cure for her ailment in the north, Jissavet traveled to Bain on the same boat as Jevick but died some time after reaching Olondria. Unable to sleep due to the ghost’s presence, Jevick turns to Olondrian priests for help, but gets entangled and used as a pawn in a struggle between two religions.

Olondria is an unusual fantasy novel – no dime-a-dozen cookie cutter books here. It’s emphatically not an action- or plot-centered novel. Some dramatic events do take place, but they’re not described in an action-y way.

It’s a story about stories with stories that contain stories and refer to yet other stories. In other words, there are a lot of allusions to world-internal myths, poems, songs, books, etc. I’ve seen Olondria compared to a literary memoir, and the comparison sounds apt. The language is very lyrical, ornate, erudite and a little melancholy or nostalgic at times.

The novel is also about love, travel, encountering the wider world through books, different circumstances of people even within the same ingroup and about growing apart from your family or country through different experiences. It’s not a long book, per se, but a literary and dense one, and a great example of how to tell rather than show.

I’d say that any book’s ability to enthrall readers depends entirely on the kind(s) of reading that they most enjoy, or at the very least the kind of literature they are in the mood for. In the end, Olondria didn’t really fit the particular reading mood that I was in, but I admired the novel and appreciated the skill it took to create.

P.S. Find all posts in the project with the 21 authors tag.

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