“The boy was very still in the small white bed.“
The Stranger is a gunslinger on a quest, riding through the dreamlike lands of the Escapement. Dangers abound, from symbol storms and wild clowns, to giant stone Colossi walking the lands, and everywhere ‘magic’ swirling in the aether.
In a parallel world, a man sits beside a hospital bed, detached from reality and hoping for a miracle.
The premise of this book was so appealing, fantasy and wonder and all the fractured mirror images of the real world as if seen through a child’s eyes. And the western elements of the nameless gunslinger riding through increasing peril – cool!
Alas, the translation of the ideas left me pretty cold. This is ‘literary fiction does fantasy’, and I’m just not a fan: it feels to me like a lot of adjectives but very little substance.
I did really like the way the two worlds existed side-by-side, and the moments of blurring. However, neither world felt appealing: one of hospitals (I’ve had too much of those in the real world of late, thank you – hence the very long gap in my reading!) and dying children, and the other of tragic, enslaved clowns and largely unpleasant characters. I thought most of the cool stuff, be that magic that left people with charmed items embedded in their being, or wars being played out by god-like entities in the background of ‘normal’ lives, got far far too little focus or explanation.
The afterward mentions a dozen or more influences, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m not convinced the author added enough to the story beyond mashing this disparate imagery together and expecting the reader to be impressed enough. Overall it was okay – well-written and superficially interesting – but I wasn’t particularly engrossed, or impressed.
NetGalley eARC: 256 pages / 12 chapters
First published: 2021
Read from 26th September 2021 – 31st January 2022 (with a very long break!)
My rating: 5/10