Book Review: Stranger Back Home (Fantastic Stranger) by E.L. Haines

Stranger Back Home

Stranger  Back Home by E.L. Haines: a gnomish explorer before a yellow glow sending out sparks; a dragon behind the glow, against a dark sky.Series: Fantastic Stranger, #1

Author: E.L. Haines

Genre: Fantasy Comedy

Book Description:

One day, your father is a renowned diplomat. The next day, he’s an infamous terrorist.

When Sparrow is summoned to the reading of his father’s last will and testament, the most he hoped for was a minor bequest. Instead, he inherited suspicion and accusations from the Empire that his father helped unite.

Locked away in a vault are the secrets that will reveal Xavier DuMont’s mysterious past and shine a light on Sparrow’s future. Perhaps even the future of the entire realm.

Of course, these secrets won’t be obtained easily. Especially when everyone in this magical world seems so casually racist.

Social dynamics in this world were already pretty strange. Somehow, Sparrow makes everything stranger.

Rating: Humourous, Fantastic, Not-What-I-Usually-Read-So-That-Will-Do

Review:

I’m not familiar with the style of fantasy comedy, but I found that while the first few chapters (or maybe it was more than that) often left me slightly distracted by what was and was not told, and perhaps sometimes how it was told, it was nonetheless an easy and engaging read. One that I did not have to work at reading or understanding, and the winsome comments did not pull me out of it.

Here’s a paragraph (rather early in the book – the first chapter, actually – that illustrates this. At least at first, the kinds of comments that conclude this quote were everywhere. I’m not sure whether the frequency with which they appeared diminished after a certain point in the book, or if I had gotten to use to them and so did not notice half of them or so).

I’m considerably shorter than the average passenger, I’m sure, so I had to make a little awkward hop down to the ground. The wizard, being a man of normal proportions, exited the coach with much more grace, but with the unhurriedness that comes with advanced age. I can only hope to make it to

that age where I don’t ever have to rush to accommodate armed robbers.

Stranger Back Home has a lot of politics and intrigue to it, and the setting and events feel like something between an other-world high fantasy story and an urban fantasy. Sparrow carries lots of baggage from earth, and he seems to be so narrow in vision that he fixates on superficial similarities to the exclusion of all else and to total misunderstanding. Most of the events take place in the very urbanesque landscape of DragonsMouth, a city that lacks modern invention, but is a city no less for that, full of streets and carriages and garbage collection and back alley robbers and everything that makes a city – and smog. Or not smog exactly, but the ashes and fumes from a giant crematorium that constantly fall around the city, as it is set within a dome that restricts the air supply and wind.

There’s lots of exciting action with some very strange twists, settings, and appearances, such as a deadly duel disguised as a dance. It has vampires and musical bands, and a whole lot of misdirection. One feels as if one does not know who is who, who is connected to whom, and who the greatest threats are or how they are connected. There is even doubt about what Sparrow’s ultimate motives are, who he really is, how he really intends to treat his friends – is he as guiltless and innocent as he claims to be, or did he play more of a part in setting things up than he says?

Which raises another question: Is Sparrow making the whole thing up whole-cloth?

I’ll mention a few side points: there’s a theme that runs through it, that Sparrow has taken a hand to the removal of oppressive political entities/families/whatever-have-you, and that every time he has done so, it leaves behind a vacuum of power which a greater evil comes to fill. In the course of Stranger Back Home he takes down a few more of these political evils, and one wonder if the solution they reach is going to … be a real improvement, or if there’s something hidden that will show its ugly head sometime down the road. It raises some interesting thoughts to be explored.

And another thing I enjoyed was Sparrow’s illusionism. He says that it is one thing to make oneself invisible, but a master considers where and when to make himself invisible – and maybe what to make invisible, as well? That is played to its full in some very interesting ways, that fit the rest of the story.

Misdirection. I mentioned that word earlier, didn’t I?

My enjoyment of the book was primarily distracted or hindered by two things, placed in order of importance. The first was a real effect: due to Sparrow’s time on earth, he’s very fixated on racism. Racist and class issues, and thoughts about them, play a large part in this novel. For one thing, I like my fantasy to be farther removed from earth. I just do. And another is that I find it very, very hard to follow and to be sure what is being said in these contexts. So that was somewhat distracting.

Secondly, it was grotesque at times. There were not gory details, but there were a number of grotesque and gruesome elements of a sort that I don’t exactly enjoy. I won’t say they did not add something to the book that was worthwhile, but I found some of them slightly off-putting.

PS. The hatred between the gnomes and the kobolds makes me sad. But I can see why the kobolds would be unhappy about certain things. Those things will remain discreet, since I don’t feel like writing a “Spoilers Review” right now.

E.L. Haine’s Website

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