Max is your typical loser – 30 something, down on his luck more often than not, and a chronic night-owl to the point that he can’t keep a regular day job. The only thing remarkable about Max is that he has very vivid dreams. Then one day a man in Max’s dreams offers him a job… and seeing nothing better about his life Max accepts and is transported to another world – vibrant and exciting where magic is commonplace, but highly regulated. A little bit of acclamation and training and he is officially instated as the Night Time Representative of the Secret Investigative Force (think the CIA, but with magic).
Do you remember when you first read Harry Potter? Even if you weren’t completely blown away, you have to admit that the world that Rowling painted was gorgeous, colorful, and enthralling. My experience reading The Stranger was a lot like that – the world was just so very engaging and convincing. I really felt like I had been plucked out of Boring Old Real World and dropped into the fantasy city painted by the author.
There are some quirks to the storytelling in The Stranger. The first is that it’s a translation from Russian, and while it is very well done, there are references or jokes made from time to time that don’t quite make sense. Very minor things that don’t at all take away from the major themes or humor in the book as a whole. After finishing all 4 Night Watch books and now this new piece of Russian Fantasy, I’m gaining a serious affinity for the genre – both in the originality of the stories and worlds, as well as the variety of wry, askance humor that seems to pervade.
The second quirk to the book is that rather than one large arc (The hardcover weighs in at a middlingly-dense 544 pages), the book is broken up in to 5 large “chapters,” where each chapter is its own story, largely self-contained. Each of these chapters has its own hook, plot, crescendo, climax and resolution, which is nice, but it made the book feel a bit choppy, rather than being a smooth continuous narrative.
What else is there to say about this book? The characters are vibrant and exciting, the wit is beyond measure, and each chapter is nearly impossible to put down. I absolutely loved it, and I’m desperately hoping that the rest of the books in the series will be translated soon and published in the US.