A Stranger in Olondria

Sofia Samatar  - published April 2013

April 2013 · 300 pp · hardcover · 978-1-61873-062-6 / trade paperback · 978-1-931520-76-8 / ebook · 978-1-931520-77-5

Crawford Award winner
World Fantasy Award finalist
British Fantasy Award finalist

Nebula Award finalist
Locus Award finalist
Locus Recommended Reading
Sofia Samatar just received the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Jevick, the pepper merchant’s son, has been raised on stories of Olondria, a distant land where books are as common as they are rare in his home—but which his mother calls the Ghost Country. When his father dies and Jevick takes his place on the yearly selling trip to Olondria, Jevick’s life is as close to perfect as he can imagine. Just as he revels in Olondria’s Rabelaisian Feast of Birds, he is pulled drastically off course and becomes haunted by the ghost of an illiterate young girl.

In desperation, Jevick seeks the aid of Olondrian priests and quickly becomes a pawn in the struggle between the empire’s two most powerful cults. Even as the country simmers on the cusp of war, he must face his ghost and learn her story before he has any chance of freeing himself by setting her free: an ordeal that challenges his understanding of art and life, home and exile, and the limits of that most seductive of necromancies, reading.

A Stranger in Olondria was written while the author taught in South Sudan. It is a rich and heady brew which pulls the reader in deeper and still deeper with twists and turns that hearken back to the Gormenghast novels while being as immersive as George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.

Read an excerpt on Tor.com.

More? Download a pdf of the first 70 pages.

“The excerpt from Sofia Samatar‘s compelling novel A Stranger in Olondria should be enough to make you run out and buy the book. Just don’t overlook her short “Selkie Stories Are for Losers,” the best story about loss and love and selkies I’ve read in years.”
—K. Tempest Bradford, NPR

“Sofia Samatar’s debut fantasy A Stranger in Olondria is gloriously vivid and rich.”
—Adam Roberts, The Guardian, Best Science Fiction Books of 2013

“Books can limit our experiences and reinforce the structures of empire. They can also transport us outside existing structures. The same book may do both in different ways or for different people. Samatar has written a novel that captures the ecstasy and pain of encountering the world through books, showing us bits and pieces of our contemporary world while also transporting us into a new one.”

Interview: Coode Street Podcast with Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe

“Vivid, gripping, and shot through with a love of books.”—Graham Sleight, Locus

“It’s the rare first novel with no unnecessary parts – and, in terms of its elegant language, its sharp insights into believable characters, and its almost revelatory focus on the value and meaning of language and story, it’s the most impressive and intelligent first novel I expect to see this year, or perhaps for a while longer.”

Sofia Samatar: The Big IdeaInterview on the QwilleryCoode Street Podcast with Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe

“A richly rewarding experience for those who love prose poetry and non-traditional narratives. Sofia Samatar’s debut novel is a fine exemplar of bibliomancy.”
Craig Laurence Gidney (Sea Swallow Me)

“With characteristic wit, poise, and eloquence, Samatar delivers a story about our vulnerability to language and literature, and the simultaneous experience of power and surrender inherent in the acts of writing and reading.”—Amal El-Mohtar, Tor.com

“If you want to lose yourself in the language of a book, this is the one you should read first. Samatar’s prose is evocative and immediate, sweeping you into the complex plot and the world of Jevick, a pepper merchant’s son.”

“A journey that is as familiar and foreign as a land in a dream. It’s a study of two traditions, written and oral, and how they intersect. Samatar uses exquisite language and precise details to craft a believable world filled with sight, sound and scent.”
Fantasy Literature

Advance Praise

“Samatar’s sensual descriptions create a rich, strange landscape, allowing a lavish adventure to unfold that is haunting and unforgettable.”
Library Journal (*starred review*)

“Sofia Samatar has an expansive imagination, a poetic and elegant style, and she writes stories so rich, with characters so full of life, they haunt you long after the story ends. A real pleasure.”
—Chris Abani, author of GraceLand and The Virgin of Flames

“A book about the love of books. Her sentences are intoxicating and one can easily be lost in their intricacy…. Samatar’s beautifully written book is one that will be treasured by book lovers everywhere.”
—Raul M. Chapa, BookPeople, Austin, TX

“Thoroughly engaging and thoroughly original. A story of ghosts and books, treachery and mystery, ingeniously conceived and beautifully written. One of the best fantasy novels I’ve read in recent years.”—Jeffrey Ford, author of The Girl in the Glass

“Mesmerizing—a sustained and dreamy enchantment. A Stranger in Olondria reminds both Samatar’s characters and her readers of the way stories make us long for far-away, even imaginary, places and how they also bring us home again.”
—Karen Joy Fowler, New York Times bestselling author of The Jane Austen Book Club

“Gorgeous writing, beautiful and sensual and so precise—a Proustian ghost story.”—Paul Witcover, author of Tumbling After

“Let the world take note of this dazzling and accomplished fantasy. Sofia Samatar’s debut novel is both exhilarating epic adventure and loving invocation of what it means to live through story, poetry, language. She writes like the heir of Ursula K. Le Guin and Gene Wolfe.”
—Kelly Link, author of Magic for Beginners

“Imagine an inlaid cabinet, its drawers within drawers filled with spices, roses, amulets, bright cities, bones, and shadows.  Sofia Samatar is a merchant of wonders, and her A Stranger in Olondria is a bookshop of dreams.”
—Greer Gilman, author of Cloud & Ashes

Listen to Sofia read a couple of her poems on Stone Telling: “Girl Hours” · “The Sand Diviner

Campbell Award winner Sofia Samatar is a fantasy writer, poet, and critic, and PhD in African Languages and Literature. She wrote A Stranger in Olondria in Yambio, South Sudan, where she worked as an English teacher. Her poetry has appeared in several places, including Stone Telling, Goblin Fruit, Bull Spec, and the anthology The Moment of Change. She reviews fiction for Strange Horizons and Islam and Science Fiction, blogs, and is working on a second novel.


7 Responses to “A Stranger in Olondria”

  1. Weekly Roundup 8.19.12 « alisa alering on August 19th, 2012 6:59 pm

    [...] and Ben Rosenbaum read from “Elsewhere”. Sofia Samatar read from her new novel, “A Stranger in Olondria,” a rich, captivating tale of a young man’s journey. This week her story “Honey [...]

  2. Meet Kathleen Jennings…. | on September 9th, 2012 3:33 pm

    [...] duress!) it developed the style which Small Beer Press and Sofia Samatar made me discover for A Stranger in Olondria. I learned a lot doing the cover for Olondria, and still view it through a filter of “if I [...]

  3. OA Podcast #24: Changing the Conversation (Recorded at WorldCon) | The Outer Alliance on September 18th, 2012 9:47 am

    [...] are two of Sofia’s poems, which appeared in Stone Telling. *Sofia’s first novel, A Stranger in Olondria, is available for pre-order through Small Beer Press. *Sofia has a shorts story with a lesbian [...]

  4. Midnight and Moonshine – the cover art « Errantry on September 26th, 2012 3:55 pm

    [...] in the end the line work was too bold and “YA”. But the cover for A Stranger in Olondria was in the wild by now, so I had some more experience (and everyone had more reference) for what we [...]

  5. I’ve been tagged by Sofia Samatar « the Literate Condition on October 27th, 2012 10:43 am

    [...] in regards to her debut novel “A Stranger in Olondria,” due soon from Small Beer Press. Pre-ordering is available, and she’ll be reading from the novel at The Wisconsin Book Festival Sun, Nov. [...]

  6. A post of two topics: self-confidence and the Wisconsin Book Festival « the Literate Condition on November 7th, 2012 4:05 pm

    [...] You can visit Sofia’s blog here and you can preorder her novel from Small Beer Press here. [...]

  7. A Stranger in Olondria – cover art | Errantry on April 30th, 2013 7:36 am

    [...] Last year, Small Beer Press asked whether I would be interested in trying a more ‘painterly’ style, for the decadent, festal beauty of the city of Sofia Samatar’s novel A Stranger in Olondria. [...]

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