Sofia Samatar - published April 2013
World Fantasy Award winner · British Fantasy Award winner · Crawford Award winner
Nebula Award finalist · Locus Award finalist · Locus Recommended Reading
Sofia Samatar received the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
Rights sold: Audio (Audible); French (nominated for the Prix Imaginales, Les Editions de l’Instant); Polish (MAG); Romanian (Editura Art).
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“The novel is full of subtle ideas and questions that never quite get answered. It is those dichotomies that lie at the heart of this novel, such as what is superstition and what is magic? How much do class and other prejudices affect how we view someone’s religion? Jevick often believes himself above such things, as does the current religious regime of Olondria, but in a way both are haunted until they believe. . . . Samatar gives us no easy answers and there are no villains in the book — simply ordinary people doing what they believe is right.
“As you might expect (or hope) from a novel that is in part about the painting of worlds with words, the prose in Stranger is glorious. Whether through imaginative individual word choices—my favourite here being the merchants rendered “delirious” by their own spices . . . Samatar is adept at evoking place, mood, and the impact of what is seen on the one describing it for us.”
— Strange Horizons
“Vivid, gripping, and shot through with a love of books.”—Graham Sleight, Locus
“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.”
“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 A Natural History of Hell
“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 We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
“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 Get in Trouble
“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
Campbell Award winner Sofia Samatar is a writer, poet, editor, 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 Stone Telling, Goblin Fruit, Bull Spec, and the anthology The Moment of Change. She reviews for Strange Horizons and Islam and Science Fiction, blogs, and is working on a second novel, The Winged Histories.