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REVIEW | The Stranger by Max Frei (Overlook)

This is a tough one for me to review. I hadn't heard anything about The Stranger when I bought it. I had some Borders bucks burning a hole in my pocket the week the book was released and the blurb and cover intrigued me enough to given this one a try. The comparison to the Night Watch books by Sergei Lukyanenko cinched it for me since I'm a big fan of that series and those are translated well from Russian. I really wanted to like it, but it fell flat on many levels for me. The main character Max Frei (yes, the same as the author) has the ability to travel to a different reality in his dreams. I thought this idea would work well with him flipping back and forth between the worlds, but Max spends most of his time in Echo, the alternative reality, and we're given almost nothing about his normal world, which I'd guess is similar to our own. The story is told from Max's perspective, but I developed no liking or connection to him. Normally with this type of book you want to root for the main character to learn more and solve the mysteries, but that didn't happen for me. The Stranger suffers from the same problems I had with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell being over long without adding to the plot, advancing the story, characters, or the world. Also, I should point out that ultimately I liked Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. The Stranger starts off decent with Max's early training and induction into Department of Absolute Order. The first case he investigates having to do with an evil mirror is even interesting, however, by than the dialogue started grating on me and was just too inane at many points. I almost put the book down after the first 150 pages, but decided to push through hoping things would improve. I've seen some people refer to the dialogue as keeping "that Russian flare," but it was overwrought with far too many exclamation points and pointless dialogues about how good the food taste in Echo. Here is a short excerpt to show my point:

“Today we’re dining in the Glutton, Max! I’ve been looking forward to this moment.”

“Dining where?”

"The Glutton Bunba, the most elegant mangy dive of them all: hot pâtés, the best kamra in Echo, the splendid Madam Zizinda, and not a single sourpuss to be seen at this hour of day.” “What do you mean, not a single sourpuss?” “Actually, not a single unpleasant face of any kind—but you know this place better than most Echoers!”

“How’s that?”

“You’ll see. Put on your shoes and let’s go. I’m as hungry as an armless thief.” And so for the first time I changed from my house slippers into tall moccasins that aspired to look like real boots. I also had a driver’s test—ha! As if that was anything to worry about!

The book could have benefited from an Editor with a swift hand and the goal of advancing the story quicker, but even than I'm not sure I would have liked it. I give The Stranger 3 out of 10 hats. Book Link: US Canada UK


ediFanoB said...

I read the German edition some years ago and I was heavily disappointed.
Therefore I fully agree with your review.

I also read Johnathan Strange & Mr Norrell which also disappointed me.