I am new to the reviewing game, and so I’m still learning how to do it right. I tend to retell the book or movie, rather than telling about it. I’m going to do my best not to retell this book, because there is absolutely no way I could tell it as well as Julie.
As a general rule, I don’t like humungous books. The Wheel of Time soured me on that whole thing. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the first few, but the the next few I had to force myself to finish, not because the writing wasn’t good, but because the books seemed to drag on and on. And when each book of a series had to include a “what has gone before” to bring people up to speed, after a few books, that has to be the size of several chapters itself to do justice to the lengthening series, well…it quickly burned me out on huge tomes.
This book is worth it. Weighing in at 867 pages, I was nervous about it, but based on Julie’s previous books, I dove in anyway. I must say—though it may sound like conceit coming from a pre-published author—that I can’t see how this story could have been told in a shorter book. Well, I suppose it could have, but it wouldn’t be as good.
This is not an epic fantasy like Lord of the Rings or Wheel of Time. It is a quiet, personal, almost an intimate fantasy (one reviewer called it pastoral, and that fits too, for it is set in a small farming village). One young girl’s quest to follow her dreams and see the wider world outside her small village. When that quest is frustrated, she must learn how to live without her dream, or find a new dream.
One of the the strengths of Julie’s writing has been the background she weaves into her stories. When I first read A Thousand Words for Stranger, it put me immediately in mind of the great Andre Norton, who was a master of dropping a word or phrase that evoked entire chunks of a culture. Julie has that same gift and it shows in AToL as much as it did in her science fiction books.
Julie has been been doing extensive research over the last ten years on how the pioneers lived and worked in her native Ontario. That research shows in the small details that she inserts in the book that make it seem real to those of us who don’t know how a grist mill works, or what a community harvest is really like.
To complement the real details, she puts in the fantastical details. The dragons, the toads (if you don’t think toads can be fantastical, read this book!), the other creatures that are all her own: kruar, nyphret, efflet and others.
With this book, Julie Czerneda has expanded her repertoire to include fantasy, and without losing any of the wonderful writing and world building that have made her one of the best writers in today’s speculative fiction field.
I understand she is working on a sequel to AToL, and I await it with pleasurable anticipation. Now that the world is built and waiting, I can’t wait to get pulled back in and see what happens next.
I urge Ms. Czerneda to keep the next one down in size (half this length would be good), but if the next story needs another big one to be told well, then I’ll accept that. It will be worth it, I’m sure.
–a few memorable quotes–
Four weddings and an eclipse
“Anywhere touched by magic.”
“You can’t lose dreams, Sweetling, only misplace them for a while.”
I came late to Julie’s books. I had seen them in stores and advertised in Locus and such, but I always had other priorities in my purchasing. I regret that. When I did get around to picking up A Thousand Words for Stranger, it made me realize what I had been missing for years.