This year I’m giving each nominated work for the Hugo and Nebula novel awards their very own entry after I read them.
A Stranger in Olondria by Sophia Samatar was not the sort of book that I would pick up based on the cover. Which is not to say that the cover is inaccurate. I believe in this case, my instincts against the cover would have prevented me from picking up a book that I would not enjoy.
However, I didn’t choose to read it based on the cover, or the subtitle that appears on the title page, “Being the Complete Memoirs of the Mystic, Jevick of Tyom.” I chose to read it because it was nominated for the Nebula award (though it did not win).
Reading these award nominated books has helped me understand what it is that I seek when I read. I enjoy books that read quickly, in part because I like reading books over and over. I have, on occasion, finished a book and started it again immediately. I find it easier to slow down on a book that reads quickly than to speed up when I find a book to be a slog.
Of course, a book that is a slog the first time around may end up being a quick one subsequently, but, for whatever reason, I like to read fast first and digest at my leisure on the second read. I understand that some people only ever read a book once, but I don’t get it.
Still, like many of the others on the list of nominees, I doubt I will reread A Stranger in Olondria. I don’t know exactly why some aspects of it bugged me, but bug me they did. There was a stretch of about 20 pages where the word marmoreal was used on three separate occasions. I have a decently large vocabulary, but I didn’t know that word and the context seemed vague – just another adjective in a list. Add to that I was at a trailhead with no dictionary or internet access at the time and it was as irritating as a mosquito bite (it means marble-like, by the way).
The subtitle bugged me, because I felt that it was the only hook into the book. Despite the title, the first few chapters do not take place in Olondria and might be better titled A Stranger in Tyom. Without the subtitle, I think there would be little to compel the reader to read past the first page. (If the reader happened to be me. Maybe I’m just not the market.)
I could not find interest with or connection to the main character or the ghost that haunted him. On the one hand, many aspects of the world were lovingly detailed, and on the other hand, the questions that I, as a reader, would have preferred to have answered were not addressed. It was almost as if the story itself were quite simple, but dressed up in very fancy clothing.
You know that a book is not for you when you keep checking to see how many pages you have left to read before it’s finally over and when you hope that there’s a glossary of terms at the back which will make the ending come sooner. Sometimes a book grows on me as I read it, but not this time.