Read A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar Online


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. 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. But just as he revels in Olondria's Rabelaisian Feast of Birds, he is pulled drasticaJevick, 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. 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. But 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. Yet even as the country shimmers on the cusp of war, he must face his ghost and learn her story before he has any chance of becoming free by setting her free: an ordeal that challenges his understanding of art and life, home and exile, and the limits of that seductive necromancy, reading.A Stranger in Olondria is a skillful and immersive debut fantasy novel that pulls the reader in deeper and deeper with twists and turns reminiscent of George R. R. Martin and Joe Hill.Sofia Samatar is an American of Somali and Swiss German Mennonite background. She wrote A Stranger in Olondria in Yambio, south Sudan, where she worked as an English teacher. She has worked in Egypt and is pursuing a PhD in African languages and literature at the University of Madison, Wisconsin....

Title : A Stranger in Olondria
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781931520768
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 299 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

A Stranger in Olondria Reviews

  • Alex Ristea
    2019-04-04 06:57

    This is a tough book to review, and I'll tell you why.This book has the most beautiful language I've seen in a long, long time. Perhaps ever. (Aspiring authors, DO NOT READ THIS. You will cry and feel like a failure by comparison.)It's evocative and paints a vibrant picture right in your mind—not as clear as someone like Jim Butcher, though. More like it plants the seed and lets your imagination run wild from there. Which is a much more powerful technique if you ask me, especially in the realm of Fantasy.This is going to sound like a back-handed compliment but I swear it's not. If there was ever an argument for telling instead of showing, A Stranger in Olondira is it. I've hardly seen a city or culture described so well. The world-building isn't handed to you in stuffy, stilted prose. It's like reading a master's idea notebook, but it's been edited and written to be a work of art in itself.This novel reads like a poetic dream, and it's an important reminder of why I fell in love with language and just how powerful it can be.So, why only three stars? Well, the thing is...nothing really happens.I got more than halfway through the book without understanding what was going on, who the characters were, or why I should care.In a way, I almost feel like I'm too stupid for this book. Like when you go to a museum and look at a painting that others have written millions of words of critique about and have scrutinized closely for decades. You can appreciate the artist's skill, sure, but I've never been much for "literary" works and I'll be honest in saying that much of this novel passed right over my head. But you know what? Points for fucking ambition, that's what. Sofia Samatar will have a beautiful writing career, and I'm looking forward to what she publishes next.

  • Forrest
    2019-04-18 01:01

    Drenched in equal parts beauty and sorrow, Sofia Samatar's lush first novel makes for compelling reading. I had first journyed to the island of Tinimavet, homeland of Jevick, a pepper merchant's son and subsequent heir, via a chapbook preview given out at WisCon 2012. After reading the first several chapters, I was addicted to Samatar's rich prose, as well as being enamored of the Tea Islands and the titular Olondria, to which Jevick travels after his father dies and he takes over the family trade.The beauty of the milieu is that, rather than yet another medieval Euro-clone fantasy world, the world of Olondria and the Tea Islands is derived from South Asian, Middle Eastern, African, and Malaysian or Indonesian frames. Having tangentially studied some of these areas (my Master's Degree is in African History), I was impressed not only by the trappings, but by the cultural honesty and authenticity that informed the characters' actions and attitudes. This is no simplistic rendering of quaint folk-tales, either, though there is a fairy-tale quality to some of the sub-stories that are told within the greater narrative. It is a rich and varied web, a real relief from Eurocentric works and the tired glut of urban fantasy. Sick of Tolkien clones? Give this a try. Love Tolkien clones? Try this. I must admit that the opiate prose of the chapbook set me up for an emotional fall where the chapbook left off and the rest of the book picked up. I had no idea that I was standing on the edge of an abyss. You see, I waited a full year for the full book to be published and had been lulled into a sense of warmth and security by the beauty of the settings and of Samatar's writing. That warmth and security was soon shattered as I read about Jevick finding himself thrust into a series of mishaps, through no fault of his own, which affect him and those around him, shattering the envelope of innocence and optimism that might have surrounded him in his childhood. Worst of all, he is haunted, literally, by the soul of a young girl, Jissavet, whom he met on his way to Olondria and who subsequently died from the disease kyitna. Her ghost invades his life, ordering him to immortalize her by writing a Vallon, or book. When he reveals to others that Jissavet's ghost has come to visit him, some are convinced that he is insane and in need of confinement and healing, others see him as a saint, an Avneanyi, blessed with the gift to speak with angels. Through all the intervening intrigue, he searches for her body so that he can burn her remains and give her a proper send-off into the afterlife, releasing her from entrapment between the worlds of the living and the dead.Ultimately, A Stranger in Olondria is about the power of books, both redemptive and destructive. By being taught to read and write in his youth by an Olondrian tutor, Jevick is eventually thrust into his harrowing journey by the books he reads. He is tormented into writing a book and, (view spoiler)[when he does so, finds himself falling in love with the girl who dictates her life's story to him, a love that can never be requited, because the object of his love is dead and he is required to release her from her ghostly existence between the worlds of the living and the dead. (hide spoiler)]This is a deeply moving book, intellectually stimulating and emotionally poignant. The story, the characters, the overwhelming sense of sweetness, sadness, and nostalgia will stick with me for some time. It is a multi-layered work, with stories within stories like Russian dolls, and this structure works, for the most part. Even the one structural hiccup, the mechanical transition from Jevick's story to Jissavet's, is smoothed out by the overall excellence of the writing, the beauty of the setting and cultures, and the heart-breaking feeling of yearning that tears at the reader's soul. This is clearly the best book I've read thus far this year.It was worth the wait.Don't wait. Read it!Addendum: I am very, very happy to see that this book won the 2014 World Fantasy Award for best novel. Well-deserved! And for those who haven't read it yet . . . I already told you to read it!!!

  • Algernon
    2019-04-08 07:01

    As I was a stranger in Olondria, I knew nothing of the splendor of its coasts, nor of Bain, the Harbor City, whose lights and colors spill into the ocean like a cataract of roses. I did not know the vastness of the spice markets in Bain, where the merchants are delirious with scents, I had never seen the morning mists adrift above the surface of green Illoun, of which the poets sing; I had never seen a woman with gems in her hair, nor observed the copper glinting of the domes, nor stood upon the melancholy beaches of the south while the wind brought in the sadness from the sea. Deep within Fayaleith, the Country of the Wines, the clarity of light can stop the heart: it is the light the local people call "the breath of angels" and is said to cure heartsickness and bad lungs. Beyond this is the Balinfeil, where, in the winter months, the people wear caps of white squirell fur, and in the summer months the goddess Love is said to walk and the earth is carpeted with almond blossom. Tourism to far-away exotic places can be expensive in this world, and a disappointment once you get there and find the place overrun by thousand of other tourists like you. It is easier and cheaper to go visit virtual destinations, conjured by the magic of the writen word, to learn about their history, myths, cuisine, folk dances, climate and arhitecture, art and philosophy under the supervision of a professional tour guide. Sofia Samatar knows of such a magical destination, and has gracefully accepted to share its wonders with us. We are all strangers to Olondria, and it only took the opening paragraph I quoted above to convince me that I want to go there and see for myself its sigths and its people, to feel the scented breezes blowing from the shore, to taste the spicy foods and to listen to the songs and to the tales around the campfires.My interest in this travelogue type of fantasy has its roots in the sailing stories of Joseph Conrad and in the accounts of explorers from Marco Polo to Thor Heyerdahl. When the white spots on the map of our Earth were exhausted, I turned my attention to fantasy and science-fiction, trying to recapture the sense of adventure and wonder. Sofia Samatar joins with her debut novel a select club of imaginative writers who, while not being adverse to the political and martial aspects of epic fantasy, are masters of worldbuilding: Jack Vance, Patricia McKillip, Sean Russel and recently Robert V S Reddick. She shares with them also a lyrical prose, an intimate tone and an enchantment with the diversity and richness of life, with the accumulation and sublimation of myths and histories into poetry. For this, and for the inspiration of her novel in the African / Oriental cultural heritage instead of the usual Western / Arthurian fare of fantasy, I would also align Sofia Samatar with the works of Guy Gavriel Kay. ... a river is there, which is paved with stars. Its surface is covered with almond blossom; it runs through the fields of my dream like a river of snow. The White River, it is called. It is upon the redness of poppy fields, upon the blueness of fields of lavender. Its water is sweet, and the nymphs who dwell in it are friends of men. All day they sit on its banks, carding wool ... As with Kay's romances, the magic of Olondria is subtle, understated, a trick of the light or a hazy afterimage left in the wake of a dream. In this way, it makes the journey more believable, easier to translate into the reader's everyday experiences. This is one of the reason's the journey is told through the eyes of a 'stranger', of an innocent that can cast a fresh eye upon a land suffused with time and history: My name is Jevick. I come from the blue and hazy village of Tyom, on the western side of Tinimavet in the Tea Islands. Jevick is a young boy, growing in afluence on a spice plantation, but isolated from the rest of the world by the distances to the mainland of Olondria and by the barriers of language and illiteracy. His first contact with the distant shores comes when his father brings back from one of his business trips a tutor for Jevick. This Olondrian tutor has as his only baggage a trunk full of books. First with the letters, then with the words, then with the whole incredible wealth of a thousand stories and poems, the mind of young Jevick is sent out to ever widening horizons. He becomes a reader, a dreamer, an explorer, long before he will actually set sail from his island shores to the fabled city of Bain: I, too, soon after I read my first book, Nardien's Tales for the Tender, succumbed to the magical voices that called to me from their houses of vellum. It was a great wonder to me to come so close to these foreign spirits, to see with the eyes and hear with the ears of those I had never known, to communicate with the dead, to feel that I knew them intimately, and that they knew me more completely than any person I knew in the flesh. Will the actual journey rise up to the expectations built by the fairytales, romances and epic adventures of the books? Or will Jevick's innocence be crushed by the cruel reality of a predatory world? I had similar fears before my first visits to Paris or Venice, places that I have visited many times through the pages of my books before I have actually walked on the historical cobbles or through the twisted canals, and like Jevick my experience was a blending of both the sublime and the ordinary. His innocence is lost, but throughout his journey in Olondria he is overlaying the virtual space of story over the actual landscape before his eyes.Sofia Samatar is not content with a simple tourist visit to Olondria and with the facile metaphor of reading and travelling. Jevick's journey becomes a metaphysical one, a rite of passage and a catalyst for change on a world-wide scale when his passion for the written word is confronted with censorship, and when his interest in a young girl is confronted by the presence of death. The two quests of the boy - the one for truth and the one for the persistence of memory are united in the story he is writing about the girl who died of an incurable disease before she had a chance to live her live, before she could get noticed by the world. Jevick must write her history into a 'vallon' (a requiem?) in order to save himself from his internal demons, and to save her from oblivion, to make her life mean a change for the better for the people she left behind Come angel, I said. I called her Visible, the Ninth wonder, Empress of Sighs. Come, I said, and I will show you magic from the north, your own words conjured into a vallon. A book, angel, a garden of spears. I will hold the pen for you, and I will weave a net to catch your voice. I will do what no one has done, I will write in Kideti, a language like you and me, a ghost hesitating between worlds. Between the rainstorms, angel, and the white light of the north. Between the river dolphins and the wolves. Between the far south, the lands of elephants and amber, and this: the land of cypresses and snow.So come. Sing to me of Kiem, speak to me of rivers. Pour your memories into my pen. The journey to Olondria becomes in the 'vallon' a journey to Kiem, another of the distant spice islands, where a young girl is born to a poor family where she rebels against her destiny and struggles to evade into a larger world. She is courageous, she is fickle, she is thirsty for adventure ( It's not only that I'm different, it's that I don't want to be different and yet I am proud, almost proud of the difference itself.). She begs passing sailors to take her and her friends away from their tiny abode on Kiem :Take us with you. Take us to see the bazaars of Akaneck. Take us to Prav, to the city of Vad-Von-Poi. Take us to live in that city of towers, pulley, wells, and fountains, to be sailors, to wear trousers and blue tunics. Take us to where the women have windblown hair and tapering eyes and smoke cigars, to where they grow hibiscus flowers, the flowers that make the wine you carry in an ancient glass bottle, tied at your waist, underneath your clothes. She is taken instead by an illness that makes her a pariah in her village and she learns unpleasant truths about her heritage, but in a last effort at a cure she crosses paths with Jevick, and the rest is history in the making : A book, says Vandos of Ur-Amakir, is a fortress, a place of weeping, the key to a desert, a river that has no bridge, a garden of spears. You need to read the story yourself to see if this last claim makes sense or not. It did for me, and I'm glad I visited Olondria. I urge you to follow through and set sail for its fragrant shores : Inscrutable country of the north - ravishing Olondria! Suddenly, as we pulled away on the sea, she unveiled the beauty of that coast with a limpid gesture of the light which seemed to contain a coy and voluptuous smile. ---before I wrap up and post the review, I almost forgot to mention another influence on Samatar - Italo Calvino and his Invisible Cities, places of mystery and wonder, beauty and sadness. Calvino of the metafictional second person narration where the reader is an integral part of the story and the act of reading is key to the understanding of life. As I turn the last pages of the novel I come across a message written directly to me : Then the silence comes, like the absence of sound at the end of the world. You look up. It's a room in an old house. Or perhaps it's a seat in a garden, or even a square; perhaps you've been reading outside and you suddenly see the carriages going by. Life comes back, the shadows of leaves. Someone comes to ask what you will have for dinner, or two small boys run past you, wildly shouting; or else it's merely the breeze blowing a curtain, the white unfurling into a room, brushing the papers on a desk. It is the sound of the world. But to you, the reader, it is only a silence, untenanted and desolate. This is the grief that comes when we are abandoned by the angels: silence, in every direction, irrevocable.

  • Terry
    2019-03-28 02:03

    I’ve been back and forth on this one. At first I was in the 3-star zone (really closer to a 3.5). Later I was certain that there were real moments of 5-star stuff here, especially near the end when things started coming together (or falling apart as the case may be). So in the end I think I’m pretty comfortable with a 4-star rating, even if there were times in the early and middle sections when I found my mind wandering a bit. Even these slow parts of the book had some truly marvellous passages despite being a bit of a slog. To say that Samatar writes lyrically would be an understatement: she certainly knows her way around the English language and manages to write sumptuously without falling into purple prose. Her descriptions are beautiful, though sometimes maybe just a wee bit overlong, hence some of my early problems. In a lot of ways I find it so hard to really pin-point what was ‘wrong’ with the parts I was a little less than thrilled by that I come away feeling, as others have implied, that it was perhaps I who failed the book and not the other way around. So what’s it about? Well, ultimately it is about two things. It is a story about stories and it is a story about hauntings. It is the tale of a man haunted by the dreams of the books into which he has tried to escape as well as the much more literal haunting by a spirit of the unquiet dead. It is the tale of a girl haunted by the illness and death that left her hungering even for the disappointments of the spectre of her lost life. It is also the tale of two men, each living in exile and haunted by the lost love of a woman he can never have and the regrets of the choices that have made up the story of their lives. It really is a heart-breaking story.More literally it is primarily the tale of Jevick, the son of a pepper merchant from the small tropical island of Tyom who dreams of one day visiting the great cosmopolitan city of Bain in the empire of Olondria. As this dream becomes fulfilled Jevick’s life is thrown into chaos as he is overwhelmed by political, religious, and mystical forces far outside his experience. I have rarely seen such an accomplished expression of the sorcery of reading, the grammarie wherein one can commune with the dead, shift shape, travel through time & space and even visit, or create, unknown worlds. Indeed the driving force behind the undead spirit that haunts Jevick is the desire to have her story told in a book so that, in some small way at least, she will never die and can live through her story again and again. For isn’t that what our lives are? Stories? Perhaps not literally given that life is rarely so clean-cut and linear as stories tend to be, but when we look back on the apparently jumbled events in our lives we force them into the patterns and shapes that give them significance, that turn them into stories that define us and give meaning to what could otherwise appear meaningless. In essence this is a story about stories and a book about books and the way our lives both mirror them and are shaped by them. A story about how our lives, and the stories they become, can tear our hearts asunder.This ‘looking back’ in order to gain meaning from our lives can easily become a two-edged sword of course: it is often only in looking back that we perceive our mistakes, our lost chances, our less than ideal choices. Samatar deftly captures that recognition of those “Lost hours, irretrievable, hours that I would have taken up and treasured and which were scattered abroad in the mud.” Or again the perception that our life has moved on compared with the experience of reading a deeply loved story:The silence. End of all poetry, all romances. Earlier, frightened, you began to have some intimation of it: so many pages had been turned, the book was so heavy in one hand, so light in the other, thinning toward the end. Still, you consoled yourself. You were not quite at the end of the story, at that terrible flyleaf, blank like a shuttered window: there were still a few pages under your thumb, still to be sought and treasured. Oh, was it possible to read more slowly? – No.We all have experiences of those golden books, don’t we? That’s probably why we’re here on GR after all. Those books that have given brightness in the darkness, hope in moments of pain, or even just joy when life was already joyous. We enter into the life of books, which in many ways is kin to the spirit, and when they are those golden books of our hearts we become exalted. Of course this also means that the return to the world is nearly always a disappointment, a desolation. Can we ever recapture that magic? We are always trying.

  • Althea Ann
    2019-03-25 05:35

    One of the most beautifully written novels I'm encountered in quite some time. Everything here springs to vivid, sensual life... it's a lush sea of language, interspersed with shimmering pearls of phrases. Samatar's background and experience as a poet is clear.Jevick is a young man whose father's trading business depends on commerce with the country of Olondria - a far more cosmopolitan location than Jevick's small island. In order to prepare him to take over his duties, his father acquires an Olondrian tutor, who infuses the boy's typical small-town angst with a deep wanderlust, raising Olondria to near-mythic status in his mind.However, after his father passes away and Jevick embarks on his first business trip to Olondria, he discovers that, his schooling aside, he's not fully prepared for everything that Olondria might have in store for him.On the face of it, the story might sound like a typical village-boy-meets-big-city narrative, but so many things about the book raise it above the average. I loved the investigation into what forms our identity and makes us who we are. The book never falls into the traps of 'the simple life is better' or 'the cosmopolitan life is better' - the pros and cons of both are recognized, and it's shown clearly that which Jevick has yearned to leave his village, there are others, in Olondria, who might yearn for his life and upbringing. I very much appreciated how two cultures (and hints of many more) are drawn as whole, complex (and sometimes strange) things, without any too-easy parallels to 'our world.'However, while it's a pleasure to inhabit the world of this book, I do have to say that for me, it was lacking a certain tension. It had more of a meandering feel to it. The structure was also oddly designed, and I'm not sure that worked all that well. 3/4 of the book is Jevick's story, and then the book abandons him to tell someone else's story, at quite some length, before going back to Jevick again. Yes, there are narrative reasons for this, (and the second story is also very good) but I felt that it interrupted the flow of the plot in an awkwardly distracting way.Still, I liked this - especially the writing style - enough that I will definitely seek out Samatar's next novel, which is to be released shortly.

  • Elizabeth
    2019-03-28 03:38

    This review was originally published on the Books and Pieces blog.This beautiful novel is centred around a coming of age story - that of Jevick, son of a rich spice grower on the remote islands of Tyom. Taught to read and write by a foreign tutor from the distant country of Olondria, Jevick becomes enraptured by books and by language, by the possibilities held in thoughts made corporeal, by the land and histories of Olondria that he reads about. The death of his father gives Jevick the opportunity to travel to Olondria to sell his pepper crop but when there he becomes haunted by ghost of a girl from his homeland that he met whilst travelling. This haunting is considered at once sacred and profane in the two opposing religions of Olondria and Jevick becomes an unwitting pawn in political and religious battles between the two sides.The concepts of language, writing, and stories are at the core of this book. It's about how language and stories shape us and how they affect the world around us. Jevick learns to love stories but he learns it through another country's language. His adoration of Olondria sets him apart from his home land, makes him question his own beliefs. But it's when he's seen Olondria and lived its stories that he learns to better appreciate and understand his own language and culture and begins his attempts to translate them into a written form.It's also about how we words and stories to enforce, persuade, negate, and celebrate different ways of thinking. The priests of the various religions consistently tell Jevick stories to justify their actions, the tales of the islanders and the Olondrians shape how they react to different occurrences. And, we're not just hearing Jevick's story but all of those that interweave with it; we learn the lives of the people he meets, the poems, the mythology of the two countries, their histories, and their religions.It's so densely written and packed with tales that you forget what it is you're reading - I was two seconds from fact-checking wikipedia at a couple of points before remembering that the entire world was fictional. It wasn't easy going sometimes, at points I was waiting for some plot point to happen and then a character would state the terrible lines: "do you know the story of...". Noooooooooooooo. But actually that all played into the creation of this thoroughly realistic world. I know this history of Olondria, the religions of the island of Tyom, the life of Jissavet. I know them like I know my own name. They're that real.I feel like I should state that I almost gave up on this book a couple of times but that failure was totally on me. This isn't a book where you can just wizz through and enjoy the plot. It needs to be savoured and appreciated for it's beautiful and complex self and once I got in the zone I was good.

  • Anna
    2019-04-06 00:59

    I found this book nearly unbearable to read. It had lifeless characters, a confused and meandering plot and many irrelevant digressions that add nothing to the story. Even worse, the female characters seem to be either bitter, oppressed victims or wan, submissive idiots. The one exception was the bitchy, unlikeable ghost girl with whom the main character falls hopelessly in love. At least she showed some spunk. Still worse was the writing style: florid, bombastic prose poetry that bored and irritated at the same time. Prose poetry seems to act like beer goggles for many readers, evoking a curious admiration even as they give up on finishing the book. For me it was like being stuck in an elevator with someone wearing too much perfume.

  • Amal El-Mohtar
    2019-04-18 07:53

    This book. I am going to write a super long review of this book and eventually link to it here because, this book. If you love books, and languages, and literatures, and complexity, and a lingering love of tactile detail, you will adore this book.

  • Nelson Minar
    2019-03-27 05:52

    I am making the liberating decision to not finish this book, something I rarely do. I got halfway through and am just not feeling it. The problem is the main character and the story, they just don't engage me. I really could care less about the protagonist. And there's precious few other characters.The other problem for me is the prose. Everyone's falling over how beautiful the language is. And some of it is, but in the same way a flashy guitar solo in an anthem rock song is beautiful. For a bit, then it becomes tedious because it shreds the same licks one time too many. And sometimes the prose is more like a drum solo that just never ends. I know people love this book, and I can see why, but it's just not for me.

  • Kyle Muntz
    2019-04-17 00:40

    Probably the most beautifully written book I've read this year. As a narrative, though, it's much more problematic and uneven. It starts with an excellent rendition of the narrator's childhood; becomes a travel narrative (with some odd ticks that reminded me a lot of 18th century writing, particularly extensive descriptions of locations where the narrator seems almost absent); a mostly unconvincing story of political conflict; cultimating in a powerful, tragic love story that doesn't take up nearly as many pages as i'd like. I really appreciate the setting, but what worked best for me were moments of very strong feeling and characterization: particularly character portraits of the narrator's mother and father; the failed romance of his tutor; the daughter of a priest; a young girl who's become the head of a peasant household. Unfortunately, even the most interesting characters never spend long on the page, as this is largely a book taken up with descriptions of places and occasionally the things that happen in them. The style started out like a very refined take on fantasy diction and eventually transitioned into the relentless hyper-lyricism I associate with books published in the small press, which works both for and against it. The love story at the center of the book, when it finally hits, is painfully well rendered--but like a lot of the different parts of this novel, it's confined to about 30 pages, where the books crests beautifully... then deflates with an ending that felt mostly unconvincing to me.I had huge expectations for this book and I'd say it met them in some ways but not so much in others--which is always the danger, I think, of going into anything expecting to be impressed by it. But this is still a remarkable book in a lot of ways, and I definitely think I'll read Somatar's next book as well. And to I'd especially recommend it to any readers primarily interested in beautiful language, since there's so much of it on every page here.

  • heidi
    2019-04-08 05:41

    On the surface, this book is a love song to books wrapped in a coming-of-age-travel-story. Jevick is an overeducated misfit when he goes to Paris, er Bain, to carry on the family business, but he is much more interested in the culture than the business. In the process of his cultural education, he comes down with a bad case of ghost. Travails ensue. It's not that I don't love ornate imagery and fabulous language. It's that by 3/4 of the way through this book, I was longing for something to cut the greasy, heavy, oleaginous feeling of the adjectival piles that litter the story. It feels to me like it could be a much more emotionally engaging story if it weren't paced with two adjectives per noun. I'm sure that's a personal preference issue, because I know a lot of people who enjoyed the ornate filigree of the writing.I think my favorite part is the end, when he takes all his frustrated passion and turns it around into something that improves the world. But I almost gave up halfway through because the pace was so hard for me.Read if: You are looking for a Gentleman's Progress And Return Home story, if you love a good unrequitable love story or three, if you want to think about nameless spices that can kill on the wind and be bought in the market.Skip if: You are an impatient reader, you are going to feel bad about having to use a dictionary to read a book. (For the first time in three or so years, I used my kindle dictionary. "Marmoreal -- made of or relating to marble.")

  • Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
    2019-03-26 07:33

    Beautiful, slow-paced, sad. Linear storytelling makes it a more accessible starting point than The Winged Histories.

  • Gerhard
    2019-04-01 00:37

    There is a line in this breathtaking novel that had me thinking of the lilting cadences of Out of Africa: "And I was riding a white mule," I said, "bringing pepper to sell on the hill..."One of the most constraining aspects of SF and fantasy is the definitions that are inevitably used to corral, and often pigeonhole, these genres. Think of SF, and many people think automatically of spaceships and space battles; think of fantasy, and Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings will be evoked.Then you get a hybrid creature like A Stranger in Olondria that straddles the genre divide effortlessly, and, in its magnificent difference, reminds one how little you actually know of the true potential and power of these genres to subvert and intoxicate.It is a humbling experience, even an overpowering one; ultimately, it is a rare privilege to read something as exquisite as this.Samatar's writing reminds me of Samuel R. Delany, Ursula Le Guin and Gene Wolfe. This is not to say she is derivative, but that she has the same power to enthrall and elucidate as these grand masters (and one mistress).A young man from an outlying village journeys to a city that is the epitome of civilisation, where he becomes haunted by a lost spirit that compels him to write her life story in the form of a book - or 'vallon', as it is called in that world, a 'chamber of words'.Books are magical, and writing is deeply mysterious. What unfurls is a tender and sad tale of possession and heartbreak, interspersed with some gorgeous travel writing and lilting soliloquies about life and writing, art and experience, faith and superstition, religion and science.The book is sub-titled 'Being the Complete Memoirs of the Mystic, Jevick of Tyom'. As with any respectable fantasy novel, it has a map of the Empire of Olondria at the beginning. It begins with a languorous description of the wonders of this realm, to which Jevick, as a stranger, is as unfamiliar with as is the reader.As with Jevick, the reader falls in love with this fabled realm; his journey of discovery essentially mirrors the reader's journey through the novel. (There is nothing polemical or dialectical about Samatar's depiction of such subtle contrasts.)The story does veer into darkness towards the end, but it is a necessary darkness, a mixture of melancholy and terror that adds rich seasoning to the novel's heady brew.Samatar's particular approach to the alien culture she depicts is to focus on sensory detail, and a richness of imagery that is gorgeous and enticing. This is simply an incredibly beautiful and beguiling book to read; it is no small feat that Samatar avoids being cloying or sentimental.

  • Sunil
    2019-04-15 04:51

    To read A Stranger in Olondria is to be transported to another world by the sheer power of words, and to be a stranger in Olondria is to be in another world and holding on to the power of words.I came to this book not knowing anything about it but that one reviewer had described it as "frustrating, beautiful, and memorable," and, as I am an impressionable young lad, that may have colored my impressions, as I've ended up agreeing with him.The plot is simple: Jevick goes to Olondria (where he is a stranger). He becomes haunted by a ghost. He would like to stop being haunted by said ghost. Also it turns out that people don't take kindly to people who see ghosts. Unless they do. Jevick either does or does not stop being haunted by said ghost, that would be a spoiler.The prose is so fucking gorgeous I want to die. Sofia Samatar uses words in a way that envelop you like a blanket, a comforting poetry. I felt like she was describing a real place she had been, the sensory detail was so vivid. And because Jevick is a traveler and lover of books, it makes sense that he would describe his journey with such beautiful language, attempting to capture the magic of the place he previously only knew from books.The lush prose does more than carry the present story, however; it's a story about stories (I LOVE STORIES ABOUT STORIES), and the nested stories pack just as much power. Characters tell their own stories, their own histories; characters tell stories in myth, stories in song. We live on through our stories, and our stories define our culture, and both these themes lie at the heart of the book.As much as I loved the prose, though, I found that it drew me into the world but not the story, which is relatively thin (see the above plot breakdown). Plenty of lovely scenes, but very little plot movement. And while I did have an affection for Jevick, especially because of his love of books, I felt detached from him as a character since he's almost completely passive: things happen to him, he rarely does things of his own accord. He feels like a vehicle through which we see Olondria most of the time, but I loved all his interactions with the ghost.Overall, I would recommend the book based on the prose, setting, and themes (beautiful and memorable), rather than the plot and characters (frustrating). I feel like the book will continue to haunt me, though.

  • Roslyn
    2019-04-02 05:35

    It’s taken me a while to figure out what to say about 'A Stranger in Olondria'. I had (once again – this seems to be happening a lot for me lately in my reading experience) very mixed feelings about it. I found it a hard slog to get through this book, at least until about the halfway mark, and again after that, until near the end. The prose is exquisite – gorgeous, intricate, lush, rich. The problem was that for me, it was so dense that it was like hacking through thick vegetation. Rather than enhance the telling of the story, it detracted from its power – a case of too much of a good thing. On the other hand, what happens around the halfway mark (it's been a while since I read it – it might have been earlier or later) really took my breath away. The interesting thing is that the gorgeous language worked at that point. The telling and the story were mutually enhanced. After that, it was all vegetation again until the resolution, which took my breath away again and made me cry. There is a certain irony in all of this because the novel, through both its story and the way it’s told, is an exploration of the the importance and role of books and writing. I’d love to read another version of the novel, one in which some of the vegetation is cut back in order to emphasise the very real power of the novel.None of the friends I lent the book to even made it to the first plot development, which I think is an enormous shame, as the story this novel tells is a powerful one.

  • wishforagiraffe
    2019-04-08 00:59

    I had a really hard time getting through this book. I had several problems with it, and I think they're all somewhat related. It's a book with a very tight focus, with only one point of view character. Jevick is never at the center of world-shatteringly important events, but he does end up being a catalyst of sorts. The description of the book on the back cover blurb/amazon is somewhat misleading, so the story that you think you're getting and the story that you get are pretty different.I think it's a book that would be more enjoyable on a re-read, where you know what to expect and can enjoy the book for what it is, instead of what you think it should be. The second half of the book does get better, where the pace picks up and the story gets more focused.I'd say that this book would probably appeal to readers who enjoy more "literary" fiction. There are strong themes of the importance of stories and slightly less heavy handed themes of cultural alienation throughout the book, so it feels almost like someone's MFA project. The closest comparison I can make is to GGK, which feels a little strange. I love GGK a lot, and I just didn't love this book. The themes are somewhat the same, and so is the style of prose. All in all, I'd say it's a read for if you're looking to challenge yourself.

  • Stefan
    2019-04-18 01:03

    Reading A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar was an odd experience. I’d been looking forward to this novel for a long time. In theory, it looked right up my alley. I expected to be blown away. Instead, I ended up abandoning the novel at about the midway point. Yet, even though I gave up on it, there’s also a lot to love about it. I may even find myself going back to it, one day.Read the entire review on my site Far Beyond Reality!

  • Therese Arkenberg
    2019-03-30 04:43

    Sofia Samatar's prose is lush. Very lush. As lush as the verdant forests of Jennat, where in the evenings spice-scented mists rose and are taken for ghosts by the taro farmers on the slopes above (not an actual quote, but my attempt to mirror the style). Some might say too lush.I love rich description, but there comes a point where further detail is only detracting from the story rather than setting the scene. When Jevick is given a mystic book, it doesn't matter to me that the book comes wrapped in "old silks the color of a fallen tooth" (page 158). A small thing, and one that doesn't detract from the story as a whole, but still, let's just say that line exercised my eyebrows.The lush description builds up a setting that is rather hodgepodge--at first, given the opening, I thought Olondria would be an alternative India or other South Asian setting, but in the end there's bits of everywhere, people wear monocles and skullcaps, sit in parlors and cafes bearing swaths of silk in un-Victorian profusion, eat pears poached in wine and drink chocolate (which to my mind either implies a Columbian Exchange in this alternate universe or just proves there is no North American analogue). This is actually the kind of creatively anachronistic, stylishly rich worldbuilding I love, and it excuses the level of description--when nothing can be taken for granted, a writer should tell the readers enough details to get by. One particular set of details I loved: Jevick frequently quotes other writers from the world of Olondria, which reminded me of more classic writers and their tradition of allusions. It's a great way to immediately add depth to the text, and I should note that Samatar takes a gamble by using actual excerpts from the fictional books, and successfully pulls them off.As a ghost story, its mood is more melancholy than horrific. The plot is lean and fast paced, despite the description, with the exception of the beginning: almost 50 pages about the narrator's childhood. Most of the characters introduced on the Spice Islands stay on the Spice Islands, and I don't feel this part ties in well to what happens when Jevick eventually reaches Olondria. They're called back to, but not as strongly integrated as I'd wished. Once you get past that, the story picks up pace and is in the end tightly told--individual descriptions may fail to add to the story (at least it could be argued so) but the actual events unroll with a subtle inevitability. There is little repetition--except for the part where we get a second narrative of a different character growing up in the Spice Islands. (Maybe I should admit here that childhood narratives don't appeal to me; perhaps I'm still too close to my own and I'd rather not relive it just yet). I could see a reading where Jevick's childhood is presented to parallel hers. I'll keep that theory in mind should I sit down to reread A Stranger in Olondria anytime soon. It is the sort of book--poetic, complex, soft-spoken--that benefits, I'm sure, for rereading.And ultimately, it is a story about reading. Not in a pat moral sense--it's not The Reading Rainbow for grownups (not that anything is wrong with Reading Rainbow! That part of my childhood would be worth reliving). But with that theme in mind...well, as I said, I'm sure this story benefits from rereading. To do that, you need to read it the first time around. And you should.This review is cross-posted from Story Addict .

  • Christopher
    2019-03-26 07:56

    Wow. The writing is gorgeous, poetic, full of sensual details, and the world Samatar creates is more real than the one we live in. If you're looking for real magic, this book is where it's at.

  • Roxana-Mălina Chirilă
    2019-04-04 05:38

    I... what have I read? It was beautiful. Nothing happened. Maybe there was no plot. Maybe there was a plot. Maybe there were too many plots, but they were in the background. The writing was beautiful. It was pure poetry. I will probably never read "A Stranger in Olondria" again, because it was so boring, and that makes me sad, because it was so beautiful and I was engrossed. Or maybe I'll read it again, to see all the stories happen and this time actually notice them.If you're confused, so am I. I could have rated this anything, from 2 stars to 5, but I settled for 4, because that felt appropriate somehow."A Stranger in Olondria" is narrated by Jevick, the younger son of a pepper merchant, who lives on a beautiful island in the south, where the climate is warm. He has a brother who is an idiot (in the psychological sense) and who cannot inherit the business, so he's also the heir to the estate and the business. His father goes once a year to sell pepper in Olondria, the country to the north, past the sea - and one time, he brings Jevick back an Olondrian tutor, Lunre.Jevick learns about stories and poetry from Lunre, as well as learning his tutor's language, and, when his father dies, he goes to sell pepper in the northern country, as well. And on the ship he meets Jissavet, a fellow islander, a young woman dying of a terminal disease. They part when they reach the shore, Jissavet going to search for a cure, and Jevick to sell pepper.However, not long before Jevick is supposed to return to the country, he starts being haunted by Jissavet's ghost, who will not let him return until he takes care of her body, abandoned in a strange land, and until he writes her story. Unfortunately for Jevick, being haunted by ghosts is forbidden in Olondria, due to religious reasons, which means he's imprisoned, and there runs into a cult of people who admire those haunted by spirits, entangling him in Olondrian politics, as he tries to make sense of his life and stumbles into the lives of others.This makes it sound like "A Stranger in Olondria" has a lot of plot, but you really don't get that feeling as you read the novel. The prose is descriptive and poetic, and Jevick doesn't hesitate to quote great authors on the places he visits, nor to describe the foods, colors, spices and people he discovers. It reads like a beautiful travel guide into a fantasy land. And, at one point, after Jevick reached Olondria, this bored me so much that I started reading something else and forgot I was reading this at all.And then I started reading a collection of fantasy stories, which contained a short story by Sofia Samatar, and her bio mentioned "A Stranger in Olondria", and I remembered to return to the novel before I continued with the stories. I was just about ready to two-star it at the end, even if I was no more than 40% through.Then it grew on me. Jevick's struggles and the poetry started fascinating me, as did Jissavet. Towards the end, I was hooked, and as stories of various characters unraveled for me, I became fascinated. "A Stranger in Olondria" is a strangely beautiful book, and I'm glad I read it until the end. Here, have the beginning, it will give you a taste of the style the entire novel is written in>"As I was a stranger in Olondria, I knew nothing of the splendor of its coasts, nor of Bain, the Harbor City, whose lights and colors spill into the ocean like a cataract of roses. I did not know the vastness of the spice markets of Bain, where the merchants are delirious with scents. I had never seen the morning mists adrift above the surface of the green Illoun, of which the poets sing; I had never seen a woman with gems in her hair, nor observed the copper glinting of the domes, nor stood upon the melancholy beaches of the south while the wind brought in the sadness from the sea. Deep within the Fayaleith, the Country of the Wines, the clarity of light can stop the heart; it is the light the local people call "the breath of angels" and is said to cure heartsickness and bad lungs. Beyond this is the Balinfeil, where, in the winter months, the people wear caps of white squirrel fur, and in the summer months the goddess Love is said to walk and the earth is carpeted with almond blossom. But of all this I knew nothing. I knew only of the island where my mother oiled her hair in the glow of a rush candle, and terrified me with stories of the Ghost with No Liver, whose sandals slap when he walks because he has his feet on backwards."

  • B.R. Sanders
    2019-04-07 02:40

    NOTES ON DIVERSITY:This is a book written by a woman of color about a man of color trying to survive in a foreign land. His culture and his worldview are centered and normalized in the book.The book also has much to say on topics of mental health and disability; a substantial section midway through takes place in what is essentially a mental health facility. This section is remarkably kind and tender, unlike many representations of mental health care often seen in fiction.REVIEW:WHY DID IT TAKE ME SO LONG TO READ THIS BOOK. Not in terms of time, but, I mean, why didn’t I find and read this book sooner? Why didn’t I hear about this book three years ago, when it first came out, and devour it then? Why did I only stumble across it now?A STRANGER IN OLONDRIA is the story of Jevick, a pepper merchant’s son on the island of Tyom who is destined to sell his goods to the countrymen of Olondria. His father sends for an Olondrian tutor to teach him how to read and write, to learn the language, to trade with the strangers in that far away country with a fluency he himself never had. Jevick waits for his chance to go to Olondria, this place he only knows from his tutor’s memories and from the descriptions of the books his tutor brought to Tyom. Once there, things are different. Some things are better than he imagined. Some things are worse.And then the tale takes a turn: Jevick’s fate becomes tied to the fate of a dead girl from a different island. She reaches out to him, keeps him from sleeps, brings him to the brink of madness, and forces him to stay in Olondria even while his companions return to Tyom. The narrative twists and twists again as Jevick has to negotiate with his ghost.Jissavet, to JevickOh, there is so much to love in this book. Jevick’s love of the written word itself--even as literacy serves to divide a population alone classed lines--so reminded me of Hild. He, like Hild, sees magic in words, in their permanence, in their literal power to cross time and space. Over and over, Jevick returns to books when he needs solace. As a child, they are his refuge from his unpredictable and mysterious father. As a man, they are the way he first understands Olondria. And later, when things go sideways, he uses the written word to cling to his disordered life, to keep himself together, even as Jissavet’s ghost hounds him. Finally, it is the act of writing stories down that serves as liberation--for someone else, and for them, for him. But the politics of literacy, who has it and who does, is not lost here.Me, and Hild, and JevickA STRANGER IN OLONDRIA is a ghost story, but it’s not a book about death. Not really. It’s a book about living. I think it would be easy to say it’s a book about love, and that’s partly true, but even then, it’s really about living. Or, more blatantly put, I think it’s a book about learning how to actually live, actually sink your hands into the bloody mess of your life and get into it instead of primly edging around its corners. It’s about seizing every second of life you can, and not in a violent way, or a vicious way, but with joy and with bittersweetness, and with the knowledge that time is limited and all the knowledge you have gathered may do nothing to prepare you for what is coming the next moment. It’s one of those wonderful small/epic big/quiet books. One of those books that zooms in on one person, one not-all-that-important person and allows you to really feel that person’s trials and tribulations. And because that person is not-all-that-important, the sweeping epic of their small scope of life is relatable, and their joys and victories are even more keenly felt.Sofia Samatar’s prose is truly beautiful. Phenomenally, fantastically beautifully. Check this shit out:In my room, in my village, I shone like a moth with its back to a sparkling fire.Time unrolled in the Houses, monotonous as a skein of wool.Samatar is just a wizard with words. Her prose is precise, and fluid, and cutting. And honest. The style here is definitely reflective of Jevick--patient, a smidge of purple, a young man who is enamoured of books, who pauses, who waits until he can’t wait anymore. I’ve read enough of Samatar’s short fiction to know that she can write in other styles (also beautifully). But the imagery she conjures up again and again her just floored me.There was a sentiment, introduced near the end of the book, that really got me: that we should value “not what will make us happy, but what is precious.” I’ve been rolling that over and over in my mind. Sometimes, in the best cases, those are the same thing. But they are so often not. To see Jevick’s choices in the novel in light of this piece of wisdom, from beginning to end, is striking. To see my own life organize along these lines--when have I chosen happiness over what is precious? When have I chosen what is precious over happiness? When were they the same?--is more striking still. A STRANGER IN OLONDRIA is in me now, riding in my marrow. It will be a book, like The Left Hand of Darkness, that I’ll end up re-reading every few years. I can feel it coming.

  • Maria
    2019-04-17 01:51

    There are some spoilers about the main plot in this review, but no more than it says on the back of the book jacket of my edition :)A Stranger in Olondria is not a typical fantasy book, and that's why I liked it so much. Unlike much fantasy, the world building is not based on medieval Europe, it's more exotic and original. I'm not sure where I would place its influences, but I know the author is part Somali, so maybe that's it. There is no chosen one out to save the world, but there is a long journey, culture clashes, ghosts, and different religious fractions fighting each other.This is a slow and contemplative book. The language is intricate and beautiful, and demands a little bit more of the reader than most fantasy books I have read, but not enough for anybody to be intimidated. It takes a bit of time to get into, though.Jevick, the son of a pepper merchant, lives on the Tea Islands, and dreams about Olondria, the mainland to the north. His Olondrian tutor teaches him to read and write, and imbibes in him a great love of books. The people of the Tea Islands are mostly illiterate, and Jevick longs for Olondria, were books and reading are common.I always find it especially enjoyable to read about characters who love reading. Jevick's descriptions of the books he reads are wonderful, and his interest in books and stories often leads to stories within stories within stories - all of them unraveling the culture, mythology and politics of the Tea Islands and Olondria. Both are full and complex cultures, that the reader gets to learn quite a lot about, but without info dumps. It's all weaved into the fabric of the different stories we are told.When Jevick travels to Olondria he's plagued by the ghost of a girl from his own homeland. When his haunting is revealed, he is caught between two religious groups - one who does not believe in the existence of ghosts, and tries to treat Jevick's "condition" as a mental disease, and another who believes he is haunted by and "angel", a creature capable of prophecy and healing, who they want to use in their rituals. Both of them are wrong. There is no help to be found for Jevick in any fraction. Through these experiences, his views on both his homeland, and his idolized Olondria, changes.All the cultures and fractions the reader meets in this book has their own taboos and prejudices. They are flawed, but they have power and influence over large groups of people. In Olondria, priests tries to shape Jevick's very real haunting to fit their own world view, and they are not willing to listen to his own account of what it's like. In the Tea Islands, people who are different, sick, or falsely accused of being a witch, are killed, maimed or chased away. The fact that these world views and belief systems are so different from each other, and sometimes direct opposites, makes it very clear that this is simply culture, and not the truth about how the world works. There is a lot of superstition, rituals and different believes in A Stranger In Olondria, but very little real magic. I love that this book didn't go for a simple solution, like finding a magic item to solve all problems. This is a complex world, and just like real life, its full of different people with different agendas trying to get a piece of you. In the face of your society's misconceptions and prejudices, personal ties, like those of friendship and family, becomes your only refuge and chance of escape.

  • Contrarius
    2019-03-29 00:37

    I can't say enough good things about the worldbuilding and depth of detail in this one. I really *believed* in all the different cultures, scenes, and experiences presented, and the excerpts of prose and poetry from various other "books" felt real and vibrant. Samatar did a superb jobThis is one book I'm going to have to read, though, and I recommend that prospective readers actually *read* the thing rather than listening to it. There's nothing wrong with the narrator of the audio -- he didn't seem exceptional to me, but I have no complaints -- but the prose and detail are so dense that I really think eyes-on-the-page attention would do more justice to the writing. I listened to many passages two or three times, but I still think I'll get a lot more from the book if I go back and *read* the thing.This one probably deserves 5 stars, but for now I'm only giving it 4. I'm not sure yet how the plot holds together. But my rating could easily go up to 5 once I have a chance to go back and actually read this -- which I do intend to do.

  • Hannah
    2019-04-05 05:46

    3.5 stars, but I'm not rounding up because the only parts I truly enjoyed (other than the language itself) were the vallon and the ending.This is a book about books, and rather like in Swordspoint, the focus is on the setting rather than any plot or specific character's journey.The writing is a highlight for me, as I'm one of those people who want to reach for a dictionary. I could see how the literary tone could be a turn-off for some people though: not only is it work to read, but the plot is meandering and jumpy (think several of Louise Erdrich's books). Offhand, I expect the "oral tradition" aspect will lend itself better to The Winged Histories, which is set in the same world, but intentionally using multiple voices.

  • ambyr
    2019-04-23 03:36

    I don't know what I think about this book. It slips up on you sideways. It would have been stronger, sleeker, suppler as a novella, I keep thinking; it uses too many words. But then, thematically, that's the point; this is a book about taking joy in words, about the dangers of placing too much weight on words, about the impossible need to balance between the wonders of writing and the reality of the flesh and spirit. And you don't get that by being sparing and spartan.Also, there's plot, and the main character is central and essential to it, but it is not at all central to his life--in fact, he finds it almost irrelevant. That's a neat trick to pull off.I don't know in the end if I liked this book or not, but I sat on the sofa reading the last 20% straight through without stopping while the light outside my window slowly faded into a beautiful dusk that I could have, should have been watching, and that has to count for something.

  • Janet
    2019-03-31 02:37

    In the balance of all things fun in a novel, A Stranger in Olondria tips heavily toward gorgeousness, in the detailed physical and cultural setting and the lyrical descriptive prose. Plot and character are relatively straightforward, with interesting choices of where to spend words, but no shocks and thrills. It reads like a memoir and travelogue, in a fantastical, genuine world. This is one of those stories in which you slide into the character's voice and inhabit his life like a dream. Recommended for fans of Guy Gavriel Kay, Felix Gilman, AS Byatt, and Beryl Markham.

  • Sarah
    2019-04-07 00:02

    This is a gorgeous slow-burn of a novel. The prose is lush but not overwritten. Like Cathrynne Valente, Samatar commits poetry in prose. There are books within this book: hidden histories, poems, songs. It's going on to my reread shelf, because I think it's the type of book where different facets come up on different reads.

  • Donald
    2019-03-27 05:41

    Beautifully written narrative, the author brings the world to life vividly. That said the story just didn't resonate with me at all.

  • Andrew
    2019-04-19 04:47

    This tale of travel in distant lands should be very appealing, yet I found that I wasn't very engaged with the main character or even any of the characters in the tale.

  • Brian O'Sullivan
    2019-04-12 02:47

    Every now and then you come across a book in the fantasy genre that’s sufficiently unique to avoid all the cliched tropes, that entertains by recounting its story with its own particular style and character. A striking combination of literature and fantasy, Sofia Salamatar’s ‘A Stranger in Olondria’ certainly falls into that category.Jevick, the son of a wealthy pepper merchant lives a comfortable but limited existence in the Indonesian-like Tea Islands. Then a learned tutor arrives from exotic Olondria to inspire him with a love for books and dreams of travel to distant shores. When his father dies, Jevick takes over the family business and travels to the titular Olondria only to find himself haunted -literally- by the soul of a young girl he meets during his travels. Obliged to pacify the ghost by writing the story of her life and struggling to reclaim her body so that it can be returned to the peace of the Tea Islands, Jevick is thrust into a series of dangerous misadventures outside his control.Salamater apparently spent two years writing this book (and another ten editing it) and that effort really shows in the final prose which is evocative and polished to a gleaming finish. The book also contains some of the most astonishingly detailed (and yet subtle) world building I’ve not seen beyond the works of the late Jack Vance. To be honest, I haven’t read a fantasy work that’s been so intellectually pleasing for a very long time. For me, the books only misstep was the inclusion of the ghost’s sub-story which, although well written and interesting in its own right, pulled you out of the main narrative. That however is a minor quibble.You won’t find a youthful hero discovering his or her great magical potential, a cursed warrior, an evil wizard or any of the other worn-out, regurgitated tropes. What you will find is a beguiling story that unfolds like a long, slow river cruise on a soothing downstream current.