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A Stranger in Olondria


3.68  ·  Rating details ·  1,867 ratings  ·  458 reviews
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 drastica ...more
Paperback, 299 pages
Published April 24th 2013 by Small Beer Press (first published September 11th 2012)
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Christina Yes there is.

There is a blurry picture of the whole thing here:

Or you can see the clearer image (but…more
Yes there is.

There is a blurry picture of the whole thing here:

Or you can see the clearer image (but separated as single pages) here in a free preview of the book:

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3.68  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,867 ratings  ·  458 reviews

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Alex Ristea
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 o
Jun 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 tra ...more
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
May 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015

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 th
Aug 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
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 ...more
Althea Ann
Jan 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 O
Nov 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 opportuni
Sep 18, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: reviewed, fantasy
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 irri ...more
Sep 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Edit: This is a reread, and although I still agree with everything I wrote in my review from 2016, I found that the overly long and flowering descriptions of cities and places bothered me a bit this time, at least until the plot really gets going. When every place mentioned is described as fantastically poetic and special and beautiful, nothing really stands out.

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 :)

Allison Hurd
Mar 28, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fem-author, fantasy
I think this is another case where the author's intentions and their book's path to creation did not match. The story is the last 100 pages. The rest is backstory that actively turned me off from caring about the story or the world.

CONTENT WARNING: (no actual spoilers, just a list of topics) (view spoiler)

Things that held potential

-The world. Vivid, fleshed out and exc
Amal El-Mohtar
Mar 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy
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.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nelson Minar
Aug 20, 2014 rated it did not like it
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
Kyle Muntz
Jul 31, 2015 rated it it was ok
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 nea ...more
Apr 16, 2013 added it
Shelves: want-to-read
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 e
Francesca Forrest
Feb 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 18, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, wiscon, reviewed
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 t
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
Beautiful, slow-paced, sad. Linear storytelling makes it a more accessible starting point than The Winged Histories.

As I was a stranger in Olondria, I knew nothing of the splendor of its coasts, nor of Bain, the Harbour 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 upo
May 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf-f, favorites, 2013
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 ge
Roxana Chirilă
Dec 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: tbr-cleanup-2019
This one is very difficult to rate for me.
It is a work of art. The prose is so beautiful that it has a life of its own. Sofia Samatar‘s lush, vivid descriptions of the county of Olondria lets the reader not only see the setting, but feel it, smell it, taste it. Every sense is tickled and activated.

This is a book about books, a story about stories. A poem in novel length with the intangible sensation of a prolonged fever dream.

Yet the story itself drowns in its own beauty. The characters feel de
Jun 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, 2014
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
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
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!
Mar 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Aug 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy, epl
I absolutely loved this, and at the same time, I can easily see why someone else might absolutely not. It's a very meta book, in the sense that it is written in the voice of a man writing a book about (in part) the role his love of books has played in his life. The language is gorgeous and the descriptions are something to really savor, and even the most minor characters seem fully real as they move in and out of the story. The nearest fantasy equivalent I can think of, in terms of style, is Guy ...more
Therese Arkenberg
Sep 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 wrappe
Mar 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a very particular kind of fantasy novel, as much a literary (filled with albeit imaginary books) novel as it is a deep travelogue between two richly imagined fantasy lands.

At first, I was put off by the oh so lengthy passages of works and legends and overlong paragraphs, but like a lot of great fiction, it takes a learning curve and it often takes a bit of patience. Once I fell into the actual story rather than the many allusions made of whole cloth from a new mythology both familiar to
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
Jake Casella
Mar 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Yep still the best
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Sofia Samatar is the author of the novels A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Histories, the short story collection, Tender, and Monster Portraits, a collaboration with her brother, the artist Del Samatar.

Other books in the series

Olondria (2 books)
  • The Winged Histories
“Once you have built something - something that takes all your passion and will - it becomes more precious to you than your own happiness. You don't realise that, while you are building it. That you are creating a martyrdom - something which, later, will make you suffer.” 13 likes
“But preserve your mistrust of the page, for a book is a fortress, a place of weeping, the key to a desert, a river that has no bridge, a garden of spears.” 12 likes
More quotes…