The Stranger (The Labyrinths of Echo, Book 1) Hardcover – April 2, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
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"I've never looked forward to the publication of a book more than I did Max Frei's The Stranger...a fantastic book."-January Magazine
"The Stranger is a hugely enjoyable mix of madcap mirth and fantastical adventure." -California Literary Review
- Publisher : The Overlook Press (April 2, 2009)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 544 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1590200659
- ISBN-13 : 978-1590200650
- Item Weight : 1.75 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.41 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Just to be fair, I went back and reread the Russian version, perspectives do change with time... and I found the original novel to be lively, fun and entertaining just as I remembered it. So, I'm still looking for a good English translation.
"The Stranger" is reminiscent of Susanna Clarke's "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" and Jasper Fforde's "Thursday Next" stories but with much more action, "The Stranger" is set in a magical Victorian dream world accessible only via an enchanted trolley. Frei has developed well-rounded, believable characters and places but his real strength is his dialogue and the developing friendships of the characters. I always find it compelling when a new author tells a good story set in an alternative world. Especially when done from a unique and creative angle. This is one of those tales.
Engaging and entertaining this book receives 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.
From the book flap:
Max Frei's novels have been a literary sensation in Russia since their debut in 1996, and have swept the fantasy world over. Presented here in English for the first time, The Stranger will strike a chord with readers of all stripes. Part fantasy, part horror, part philosophy, part dark comedy, the writing is united by a sharp wit and a web of clues that will open up the imagination of every reader.Max Frei was a twenty-something loser-a big sleeper (that is, during the day; at night he can't sleep a wink), a hardened smoker, and an uncomplicated glutton and loafer. But then he got lucky. He contacts a parallel world in his dreams, where magic is a daily practice. Once a social outcast, he's now known in his new world as the "unequalled Sir Max." He's a member of the Department of Absolute Order, formed by a species of enchanted secret agents; his job is to solve cases more extravagant and unreal than one could imagine-a journey that will take Max down the winding paths of this strange and unhinged universe.
Note: Max Frei (Russian: Ìàêñ Ôðàé) is the fictional narrator of ten Russian fantasy novels which make up the "The Labyrinths of Echo" series ("Ëàáèðèíòû Eõî"), as well as several other novels. He is also presented as the author of these and other works, although in an additional twist of fantasy, it has been revealed that Max Frei is actually a pen name of Svetlana Martynchik and Igor Stepin the true creators of this literary icon.
It's hard to decide where to place this book within the fantasy genre. For example, much of it seems foolishly silly, with characters named "Sir Boboota Box" and "Sir Lonli-Lokli." The fantastic world in which it takes place is similarly light spirited: there are apparently no violent murders, people routinely have enormous houses with a dozen bath tubs, cats are enormous but somehow docile as sheep and not predators, and everyone obsesses about their next meal. In contrast to this there are gruesome murders, foul cannibals, and power-mad killer magicians. There is no attempt to explain the internal logic of the world - what is possible and what is not. This is especially frustrating since the plot revolves around crimes but there is no framework in the traditional sense for the reader to appreciate the crime or its solution.
The hero has more than a touch of "Mary-Sue": he is a plain sort who wanders into a world where he is an immediate success, can do magic without training or effort, and instantly rises to a position of power. In fact there is precious little that the hero desires that he does not obtain.
On the positive side, the book is inventive and entertaining. The hero is light-hearted and unpretentious. The book has a different flavor and balance which I think stems from cultural differences. (The book's constant focus on work-place relationships reminds me of the Daywatch series, also by a Russian author). And there is a hint that there is a fundamental reason for the hero's unreasonable success...
Thus, while I would not rate this book as a "must read," it is well-written and off-beat enough to be worthy of consideration.
Top reviews from other countries
Translation seems decent overall, though not without its quirks. Has some unavoidable loss of meaning and a few outright errors, but overall quite readable. My friend's enjoying it.