A ruling House faces an internal rebellion that affects the lives of four women.
Olondria is in peril. The empire is fractured along religious lines as a new cult competes with ancient rituals. Politically, it has been rendered unstable by wars. As the novel opens, Tav, a teenage girl from the House of Telkan, “the most exalted bloodline” in Olondria, has run away to become a swordmaiden in the army. As she fights alongside the men, she realizes the war is a distraction while the ruling branch of her family subjugates her native kingdom, Kestenya, and surrounding territories. Reaching out to her cousin Dasya, the son of the ruling Telkan, she incites him to fight for a free Kestenya. After learning of Olondria’s violent history through Tav, the novel switches point of view three more times, each time offering a different female perspective on the rebellion and its aftermath. Samatar (A Stranger in Olondria, 2013) has created a world in Olondria that is astonishingly rendered: details that even the most realistic of fiction writers might overlook are minutely described here, from one character’s music box to the texture of the food. And while the amount of detail in this new world with its complex history requires a deep patience on the part of the reader (and use of the glossary in the back), that patience is rewarded. Samatar is a writer of uncommon beauty, and she takes a genre that has historically tended to focus on the heroic exploits of men and shows how those exploits involve and affect women. This novel teaches us the importance of giving voice to experience and bearing witness; as one character says, writing is less about words than “how we are written into one another. How this is history.”
A lyrical immersion into a finely wrought world.