Saturday, August 01, 2009

Book review - The Stranger Book One - The Labyrinths of Echo - Max Frei

“The Stranger,” the first book in “The Labyrinths of Echo” series, is comprised of numerous who-dun-it mysteries that are set in a magical new dimension. When Max, the protagonist, leaves his own dimension into Echo he finds himself befriended by a strange Magician named Sir Juffin Hulley, The Most Venerable Head of the Minor Secret Investigative Force. The two men strike up a close friendship after Max is discovered to have magical skills himself. Russian novelist Frei knows how to tell a good story. Every chapter in the book is a new mystery with dark magic running throughout each. From a demon inhabited mirror, to a Grand Magician who is attempting to beat death by murdering innocents, to the creation of a New World (alternative city) by a ‘good’ magician, each story is well told and told well.

“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: Макс Фрай) is the fictional narrator of ten Russian fantasy novels which make up the “The Labyrinths of Echo” series (“Лабиринты Eхо”), 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.

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