A Stranger in Olondria

As he travels to Olondria to sell the family harvest, Jevick meets a young woman on the verge of death. Soon, he becomes enchanted by the city and haunted by the woman, caught up in a political battle between Olondrian religious factions. The dead woman torments him at night while the factions toy with him by day. In order to escape, he has to give something precious to both of them. Samatar’s world-building is breathtaking, but the book’s real magic is in the way it visits storytelling as an act of creation and of grief, of abundance and loss. I could read another thousand pages of this world and not grow tired of it.

Reading notes

This is the grief

On finishing a book:

The silence. The 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. The end approached, inexorable, at the same measured pace. The last page, the last of the shining words! And there—the end of the book. The hard cover which, when you turn it, gives you only this leather stamped with old roses and shields.

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 you what you will have for dinner, or two small boys run past you, wildly shouting; or else it’s merely a 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.

Samatar, A Stranger in Olondria, page 274