The Barren ‘Strange Country’

18490670Strange Country by Deborah Coates
Tor Books, May 27, 2014 (Rural Fantasy)

My Rating: I’d go there again (4/5)

Strange Country is the final book in Deborah Coates rural fantasy trilogy. In the final installment all the threads all pulled together leaving readers with a satisfying conclusion, although I wouldn’t be opposed to further books featuring Hallie and Boyd. Ultimately, this book is hauntingly written, showcasing a barren landscape in an exceptionally vivid way. Strange Country is not action-packed, but does it ever leave an impression.

The third book follows the events of Deep Down. Hallie has saved Boyd from the under; however, it came at the expense of his life. Boyd had to die and come back, and it’s put a strain on their relationship. Boyd doesn’t remember dying and he’d rather not. Adding further complication is Hallie’s offer from Death. Death, having spared Hallie in Afghanistan, feels that Hallie owes a debt, and he’d like Hallie to take his place in the under. Hallie’s afraid of having to make that decision since she’s finally come to terms with the fact that she wants to stay, she wants to live and set down roots. At the same time, Hallie recognizes that if it comes down to staying and saving the world, she’s going to help people because that’s just what she does. This is the other element that’s causing some strain in her and Boyd’s relationship. However, it’s not this conflict that propels Strange Country, but rather the death of several people who messed with magic when they should have left it alone.What I really liked about Strange Country was the author’s decision to include Boyd Davies point of view in the narrative. In the previous two books, the story has been told exclusively from Hallie Michaels perspective. While I’m not sure this abrupt change-up always works in other series, it made sense for Strange Country as it served to bring two divergent plot lines neatly together.

What I liked about having Boyd’s perspective in Strange Country was that readers are treated to how he sees Hallie and, for me, this helped me understand her as a character. With Coates writing style I feel almost detached from the characters and their emotions, and I think that works really well with her novels, but I liked that Boyd’s point of view helped to bridge that gap. For example, Boyd reflects on his relationship with Hallie and what that means:

When he first met Hallie – which hadn’t been that long ago, but seemed like a lifetime, like he’d always known her or been waiting to meet her – it had been clear that she didn’t need anyone. It had also been clear that she could use help, whether she knew it or not, and he’d done his best to deliver. She’d appreciated it, but she didn’t look for it. Over the last few months, they’d achieved an understanding about whom to talk to and whom to look for in a crowd, and whom to call when something happened. In a way, last night felt like they were back where they’d begun. He was pretty sure that if a challenge came along, say, this afternoon, Hallie would do her damnedest to keep him away from it. Not because she didn’t trust him or believe that he could help. Not even – he didn’t think – because she wanted to protect him, though she probably did; he knew he wanted to protect her.

She wouldn’t keep it from him because she didn’t trust him. She’d do it because she didn’t trust herself. (p. 140)

I loved those moments where both Boyd and Hallie reflected on their relationship. Coates rambling style brought something new to their relationship, gave it a more realistic feeling. And through Boyd I felt that I came to have a better understanding of Hallie and her actions and motivations. Boyd obviously sees something in Hallie, he sees the way she always needs to act and think about the consequences later. Boyd and Hallie never really express all that much emotion about one another, but what is conveyed seems so big despite the lack of words. Emotions in this book are always restrained, but that doesn’t mean that they are not there or don’t figure into Hallie and Boyd’s decisions. They relationship is a subtle one and I liked how it unfolded.

The way that the author includes magic in Strange Country is also worth noting. Again, this “magic” packs such a punch not because it’s overt, but rather it’s the subtle and matter-of-fact way it’s included in this novel that made it all the more powerful. Not only do Hallie and Boyd have to content with magical stones but also with Death’s offer for Hallie – for her to take his place in the under. When I write that out it sounds so strange, but when you read this book, these elements seem like such a natural and effortless inclusion in the book. Coates’ descriptions of the fantastic elements of her story are never showy, they just are. The tone the author sets permeates the entire novel. Coates’ characters and world flow together perfectly.

Strange Country signals the end of the author’s trilogy, and I have to say I’m disappointed to be finished with Hallie and Boyd. I loved that this trilogy was so different from the usual stuff that I read. Generally, I gravitate to the happy and light books and this series was just not the case, but it worked for me. I do see a potential for the author to continue the series; however, with the end of Strange Country further books are certainly not needed. I will definitely be recommending this series to others, and I even think there is a strong argument that this will also appeal to readers outside the fantasy genre. Strange Country was much more than a fantasy novel; it was a well crafted story that includes the fantastic so subtly that I think you can safely recommend this to a much wider audience. Anyone who enjoys books set in a small town with a mystery element will find this book readable.

Similar Reads

Like Deborah Coates, Jo Walton effortlessly incorporates the magic into the everyday in Among Others. As an added bonus, this one is also awesome since there are so many references to other fantasy reads.

Among Others

The Hum and the Shiver is a book that I have admittedly not read, the premise sounds extremely similar to Strange Country. It also has a Southern setting, which I find very intriguing. This one sounds a little more detached or less emotional than Strange Country, so I would make sure that you like that aspect before starting The Hum and the Shiver.

The Hum and the Shiver (Tufa, #1)

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