Strange Country, by Deborah Coates

Review copy provided by Tor.

This is the third in its series, and I think that both the emotional resonances and the plot points will be strongest if you start with the first one, Deep Down. (Edit: Sorry, no, Wide Open is first.) Which is available, so lucky you! Both the marketing copy and the book itself indicate closure as a trilogy, if you’re concerned about never-ending series; on the other hand I feel that this setting/approach has a lot of juice in it still, so if Coates decides to do more related works now that this trilogy is over, I will still line up for them.

As of Strange Country, Hallie Michaels has been back from Afghanistan long enough that she’s had time to make new, South Dakota-based trauma memories. Yay! Um. Not-yay. She’s had a rough ride when the series begins, and things do not get easier for her in the third book: her neighbors in West Prairie City start getting picked off with a sniper rifle, and Hallie and boyfriend (-ish thing? boyfriend-like object?) Boyd Davies have to figure out who’s doing it and why. And why there’s a skeleton buried in the basement of one of the victims, and what the funny rocks with the skeleton are, and how they work, and…

Yeah. So it keeps getting good. But one of the things that makes this special, that makes this not just another urban fantasy, is that it’s not urban at all. It’s very rural. And it’s rural for my people, for the Upper Midwest, for South Dakotans. The sense of scale of the northern middle prairies is just beautifully done, the importance of meat and trucks and the industries that aren’t prioritized elsewhere, the primacy of cities that aren’t even recognizable in most of the rest of the world.

And the dialog–this should be mandatory reading for people thinking of moving to the Upper Midwest from Elsewhere. As Timprov noted, it has Closed Captioning for the Subtlety Impaired. There are all sorts of places where the dialog is absolutely spot on, where what the characters say out loud is, “Yeah,” or, “I guess,” or exactly the very few words they would actually say, and then the text incorporates what that actually means in the next few lines for the benefit of those who are not alive to the nuances of the Yeah. It’s well enough done that I didn’t even entirely notice Coates was doing it until I realized that a few places were feeling a bit redundant to me…and then I went, “Oh. Oh yeah.” Not everyone goes into European history books reading enough French not to need footnotes, and Upper Midwestern is also not a second language for most readers. Better to have the in-line translations. They are very smooth.

Also there are dogs, and the dogs are important. So yeah: I am a sucker for this book.

Edit: Tor is offering a giveaway of the whole trilogy to someone in the US or Canada. Comment on this post (either the marissalingen.com location or livejournal, doesn’t matter), and I will randomly select one of you for the free books. Hurrah free books! Edit again: Argh where is my brain. Comment eligibility for this will close Saturday.

11 thoughts on “Strange Country, by Deborah Coates

  1. Free books, yay! I think I have the first of these on my wish list but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.

  2. I’m interested in this trilogy for so many reasons–the idea of a more unique kind of fantasy series than I typically read (I’m assuming there are no dragons, or you would have mentioned them in your review), plot-important dogs, and Hallie Michaels sounds like a great character. The cherry on this sundae is the notion of Upper Midwestern dialogue, which was my first language and which I still slip into from time to time. Thanks for whetting my interest, adding three more books to my mammoth TBR list, and for the great giveaway! 😀

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