"STRANGEr BACK HOME MIGHT HAVE A FEW BUMPS IN THE ROAD, BUT IT’S FUN, FUNNY FANTASY"
stranger back home
by E.L. Haines
Stranger Back Home
by E.l. haines
What is it about?
One day, your father is a renowned diplomat. The next day, he’s an infamous terrorist.
When Sparrow is summoned to the reading of his father’s last will and testament, the most he hoped for was a minor bequest. Instead, he inherited suspicion and accusations from the Empire that his father helped unite.
Locked away in a vault are the secrets that will reveal Xavier DuMont’s mysterious past and shine a light on Sparrow’s future. Perhaps even the future of the entire realm.
Of course, these secrets won’t be obtained easily. Especially when everyone in this magical world seems so casually racist.
Social dynamics in this world were already pretty strange. Somehow, Sparrow makes everything stranger.
Stranger Back Home by E.L. Haines is a comedic fantasy that follows a dwarf by the name of Sparrow on his continuing adventures as he returns to his fantastical homeworld following the death of his father.
Technically, Stranger Back Home is part of a series of novels about Sparrow, but works well enough as a standalone, since most of his real backstory is fleshed out here. There were occasional references to earlier books, but nothing too jarring to take me out of the moment or narrative.
And what a narrative it is. Sparrow is a well accomplished entrepreneur in the fantastical city of Dragonsmouth – filled to the brim with ghosts, vampires, goblins, dwarfs, and kobolds – and he’s got a lot of plates spinning at once.
Those plates include managing an all-girl rock band, dealing with the annoyances of the stage actors guild, managing his estate that he stole off some vampires, managing the power struggle between the various ruling groups in Dragonsmouth, leading a small group of mercenaries, and struggling to educate the fantasy populace on the injustices of blackface while simultaneously running a kobold day spa in kobold-face. And that’s just off the top of my head.
If you think that’s a lot, you’d be right. There’s a sort of loose feeling to the narrative that keeps Sparrow bouncing around, ping-ponging between different things that all ultimately tie back into the overarching plot of him being summoned due to his father’s death and his step-mother’s kidnapping.
Does it work seamlessly? Not always. Some threads seem more consequential than others while others only have the most tenuous of links to the main story.
But is it fun? You bet it is. There’s a lot of wild fantasy concepts thrown around in a bizarre mishmash that becomes a thing of beauty. The language is crisp and tight and has occasional glimmers of Pratchett (who, as everyone knows, is the only author to ever write humorous fantasy). When Haines ventures into social commentary, things get a bit clumsy, and I’m not sure some of his theses fully lands as the book believes it should, but it is a valiant attempt at best and the rest of the book is so enjoyable that it’s not that big a deal (to me, at least).
But how does Stranger stack up in terms of SPFBO?
The thing about humor is that it doesn’t tend to fare well in these sorts of competitions (yeah, yeah Orconomics), because judges either don’t like the jokes (humor is subjective), or they feel the humor takes away from the narrative, or they don’t think direct humor belongs in books of this nature. All are valid opinions. I, personally, have written copious amounts of humorous sci-fi/fantasy fiction and have encountered these views (and reviews) often. But this isn’t an advertisement for my books*. The point is that as an SPFBO judge, I’m now in a position to be the change I want to see in the world.
Strange Back Home might have a few bumps in the road, but it’s fun, funny fantasy, that I enjoyed reading and I’m giving it the push forward.
*This, on the other hand, is! Read the Duckett & Dyer: Dicks For Hire series today!
Other Team Member Reviews
Eleni – “An entertaining satire with an interesting and snarky narrator. The repetitive directing of the readers attention to the protagonist being a dwarf made for a bumpy start though cause it went past establishing the looks and into noticeable repetition. Some of the spell names/words being side jokes to real world memes (while amusing) did break me out of the book’s narrative multiple times as well.” 6.5/10
Ganesh – “Stranger Back Home is a comedic fantasy that follows a dwarf by the name of Sparrow as he returns to his fantastical homeworld following the death of his father. It spins a complex tale chock-full of ghosts, vampires, goblins, dwarfs, kobolds, and all-girl rock bands, and it does so in a very fresh and inventive way. The book has a lot of balls in the air and, as a result, hits a few bumps in the road. But at the end of the day, it’s a fun, deft, funny fantasy that I really had a good time with.” 9/10
Beth – “I love pretty much any book with a satire angle, darkly funny, or just straight-up comedy. Humour is often an extension of a ridiculous scenario; fantasy is also an extension of what could be if the imagination runs wild—pairing humor with fantasy work well together more than any other genre, in my opinion.
Humor is also super subjective, however, which G.M. covered very well in his original review. Humor doesn’t usually tend to do well in SPFBO because we are all such varied reviewers. I like my humor a bit dry and dark—some like slapstick, others like prat Three Stooges type comedy. It is hard to get a consensus on what is funny. All that being said, Stranger Back Home was generally really funny. It even appealed to me who likes their humor a lot darker. I laughed a lot. I liked bouncing around from situation to situation. It is a great narrative, and Sparrow is a likable character. I have not fully finished this book, but I know I will. It is too funny not to.” 7/10
Jason – “Stranger Back Home was something of a mixed bag. On one hand I love to see a humorous book make it to the semis. Humor is pretty underrated in terms of sub-genres within #SPFBO and it’s good to see some additional representation.
G.M. Nair’s review was on point in my opinion. It was fair and hit on many of the positives and negatives I experienced while reading. The premise was fun and interesting. But for me the book fell a little flat. I don’t know if that is due to me and my tastes or something else. Though the book can be read as a stand-alone it is part of a larger series and there were many repeated references to events that had gone on before that made me feel like I was missing out on something. I felt in order to really appreciate the book I needed to have read the others. While at times I found myself laughing at the humor it began to feel very repetitive. One prominent example was the attempt to address issues of racism done through a humorous lens that didn’t really succeed in my view.
I set the book down at about the 45% mark and decided it wasn’t really for me. While some of the concepts had me curious I was thrown out of the narrative by feeling I was missing out on previous installments, and because the humor (a very subjective thing) felt a little too forced.” 5/10
In the end, we decided to cut this title. It is at a point now that we have a plethora of great titles to choose from, and this is where this contest gets super hard for us reviewers. This is a great story, and should certainly be read, especially if you enjoy comedy. You can’t go wrong with this.
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Adrian Collins runs Grimdark Magazine and loves anything to do with telling darker stories. Doesn’t matter the format, or when it was published or produced–just give him a grim story told in a dark world by a morally grey protagonist and this bloke’s in his happy place. Add in a barrel aged stout to sip on after a cheeky body surf under the Australian sun, and that’s his heaven.