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Book review: Stranger Back Home by E. L. Haines

Book review: Stranger Back Home by E. L. Haines

black bearded man waring brown coat and holding hat to his head standing in front of fire-breathing dragon
Stranger Back Home by E.L. Haines. Semi-finalist SPFBO Fantasy Book Award 2021
Official blurb

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.

My thoughts

Stranger Back Home by E.L. Haines is a great story that combines humour, imaginative world building, popular literary references, and social issues. I love the characters, the development of the plot and storytelling, and all the twists and turns as protagonist, Sparrow, navigates two worlds.

Sparrow, (he’s not fond of his real name), is lured away from “our” world to his home world of Telleron when his brother, Evander DuMont, sends him a text message about the execution of their father’s (Xavier Dumont) last will and testament. To say Sparrow’s family might be a touch dysfunctional doesn’t quite describe the quirks of their reality. After all, Sparrow is a gnome with quite interesting talents and skills, and Evander is a pure-bred halfling businessman. Oh, and Sparrow had never actually met their shared father, or his brother, before DuMont senior had vanished, presumed dead.

And in that summoning was the first mystery (and twist) in the story.

a message from him delivered by raven or owl would have been cliché and derivative, but an SMS was just incongruous.

Of particular interest throughout the tale is Haines’s handling of racism through the clash of society and culture that Sparrow experiences as he travels from one world into the next. Coming from “our” world where technology and politically correct notions (and “no” magic) are in opposition to that of Telleron full of what we consider as magical creatures. It’s an interesting dive into language, the impact of political correctness, and the oft times pedantic misinterpretation of meaning.

But don’t let that fool you into thinking such serious thoughts are all the story is about. Stranger Back Home is a wonderful adventure and mystery in a world full of elves, halflings, trolls, wizards, ghosts, vampires, goblins, humans, gnomes, and humans (plus a whole bunch of pixies and fairy types, and a race known as Kobolds). A veritable mash of the magical and monstrous!

Haines writes in a similar irreverent and humorous style to Kevin Hearne in his Ink & Sigil series (read my review). Classic storytelling that hooks the read from the first page by being relevant, speaking directly to them, and acknowledging the multiple words in which we all truly live – the real and the imaginative.

About the author
brown bearded man wearing a blue shirt and holding a blue book and a glass of bubbly
Author, E. L. Haines

E.L. Haines reads all the time, and writes so that you can read. He travels the world, ignoring the usual boundaries of space and time, collecting stories, which he loves to tell almost as much as Sparrow himself does.

He has visited more than 25 countries in person, and perhaps more than a hundred in books.

He has also time-traveled to more than 40 different years in history. We won’t tell you exactly which ones.

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