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The Strangeling    by Saskia Walker order for
by Saskia Walker
Order:  USA  Can
Juno, 2007 (2007)
*   Reviewed by Belle Dessler

One hundred years before Maerose was born in the small village of Riversbend, a wise elder with the gift of seeing prophesied her fate. An army was to sweep over the land and conquer everything in its path as far as the forest of The Strangeling, a magical place that served as the home of the fay folk. From the destruction of The Strangeling would rise an army of dead men from the underworld. That is, unless one woman could stop it.

Maerose has no idea what fate has in store for her. She's a young maiden unaccustomed to anything beyond life in her tiny village. But when she's kidnapped from the river's edge where she's washing clothes, she begins to think that there may be more going on than a random crime. The man who's captured her, Veldor, seems to know an awful lot about her. He also intends to possess her wholly, by any means necessary.

But there is another man who would stand by her side as she pushes back the darkness when it comes. Bron has been studying the prophecies all his life along with Veldor, but his motives are pure. He's meant to be her companion and mentor in the quest to repel the evil horde. But will he be able to stand against Veldor, a man who was once as close as a brother to him, to do so?

In The Strangeling, Walker imagines a fantasy setting where magic and prophecy play a role in the day-to-day lives of its people, whether they know it or not. The setting is wonderfully depicted, with intricate details of the land and its people sprinkled liberally throughout.

Unfortunately, the plot suffers from myriad clichés: from the naïve, virginal heroine to the madman bent on power and conquest, to the prophecy that can doom them all. Veldor is the type of villain who seems torn from the pages of a comic book novel. There is nothing even remotely intriguing about him. In contrast, Bron is a hero wise beyond his years, with enough knowledge of magic and prophecy to guide Maerose every step of the way. He becomes her mentor as well as her lover, and the pieces of the puzzle fit together so flawlessly that it's hard to root for these two as a couple.

Walker blends fantasy romance with a high degree of sensuality, and the love scenes are very erotic. Maerose learns to use her powers while submitting sexually to Bron, which left me wishing she'd taken a more dominant role in dealing with her fate. While The Strangeling is an interesting short novel, it would have benefited from deeper characterization and less reliance on clichés to make a point. Fans of fantasy and erotica may be disappointed with both aspects of this story, but those looking for a simplistic read that can be finished in an afternoon will enjoy Walker's offering.

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