Is Strangers in the Land that good? YES. Full disclosure: I was contacted by the author’s publicist to review this book, and I said sure! If I’d seen this on Amazon, would I have picked it up? Probably not, because I love my trashy romance novels. But, I’ve reviewed a few books for this publicist, and I know they’re always solid reads.
After I started reading this book, I realized the folly of my ways for not just innately KNOWING how good this book is. I wish Amazon could beam that information straight into my brain, because I took so much away from this book. It’ll stay with me for a very, very long time.
What makes this book brilliant? The characters. Their relationships. Stant’s ability to provide depth to both in a way that left me mesmerized and desperate for more. I wasn’t just emotionally invested in them, I was crying when the inevitable happened to those I fell in love with. His writing is flawless. By that, I mean, it doesn’t get in the way of the storytelling. It makes you want to read more, even when your husband gets home from work and is asking where dinner is. McDonalds, sweetie. Sorry.
The premise of Stant’s book is also intriguing. He provides a legitimate historical backdrop then tells a story about what might have really happened. In this case, the tale is set in ancient Israel. The twelve Hebrew tribes escaped Egypt and the desert and have been living in the Promised Land long enough to begin to lose their identity as one people. They’ve interbred with the heathens and also begun to lose some of their more godly ways. Stant provides the historical angle in a note at the beginning, explaining the biblical references and setting as well as the Hebrew customs for handling their dead. And then, the story begins.
The main character is Devora, a female (yes, female!) prophet who interprets visions from God. If you’re thinking, okay, no big deal, keep in mind that women in that day and age were bartered like cows. She’s recognized as God’s voice, and in the civilized south, she’s treated with reverence. She’s in her forties, wise, strong, and courageous but also haunted by dark events from her past. She wields her power as the first judge of Israel without hesitation or mercy. The zombies, however, are in the north, among the Hebrew tribes who have mostly lost their faith and godly ways. The northerners have basically turned into barbarians that barely recognize their own god. Devora has visions of the zombies destroying Israel. She must go to the north to teach the people how to kill zombies and to help reestablish law and order, before it’s too late.
One of the most intriguing relationships is that between her and Barak, a northern chieftain who is 80% certain god exists and 100% certain women are no better than cattle. One of his greatest lines is something to the effect that all of a man’s problems in the world are caused by his god and his woman. Watching him grapple with faith and the tradition of treating women like livestock is one of the best depictions of character development I’ve ever read. He’s confronted with a female prophet, one he can’t respect, but one he can’t turn away. What’s a manly northern chieftain to do, especially when his men see him treating a woman with – gasp! – respect? How does he balance his place as a leader with his duty to a god that sent a woman to tell him what to do? It takes him awhile. He has to see Devora chop off a few zombie heads, before he realizes this is no ordinary woman.
And then there’s Zadok. Dear, sweet, dedicated Zadok. He’s a warrior assigned to protect Devora and is worthy of his own romance novel. His duty makes him do horrible things, like kill in cold blood. How he handles the soul-destroying duty and his unrequited love for Devora (who’s happily married to a wonderful man) made me cry long before the chapter where he had his “run.” Oh, he made my heart hurt!
I also love the evolution of the relationship between Devora and Hurriya, a heathen who collapses at Devora’s feet at the beginning of the story with her zombified newborn in her arms. Devora has the baby zombie killed in front of the new mother, which is a bit traumatizing. Even though she is a heathen, Hurriya is meant to be the next prophet to receive visions from God. She starts out as a vulnerable, suicidal, waif of a thing, probably the first heathen Devora’s ever really taken pity on. Hurriya accompanies Devora and Zadok on their journey north as their guide and slowly morphs into the new prophet, with Devora’s guidance and help. She also helps Devora realize the error of her own ways, in terms of helping her learn to respect the heathens and dealing with her dark past.
Some parts of the book disturbed me, not because they were bad, but because I really can’t imagine being a woman and living in a time and place where women were treated like these women were. It made me admire Devora and Hurriya even more. It also led me to realize that – had Stant chosen a male prophet to headline this book – it wouldn’t have been nearly as powerful.
So, no, this isn’t just a zombie book. It’s a book about the courageous depths of the human soul in the face of unspeakable evil. It’s about those who have the power to do good while knowing their chances of survival are small. It’s about people who are forced to overcome the obstacles within themselves in order to defeat the dangers that threaten to wipe out an entire country.
Yeah, it’s that good. And don’t worry, sweet Zadok, you can come live with me. 🙂
Born a farmer’s son in the Pacific Northwest, Stant Litore took the college road and eventually earned his PhD in English, but remains passionate for things that grow. He spent several years in a dim corner of a library, repairing bruised and battered books, before heading overseas to backpack through Europe. Haunted by the hunger and poverty he witnessed at home and abroad, he began spinning stories about the hungers that devour us and the hopes that preserve us. Today he lives in Colorado with his wife and their two daughters, writing about the restless dead and the restless living. He avoids certain parts of the mountains during the dark of the moon.