Strange Country: A memorable rural fantasy

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsStrange Country by Deborah Coates fantasy book reviewsStrange Country by Deborah Coates

In the TAYLOR COUNTY series, Deborah Coates has blended a wide-open prairie landscape, eerie magic, and great characters to create a memorable rural fantasy. She has said that Strange Country is the final book in the series.

Hallie Michaels has moved into the Pabahar place and finds herself staying inside its protections more often than she cares to admit. She knows one day there will be another reckoning with Death, and she’s in no rush to have that conversation. But cryptic messages start showing up, telling her the time to face her fear is approaching.

Meanwhile, Deputy Boyd Davies — Hallie’s maybe-boyfriend — responds to a call about a prowler only to have the woman shot dead by a sniper right in front of him. When the police comb her house, they find an older body and some unusual stones. A mystery unfolds involving several local citizens and a conflict that began decades before.

TAYLOR COUNTY is one of those series where you can say the characters feel like old friends, and it’s not just a platitude. I really feel like I’ve gotten to know these people over the course of the trilogy and it was a joy to “see” them again. There’s a dinner-party scene early in the book that is just beautiful in the way it brings together most of Hallie’s loved ones into one place, highlighting her development since book one when she felt so alone and out of step. There’s also a sweet love scene that makes it clear how important Boyd has become to her. One might sometimes wish for the characters to talk about their feelings a little more on-page, but that’s just not the way these stoic characters are — you have to read between the lines, and watch their actions. Coates has a warm touch, too, with the scenes involving dogs; there are several canines in the book (both natural and supernatural) and they’re all wonderful.

The eventual resolution of the plotlines occurs a bit too much off-screen, which detracts from the impact some. And, too, the magical elements don’t feel like they reach a peak in this final book, as one might expect. In hindsight, it feels like they peaked in book two.

That said, maybe that’s part of the point. The series isn’t really about the “epicness” of the magic but about character and place, and Coates delivers on those two fronts in spades throughout all three books. I’m sad that there will be no more in this series; Taylor County feels big enough to hold more stories, and I’ll miss Hallie and Boyd something terrible.

But as Ole reflects, the murder rate is starting to get noticeable. And Deborah Coates does what all writers want to do: she leaves us wanting more.

Taylor County — (2012-2014) Publisher: When Sergeant Hallie Michaels comes back to South Dakota from Afghanistan on ten days’ compassionate leave, her sister Dell’s ghost is waiting at the airport to greet her. The sheriff says that Dell’s death was suicide, but Hallie doesn’t believe it. Something happened or Dell’s ghost wouldn’t still be hanging around. Friends and family, mourning Dell’s loss, think Hallie’s letting her grief interfere with her judgment. The one person who seems willing to listen is the deputy sheriff, Boyd Davies, who shows up everywhere and helps when he doesn’t have to. As Hallie asks more questions, she attracts new ghosts, women who disappeared without a trace.  Soon, someone’s trying to beat her up, burn down her father’s ranch, and stop her investigation. Hallie’s going to need Boyd, her friends, and all the ghosts she can find to defeat an enemy who has an unimaginable ancient power at his command.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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