If, from the title of this book, you think it’s a graphic novel, you’re very close. The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl is a book about a woman who writes and illustrates a cowpunk (an odd combination of steampunk and a Western) comic book titled The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl. Her name isn’t Rangergirl, though, it’s Marzi (short for Marzipan), but her life does begin to take on some strange similarities to the main character of her comic book when she starts to see visions of her characters in the coffee shop where she is the night manager. She has a terrible fear of opening doors after suffering a nervous breakdown two years before, and to make things even worse, she begins to be pursued by a woman made entirely of mud, who believes that her goddess is commanding her to tear down the coffee shop.
Still with me? Good.
This is the first novel by Tim Pratt, and I’m awfully impressed with it. It has a very odd sensibility about it, but still manages to stay firmly rooted reality. Because of that, other people have termed this novel an urban fantasy, but whenever I think of those kinds of books, I think of Charles de Lint, and Tim Pratt has very little to do with de Lint. I find more similarities between Pratt and Cory Doctorow, or Damien Broderick, than I do other “urban fantasists”. For that reason, I would avoid labeling the book as either fantasy or science fiction, or urban fantasy or magic realism. The best label that comes to mind, for me, would be “imaginative fiction”, because this is certainly that.
Pratt is a vivid writer, and he brings a lot of life to his characters and settings. His imagery is stunning, as is his imagination, and the two combined make for a unque style of fiction. I’d love to give some examples of both, but the best examples come about halfway through the book and forward, and I would hate to spoil the story for anyone wanting to read the book. You’ll just have to trust me.
I’ve found that it’s much harder to review a book when it’s really good, as opposed to one that’s really bad. If a book is bad, I can see why — clunky narrative, unrealistic characters, or an inability to convey a sense of disbelief stand out. When a book is good, though, I tend to get so wrapped up in the story that much of the structure and mechanics of the story disappears. I can’t find much fault with this book.
If you enjoy science fiction that’s a little off kilter, or urban fantasies that are right on the fringe (or if you just like highly imaginative fiction), then I would recommend reading The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl. I think it would be well worth the effort.