Review copy provided courtesy of the author.
Malcolm has been visiting the same campground for years, but this year cabin repairs have pushed his annual trip into the off season. The campground is empty, the wolves are hungry, and the trees are reaching and whispering.
The Stranger tackles bigotry and environmental issues--weighty topics individually, and including both themes feels like a bold move. Luckily it avoids feeling like too much for one story, and while there is a bit of preaching it wasn't obnoxious. And really, if you're going to get preachy, preaching against bigotry is the best kind of preaching in my book.
Another bit of daring was the choice of the protagonist. Malcolm is incredibly prejudiced against Indigenous people, he enjoys being out in nature, yet disrespects the environment, but he is also a family man. Keeping him from being the typical overblown caricature of a racist made him feel very real and human (but not that sympathetic) and this did a great job of illustrating the insidiousness of bigotry. Malcolm reminds me of countless people I've known (unfortunately some in my own family) that love their family, work hard, live a decent life, yet carry incredibly dangerous prejudices. You'd think this would lessen the reading experience, but while I wasn't rooting for the guy, I felt very emotionally invested in hoping he would realize how wrong he is and change his ways
There were a couple things that made me scratch my head a bit (no spoilers). One was a certain kill scene that for me felt very dramatic, yet Malcolm doesn't have much of a reaction to it at all. To be fair, this could be in part due to his bigotry, but it did seem a bit odd. Another was a certain plot twist, it didn't really bother me, but a just a bit more build up could have made it a real stunner.
Now the big loves! When things start getting crazy and the blood starts pouring is when Stred really gets in his element. The descriptions and imagery get so creative (and disturbing) and I could see them so clearly in my mind, and even when it gets close to being over the top, it still worked so well for me! Also the ending as a whole was really fantastic. The mythos comes together to this really strange and beautiful conclusion, and I would gladly read more books that take place within this mythology.
This was such an enjoyable and creepy read with a strong message and fascinating mythos, and Stred continues to be an author to watch!