>> Sunday, February 16, 2014
On her last day of high school, Cassandra Devlin walked out of exams and into a forest. Surrounded by the wrong sort of trees, and animals never featured in any nature documentary, Cass is only sure of one thing: alone, she will be lucky to survive.
The sprawl of abandoned blockish buildings Cass discovers offers her only more puzzles. Where are the people? What is the intoxicating mist which drifts off the buildings in the moonlight? And why does she feel like she's being watched?
Increasingly unnerved, Cass is overjoyed at the arrival of the formidable Setari. Whisked to a world as technologically advanced as the first was primitive, where nanotech computers are grown inside people's skulls, and few have any interest in venturing outside the enormous whitestone cities, Cass finds herself processed as a 'stray', a refugee displaced by the gates torn between worlds. Struggling with an unfamiliar language and culture, she must adapt to virtual classrooms, friends who can teleport, and the ingrained attitude that strays are backward and slow.
Can Cass ever find her way home? And after the people of her new world discover her unexpected value, will they be willing to let her leave?
Stray has a fascinating setup. Cass Devlin is having a perfectly normal last day of school. She's looking forward to university and, more immediately, to some great graduation parties. And then, while she's walking home the same way she's done hundreds of times before, she's suddenly somewhere completely different. There's no explosion, no feeling of falling into a void, no sci-fi-type transitions, she's just suddenly in a forest. She's completely on her own, other than some strange animals, and even worse, it soon becomes clear that she's not even on Earth.
Through entries in her diary, we follow Cass as she does her best to survive and explore her new environment, looking for... something, anything. We then also follow her as she's rescued by humans from a very technologically advanced civilisation and becomes what they call a 'stray'. She's not the first person who's accidentally stumbled through a 'gate' from somewhere else in the universe, although she's the first one from Earth. Cass is granted a sort of refugee status, but hasn't even began to adapt to regular life when it is discovered she's got a special ability, one that might of great value in this world's struggle against outside forces.
There was a lot here that I liked. Cass is a great character, wonderfully sensible and insightful about herself, but at the same time believable as a teenager. She reacts to the really strange circumstances in which she finds herself in ways that I felt made complete sense.
Also, the concept is one that I think is absolutely fantastic, and I really liked the directions in which Höst took it. The ways in which this other world differed from Earth and the implications of the technology all make perfect sense and were really throught-provoking.
And yet... frustratingly, I ended up DNFing this after reading about 60%. The problem was the format, I think. Here's the thing: the diary entries were done in a way that was completely believable. That is a positive thing, in a way, but it also meant that the book was mainly exposition, as there are lots and lots of sections of Cass writing what she's learnt and reporting, in blow-by-blow fashion, what she did that day.
I didn't have a problem with the format in the first sections, as Cass is wondering through the forest with no idea what's going on. In those sections Höst manages to convey a lot of emotion through the writing, even as Cass is trying hard to be brave and sensible when she writes. Later, though, the emotion felt very distant and I found it hard to care. I'd even go as far as to say it became a bit of a slog. I did persevere and read on for a few days, but I didn't feel I was getting anywhere, and ended up putting it down.
MY GRADE: It's a DNF. But DNF or not, I would still read more by Höst, I think. I like her ideas, and maybe something not in diary form would work better for me.