Book Review: The Strange

Book Review: The Strange

Debut Novel by Nathan Ballingrud
Review by Sadie Hartmann

Book: The Strange by Nathan Ballingrud

Release Date: March 21, 2023

Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera, Western, Alternative History, Horror

Subgenre/Themes: Family, young female protagonists, revenge, coming-of-age, grief and loss, quest or mission, robots and AI, friendship, community and colonies

Writing Style: Very character-driven, compelling, accessible narrative, strong voice

What You Need to Know

Establishing time and place is important. This is an alternate history story that takes place during the 1930s, in and around a colony stranded on Mars. So, it’s good to know this is not futuristic just because it is set in space and the technology has afforded mankind a life on Mars. The people and the vibe is still very much from a past era, which lends itself perfectly to the Western flavor. So expect a 1930s-era True Grit, coming-of-age, Weird Western set on Mars. Plenty of horror elements, too.

My Reading Experience

This book reads like a movie. It’s effortlessly cinematic. Ballingrud is a master wordsmith, crafting a complex alternate history packaged in a way the reader can just sit back and enjoy.

Typically, I get frustrated by the laborious mechanics of science fiction. The science part can sometimes bog down the story or distract me from investing in the characters. Ballingrud takes a cue from Bradbury by downplaying technical aspects and focusing more on human interactions. This doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of questions racing through my mind. I was still wondering how and why, but the story answered all my questions in time. There aren’t big, annoying info-dumps, or long passages of exposition. The characters, primarily the lead, fourteen-year-old Annabelle Crisp, drives the story with one, clear objective: Something valuable was stolen from her family, her father is in jail as a result, and she will take back what is rightfully theirs, no matter the cost.

The Strange is an amazing journey filled with so much emotion, suspense, and just a general feeling of awe. Ballingrud’s imagination just explodes on the page.

I especially loved Watson, the robot. I’m a sucker for a young kid with a sidekick—a horse, a fog, a robot, whatever, I’m here for it.

Final Recommendation

I was already a huge Nathan Ballingrud fan. His short stories send me! Now, after reading his debut novel, I can confidently say he is an insta-buy author. Everything he releases will have a home on my bookshelves.


True Grit by Charles Portis, The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, Edge of Dark Water by Joe R. Lansdale

The Strange is currently available for purchase wherever books are sold.

Nathan Ballingrud

Author of The Strange

Sadie Hartmann


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