(Bantam Spectra, $12.00, 402 pages; trade paperback, published November 2005.)
Tim Pratt's debut novel, The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, stars Marzi, a struggling young cartoonist moonlighting in a Santa Cruz café.
The most significant part of her nascent oeuvre is a comic book titled, like Pratt's novel, The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, the episodic saga of a young woman who finds a Narnia-like portal to another universe, where she becomes the gunslinging hero Rangergirl, fighting supervillains in a primal desert world that blends the mythic US frontier and ancient Egypt.
Marzi's best friend, Lindsay, is worried. Since her mysterious breakdown, which led to the creation of Rangergirl, Marzi isn't the girl she used to be. Lindsay wants to reignite Marzi's love life. At first, Marzi resists all romantic entanglements. She's comfortable in her self-imposed isolation. Or is she?
The sexuality, values, and lifestyles of Marzi and her friends reflect the complexities of contemporary society; they're artists and iconoclasts changing the world by living life their own idiosyncratic way. Their casual earnestness is both charming and endearing.
The author, however, is himself perhaps a bit too earnest at times: his characters occasionally become mouthpieces for his personal likes and dislikes (this unfortunate habit tends also to manifest itself in his otherwise fine short fiction), and too much emphasis is put on these quasi-rants or name-droppings, distracting from the story. But that's his only misstep.
Pratt has crafted a rollicking adventure -- an imaginative and unusual blend of superhero comics, classic fantasy, western pulp, and romantic comedy -- in which the world of Rangergirl infiltrates reality, and the people around Marzi are possessed by dangerous supernatural entities. To save everything and everyone she knows, Marzi must emerge from her shell, investigate the links between the café, Rangergirl, and her own repressed memories, and ultimately embrace the hero within herself.
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© Claude Lalumière 20 May 2006, 27 January 2007