Skater in a Strange Land, by D.W. Frauenfelder
I’ve never taken to fantasy novels, and I think of ice hockey in the same way I do professional wrestling, but in Skater in a Strange Land, D.W. Frauenfelder makes a strong case for both. His fantasy world here is Borschland (along with other satellite places) that interfaces with the Wide World (ours), upset only occasionally and randomly by phase shifts.
The book’s hero is Sherman Reinhardt, an I-try-harder college hockey player from the U.S. who comes to Borschland as an accidental draftee to play hockey for Te Staff, the land’s favorite team. On the way, he meets a mysterious bear named Junior who is something of a political dissident, and this meeting continues to haunt Sherm’s life. Sherm, though, becomes quite the cause célèbre of Borschic hockey, something he’d aspired to in the States, but wasn’t fated to gain there. He meets an attractive Borschic woman, Rachael, whom he quickly falls for as his fame grows in Te Staff, but there are obstacles – cultural, political, and romantic – for the couple to overcome as they sort out their on-again, off-again relationship.
This somewhat complex story has three narrators: Sherm, Rachael, and Kadmus, a Borschic journalist with both a clinical eye and a passionate heart for Te Staff hockey. This is, it turns out, a good strategy: such multiple narrations allow the reader a much more resonant view of both the story as a whole and of Sherm as a central character.
Frauenfelder has clearly thought his fantasy through, knows his hockey, and his story works on both a character level and as a peek into a deeply imagined world. I suspect this is the first of several books to come about this fascinating world, one I can’t help but compare to that of J. K. Rowling’s famed invention.
My rating 17 of 20 stars.