The Skater and the Saint is the second novel in the Borschland series, by David Frauenfelder. I read the first one back in September 2013 (Skater in a Strange Land, http://www.amazon.co.uk/review/R3JG6BKBA7G0DO/) so was keen to see what the second had to offer. My expectations were in fact surpassed and this time around I am very happy to credit The Skater and the Saint with five stars.
The background is the same – the country of Borschland is part of a continent in the southern hemisphere of our world. This continent is sometimes in phase with us (and so accessible) and sometimes out of phase (and so in splendid isolation). The stories revolve around the occasional crossover characters who go from here to there and choose to remain. For complex reasons, the whole continent is gripped with a passionate enthusiasm for ice skating in general and ice hockey in particular. You don’t need to have read the first novel to enjoy this book, since they form a loosely connected series rather than parts of a trilogy or some such.
What was it that elevated the book to five stars for me? I don’t think it was simply a greater familiarity with the zany mores of Borschland society, or those of the other adjacent lands – though to be sure their pervasive and diverse charms do tend to get under your skin.
For me, it was the exploration into other aspects of the world which did the trick. The Skater and the Saint delves into the language, history, religion and mythology of these lands, all areas which I am drawn to like a magnet. The whole lot pivots around what might best be termed a religious relic, which combines in a single object magical force, iconic power and herbal medicine.
There is much more here about competitive skating than in the earlier book. This is a subject that I know nothing about, but lack of knowledge is not a barrier at all. So if pucks, sticks and boards are so much phlogiston to you, it doesn’t matter! Like a lot of sports, it is simply an arena in which other forms of challenge and competitiveness can be worked out. The personal interactions are what matter here.
So all in all a most enjoyable book and a great follow-on to the original. In terms of style, the book drifts somewhere out of phase between fantasy, science-fiction and steampunk, and I think would be accessible to readers of all of those genres. Like the first in the series, really serious devotees of any of these genres might be frustrated that the novel is not centrally positioned in any of them… instead, it asks to be received on its own merits. Let’s hope that David writes more books in this series in the future. This one – 5* from me.