The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl by Tim Pratt
Two years ago, shortly after Marzi started working a coffeehouse called Genius Loci, she peeked into a secret magical door, suffered a nervous breakdown, and dropped out of art school. These days life is working out pretty good for Marzi – she has recovered from her fear of opening doors, and spends her days and nights surrounded by her artist friends and the beautiful murals on the walls of the coffeehouse. Even her quirky underground comic The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, is taking off. Rangergirl travels through a fantasical old west, righting that which was wronged, and fighting her eternal enemy, the Outlaw.
At the beginning of the summer, Marzi and her best friend Lindsay meet Jonathan, who has moved to town to study the coffeehouse murals, done by famous artist Garamond Ray, who mysteriously dissapeared after an earthquake about 15 years ago. As must happen in urban fantasy stories like this, it isn't long before people begin acting strange. After an untimely death, Jane is reborn as a mud woman, and becomes obsessed with the Goddess that is trapped in the coffeehouse. Another art student, Beej, starts living on the streets and making sacrafices to the Earthquake God. Meanwhile, Lindsay's girlfriend Alice leaves town as a cure for her pyromaniac urges.
Laying it on a little heavy handed, Pratt makes sure we know something is very wrong in the city of Santa Cruz, and Marzi and the coffeehouse are at the center of it. The being trapped in (under? behind?) the coffeehouse is a primal god of chaos, and of destruction. After seducing Jane, Beej, and finally Jonathan to his cause, the creature is able to escape his prison. As the chosen guardian, only Marzi has the power to trap him again. Everyone who comes into contact with the “godlet” sees what they want, and for Marzi, it means seeing Rangergirl's foe, the Outlaw.
Marzi has to learn exactly what it means to be the guardian, and how to save her friends and trap or destroy the Outlaw one final time. As Marzi's powers and perceptions grow, the murals in the coffeehouse change, in reflection of her imagination to take on more of a Wild West feel. Marzi takes the opportunity to act out her alter ego Rangergirl fantasies, and save the day. There was so much potential for Pratt to just go nuts here, he's got living murals, trap doors, crazy acolytes, a psychotic godlet, a mysterious oracle, and a curious and resilient heroine. Unfortunately, Pratt just seemed to plod along, being in turns predictable and inconsistent. The showdown of the millenia that I was hoping for at the end turned out to be, well, not so much.
It's not the book is badly written, it's actually quite nicely written. Well paced, friendly characters, nice sense of humor, budding romance. It's just that I've experienced (through books and video games) this urban fantasy of local girl becomes reluctlant hero to save the world and must travel into the medicine lands story so many times that my expectations are pretty high by now. If you've never read Neil Gaiman, Charles DeLint, or other various urban fantasy authors, or never played video games like Longest Journey, Rangergirl may be your first foray into the medicine lands, into the inbetween, and you'll probably enjoy yourself. However, this book falls short of it's potential when judged against other urban fantasy authors.
On a personal note, a friend recommended Pratt's Hart & Boot, and when we couldn't find that at the library, he said “Try Rangergirl. It's not Pratt's best, but it's pretty good”. And that's the best way to describe this book: not the best you'll read, but pretty good.