Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Redemption in Indigo

Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord is a loosely based off a Senegalese folktale and a mixture of Caribbean influences. It is also one hell of a powerful story. This is the kind of book you read quickly the first time because it's so good you can't put it down and then you read it again, slower, and let its words and insights envelope you.

I mean to say there's a lot going on in Redemption. I still don't think I've grasped everything Lord was trying to do, but I can't wait to reread the book many more times and figure it all out. The story itself follows Paama, a woman who leaves her gluttonous husband, and is given the gift of the Chaos Stick by a djombi - a powerful spirit. Humans cannot possibly understand how to wield the Chaos Stick, but Paama is a very clever, very strong human; when the indigo lord - the Chaos Stick's previous bearer and a djombi who has lost his patience with humanity - kidnaps Paama, she wants to show him the compassion and mercy humans are capable of.

The story is told by an anonymous narrator - the kind of storyteller you might find in the center of village, a small crowd gathered around her to listen. This narrator, while occasionally interrupting the story with musings and questions about each of the characters' motives, never gets in the way and is, in fact, by turns serious and playful, creating a world rich in detail. Every sentence in Redemption reads near-perfect. It's the kind of thing we writers strive for and that this is Lord's debut is, to say the least, wildly impressive. Even the plot - which should be quite predictable if you've read a fairytale or a folktale - feels new and fresh and exciting and unpredictable: really, anything could happen.

It's no surprise Redemption recently won the Crawford Award for best first fantasy novel; this book, though thin-spined, is thick with ideas poignantly expressed.

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