Redemption in Indigo, by Karen Lord

Karen Lord is one of this year’s nominees for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer. I interviewed her here earlier this year. Having read Redemption in Indigo [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], I can see why she’s on the ballot.

The official description:

Karen Lord’s debut novel is an intricately woven tale of adventure, magic, and the power of the human spirit. Paama’s husband is a fool and a glutton. Bad enough that he followed her to her parents’ home in the village of Makendha—now he’s disgraced himself by murdering livestock and stealing corn. When Paama leaves him for good, she attracts the attention of the undying ones—the djombi—who present her with a gift: the Chaos Stick, which allows her to manipulate the subtle forces of the world. Unfortunately, a wrathful djombi with indigo skin believes this power should be his and his alone.

Lord mentions that chapters two through four are loosely based on a Senegalese folk tale, and the entire book has that same feel. From the very first page, Lord creates the illusion not of turning the pages, but of sitting back and listening to a master storyteller, one who has no compunctions about addressing the audience directly. It’s a voice that works perfectly for Paama’s story.

I loved this book, and to be honest, I’m having a hard time figuring out what to say about it, beyond the fact that Lord consistently made choices in her storytelling that I didn’t expect, but that felt right when I read them. None moreso than the way she ended things, which I can’t talk about without spoiling the whole darn book. Sigh.

I will say that if you’re looking for a traditional Western/American fantasy about an orphaned farmboy who vanquishes the evil overlord with a magic doohickamabob, this isn’t the book for you. Lord’s story challenges such tropes from page one, questioning everything from the nature of evil to the assumption that the only heroic choice is to fight and defeat your presumed foes.

One of my favorite moments in the book is when the djombi threatens to harm Paama’s family unless she returns the Chaos Stick … so she immediately hands it over. It’s instinctive. She doesn’t crave power, and she refuses to risk her loved ones over some ridiculous need to maintain face or appear defiant.

And of course, topping everything off, there’s a trickster spider character. How can I not love the trickster spider?

Let me put it this way. I read most of this one in the airport on the way to Kentucky, and I was happy my flight was delayed, because it meant I had more time to read.

Discussion is absolutely welcome, as always!