Context. When I write about books I can’t escape it. Again and again I ponder the question: is there really such a thing as an objective review? And if there was, would anyone want to read it? Acknowledging biases is the first step in erasing them, but at the same time, every human will always have biases and influential context that shapes their experience of every work of art they encounter. So I like to make my biases obvious. I want you to see them so that you can have an informed opinion about my opinion. I want to make sure that Irrelevant Context doesn’t burrow into my reviews and warp them. So here we are. Here I am, picking up Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord.
Redemption in Indigo was one of many freebies from World Fantasy 2013 in Brighton. It has a nice cover; the cover has a pleasing texture. The fact that I choose to read it this month instead of next month or next year or never had to do with two things: the September A More Diverse Universe reading challenge and the fact that Manic Pixie Dream Worlds keeps mentioning how awesome it is.
On the cover of my copy, Booklist proclaims that Redemption in Indigo (2010, Small Beer Press) is one of those books in which every single word feels right, should not, could not be changed. Oh crap! Enter unnecessary build up of expectations. Nabokov makes me feel that way in Lolita. Jeanette Winterson makes me feel that way constantly. Most recently, Catherynne M. Valente has made me feel that way. Crap, about to start a new book, and I was already focused on the awe-inducing prowess of Catherynne Valente’s pen. Any book read after a Valente book suffers in comparison. Once you read Catherynne Valente, your whole rating scale goes out the window because she’s just raised the bar to near-impossible heights. A new book in the re-sculpted-fairy-tale genre that is Valente’s jam is going to have a lot to live up to, and it took me almost half of Lord’s book to get over the comparison. Lord is good, but she is not Catherynne Valente because, no shit Stewart, she’s Karen Lord. Because people are separate and there are a lot of writers in the world and many of them are good but all of them are different. The writing lacked poetry, but nobody promised poetry, and I usually don’t like that shit anyway. What a mess.
This is why context is important. This is why I’m not going to say much about the first half of the book. I was under the influence of Irrelevant Context. It continues to amaze me how strong a magnet that can be.
We now return to your scheduled review of Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo.
Redemption in Indigo is a good book. The story is playful, with a sprinkling of humor that made the fun really fly. The reader hops and skips alongside Paama as she deals with a gluttonous husband, the attention of djombi (immortals of some kind), the power of chaos, and, yes, that’s right, we hear quite a bit about redemption.
Even the characters who were annoying, who were fools, were sympathetic in the end, though it was the character who we knew the least about that I found myself most drawn to: the storyteller herself (himself? itself? we can’t be sure). Here, after something seemingly impossible has happened:
“I know your complaint already. You are saying, how do two grown men begin to see talking spiders after only three glasses of spice spirit? My answer to that is twofold. First, you have no idea how strong spice spirit is made in that region. Second, you have no idea how talking animals operate. Do you think they would have survived long if they regularly made themselves known? For that matter, do you think an arachnid with mouthparts is capable of articulating the phrase ‘I am a pawnbroker’ in any known human language? Think! These creatures do not truly talk, nor are they truly animals, but they do encounter human folk, and when they do, they carefully take with them all memory of the meeting.”
It was with this voice–playful, scolding, direct–that Lord really began to win me over to the story. The narrator’s interjections add humor, frame the story well, help with the suspension of disbelief, and remind the reader that this is a story and that a story should be allowed to do what a story does. That is, whatever its author damn well pleases. *Chortle.*
The further into Redemption in Indigo I got, the more I found myself enjoying it, the talking spiders and djombi, the fools and the friends. I was having fun. This was a book I could tell people I enjoyed and recommend, but probably would never read again. It took the ending—surprise, surprise, another interjection from the narrator—to take Redemption in Indigo from a pleasant, enjoyable, nice read to a high-fives-and-hells-yeah read. The ending’s brilliance does not give away much of the plot, but still, I’d rather leave it wrapped up for you to uncover yourself. I will share just one tidbit, a carrot to keep you going until the end in the event of Distraction or Too Much Irrelevant Context.
“For some in my audience, a tale is like a riddle, to be solved at the end. To them I say the best tales leave some riddles unanswered and some mysteries hidden. Get used to it. For others the tale is a way of living vicariously, enjoying the adventures of others without having to go one step beyond their sphere of comfort. To them I say, what’s stopping you from getting on a ship and sailing halfway around the world? Tales are meant to be an inspiration, not a substitute.”
Good advice from a wise author. Now, shoo, there are adventures to be read, and had.
Fourteen out of fifteen chaos sticks.
Where I got it: World Fantasy Convention 2013 freebie
Where you can get it: Book Depository (free shipping around the world)