Paama flees her gluttonous husband, Ansige; two years later, he hires the master tracker Kwame to find her. Kwame reluctantly takes the job to finance his own wanderlust. These events draw the attention of the Indigo Lord, one of the powerful spirits called Djombi. He wielded the power of Chaos until it was taken from him and given to Paama, and he wants it back. An unnamed narrator, sometimes serious and often mischievous, spins delicate but powerful descriptions of locations, emotions, and the protagonists’ great flaws and great strengths as they interact with family, poets, tricksters, sufferers of tragedy, and—of course—occasional moments of pure chaos.
This is one of those books I’m pretty ambivalent about, but this isn’t anything to do with its quality per se, but what boils down to my final impression. Like, what I took away from it. This isn’t in the sense of “amg what deep profound insight did it bring to the table,” but more whether it is memorable.
And, well, it isn’t very. It’s one of those books that I find pleasant enough but which don’t leave any lasting impression. I read it, I reached the last page, and I was ready to forget all about it.
But, as I said, this doesn’t mean the book is bad–it could well mean a lot more to other readers–and overall it’s plenty readable. The prose is decent if simplistic, the first chapter caught my interest, and I didn’t hate any of the characters. It’s amusing, in an airy, fable kind of way, and it has a lovely cover. I’m not familiar with the original folktale this is apparently based on however, so those who are may get more out of it.
If there are any particular criticisms I want to level at Lord’s debut, it is that I felt there was too little conflict, if you will. The beginning was my favorite–setting up Paama’s leaving her husband and her husband’s subsequent humiliation when he tries to get her to come back to him–but much of the book is about the djombi Indigo Lord and his efforts to wrestle back the Chaos Stick from Paama, who has been rather arbitrarily chosen to bear it. To accomplish this, he shows her why the power’s not fit for human hands and why he, a djombi, is the rightful wielder: he shows her terrible disasters and adventures. The problem is that, though there’s a gulf between the way Paama thinks and the way the Indigo Lord thinks, there’s not much… tension. The author drums up the Indigo Lord as a djombi who’s forsaken his duties and position as a “good” spirit, and plays up his potential for cruelty and evil, but he turns out to be a paper tiger who only really wanted a friend. It’s not that I want a mustache-swirling antagonist, but I was hoping he’d be more of a threat and less of a fluffbunny. His rehabilitation, being reincarnated as a human, is more than a little silly and a little trite. What is it with supernatural powerful beings being made to go mortal for some fifty years? Paama’s marriage with Kwame also comes out of nowhere, and seems to be dropped in simply because it’s the kind of expectations we have for fairytales. Sure, in a way it fits–this started as a domestic story and is mostly a domestic story throughout (and that’s a very fine thing, actually; I love domestic done well)–but there’s little time for her relationship with the hunter-tracker to develop.
Redemption is great if you want something distracting to read or a break between heftier books, and I don’t say this like I mean it’s a vacuous, empty-headed novel but rather that it’s a breezy and fun read.