Review: Redemption in Indigo

kl_redemptiRedemption in Indigo, Karen Lord’s 2010 debut novel, won the Mythopoeic Award and the Carl Brandon Parallax Award. It’s easy to see why. With narration that’s redolent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Catherynne M. Valente, and a mythos that’s at least as imaginative and well-structured as you’ll find in one of Neil Gaiman’s novels, this is a captivating work of mythic fiction with roots in the folklore of the African diaspora.

The sensible protagonist Paama is matched to a laughingstock of a husband. A man who takes gluttony to levels unheard of, Asinge is beset with a constant desire for food. At the opening of the story she has left him, and after pursuing her to her parents’ village, he is not satiated even by Paama’s constant cooking — the excellence of which she is known for. Asinge has several misbegotten misadventures in his constant quests for more and more edibles, the consequences of which Paama attempts to cover up.

Once Asinge has been all but chased out of her parents’ village and she is finally free of him, Paama is approached by one of the Undying Ones and offered the Chaos Stick, a tool that allows her to engineer chance. But what they do not tell her is that the tool she commands holds the power that was stolen from another. And he wants that power back.

Paama’s adventures thereafter take place across times and continents, as she discovers the potential and pitfalls of wielding the power of gods.

Redemption in Indigo becomes a bit heavy-handed at the end — not in terms of preachiness but rather in showing the reader the obvious — but this is a minor quibble. The plot is solid and fun, and the characters whimsical but believable. The setting is an indeterminate time, which enhances the story’s folk tale appeal, as does the narrative voice:

‘I’m Giana. What’s your name?’

The djombi thought, shrugged, and replied, ‘When I am without a shadow, I may be called Constancy-in-Adversity, though others who see me differently have sometimes named me Senseless-Resignation-to-Suffering. I am a small thing, as you can see, but my mother says I am quite powerful in my own way.’

Giana nodded. The names were too large and the concepts too weighty for her to grasp, but the last she could understand. Mothers tended to say things like that, usually just before sending you to the well to fetch water.

Magical realism that features a love story, talking insects, deities major and minor, and feminine magic, Redemption in Indigo is both grounded and quixotic, serious and playful.

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