REVIEW: Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The tale of a woman caught up in djombi business.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: A lovely, funny, different, and human story.

CONS: The prologue chapter probably doesn’t set the right tone for the story as a whole.

BOTTOM LINE: A fast and beautiful read.

The most important thing to remember about Redemption in Indigo is that first and foremost, this is a story. It is a story told by a storyteller, who knows how to make an audience laugh or draw in close to hear more. The storyteller has a voice, one of the strongest I’ve read in recent years. The narrator isn’t above some snark at the expense of her characters, but she also obviously sympathizes with them, even the silly ones. Although the cloth of the tale may be short (less than 200 pages), it is beautifully woven with lovely colors and texture.


At its core this is Paama’s story. She has been married a good number of years, and finally escapes from her husband’s house back to her parent’s village. I say ‘escapes,’ but her husband, Ansige, is no violent tyrant–he’s a childish glutton who follows his belly into all sorts of trouble. Paama is an renowned cook, but this is no perfect match. She finally tires of his unrelenting demands and takes a trip home to her family… a rather extended vacation. In the first act of the book, Ansige travels to her village to try to win her back. Hilarity ensues as he gets himself into all kinds of silly trouble, and Paama, saving his face and her own, gets him out of it. Introducing this situation, on page 7, is an excellent example of the strong narrative voice that I love so much, the sense of a tale being told:

I can hear some of you complaining already. ‘A woman who cooks and a man who eats should be a match made in heaven!’ Do you really think so? Then you have not grasped that Ansige was not an epicure, but a gourmand. Paama’s talents were wasted on him.

After watching her manage her fool of a husband, some of the local djombi (spirits who are not quite gods) bestow on Paama a gift: the Chaos Stick. At first she has no idea what it is, but another djombi eventually shows up to help her learn to use it. This is no Ultimate Staff of Power (TM), and Paama has a very good head on her shoulders. However, with a name like “Chaos Stick,” it is no surprise that it is not conducive to her settling back into a quiet life. There is an older, more powerful djombi (one who manifests as a man with pure indigo skin) who believes the Chaos Stick is rightly his. He first tries to wrest it back, but the Stick acknowledges that Paama is its rightful owner. Instead, the djombi of indigo absconds with Paama and takes her on a tour, showing her many wondrous sights and scenes, trying both to awe her with his own power and impress her with that of the Stick. Along the way they learn lessons from each other.

The ending does not follow any of the conventions that you’re probably imagining as I describe the plot–and I love the story all the more for it. Paama makes some choices that don’t fit in the ‘heroic’ mold, but fit her just perfectly. This is a fairly quiet story, for all that there is Chaos at its center. Even the Chaos is well-behaved, consisting more of tweaking probabilities and quantum froth than the flashy lightning-and-flame of Wild Magic in Epic Fantasy. Along the way we meet silly people and noble people, but mostly just people trying to do their best–even when they happen to be trickster spirits. There’s no Ultimate Good or Ultimate Evil here. Even Paama is no model of noble perfection. Fundamentally this is a human story with a just-slightly-larger-than-human scale. It is both funnier and deeper than I expected when I picked it up (knowing little about it other than the fact that it won this year’s Crawford Award), and it completely won me over.

One thought on “REVIEW: Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord”

  1. I loved Redemption in Indigo (my review). It is well done and different than almost any other book I’ve read. I love that it is based on African folk tales, which I am not that familiar with.

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