if you’re going to read ONE african mythology-infused fantasy novel with magical portals, bloody dismemberments, shapeshifting, immortal beings, and a murder mystery that throws you in the middle of its world with zero regard for your comfort… probably read Black Leopard, Red Wolf.
that’s glib, but the comparison is worth mentioning. i love marlon james, and i’m willing to work for his ‘catch me if you can’ brand of storytelling, but reading that book fulfilled my quota of maddeningly confusing fantasy novels for the year. blrw requires the reader’s close attention and critical engagement throughout, otherwise, it can be easy to get bogged down and lost. this book is the same kind of disorienting, but it never came together for me, even though i kept going back and rereading chunks of it, trying to find where i’d lost the thread.
i suspect a lot of my confusion would have been avoided by reading Redemption in Indigo first. ten years is a long time to wait before writing a follow-up, and this lists as a standalone novel, but several of the characters were introduced in RII, and this book takes for granted that you are either already familiar with or can effortlessly wrap your head around its fantasy bits, and i am simply not that reader.
i don’t think the word ‘standalone’ should ever be applied to a book set in a fantasy realm. because while the story itself may be a standalone, the specifics of the world are crucial for comprehension and enjoyment.
‘cuz it would be fine if this book was about jimmy the baker and the first book was all about his bakery and all the fine loaves he baked therein. and if the readerly WE were only reading the second book featuring jimmy the baker and he made mention of the previous loaves in his life, we would be able to interpolate our own bread-related memories or experiences into the story and we would probably be a-ok. but this? this is about undying/immortal creatures and angels and a goddess and mindpaths and essences and amulets and I DON’T KNOW HOW THIS WORKS.
but then, neither do the characters:
The Trickster closed his eyes, pondering. “I can’t explain it. I barely understand the theory of how amulets work. I know a lot depends on human choice. I also know that there are some events—both those in the past and those yet to come by human reckoning—that are already completed, and others that are waiting for a choice to be made. Change or thwart those choices, and you change the world—past and future.”
“There is no way I am going to understand that, is there?” She wagged her head in tired defeat.
i enjoyed the parts i did understand—which was more of the book than this review is implying—and she does good word-work:
The murmur and chatter had the disconcerting normality of a cocktail party hum, and the vague background surged and shifted with the turgid ennui of a crowd of people assembled to elegantly waste time
(o, that assonance)
but, yeah, i struggled with the conceptual foundation. and i hear you scolding me – ‘karen, you have owned Redemption in Indigo for years. it’s your own damn fault you didn’t read it.’
we all agree i am a dummy.
you are probably better at fantasy than i am and this book will not trip you up the way it tripped me up. OR, to avoid being me, all bewildered and mewling, there are three weeks before this book comes out and Redemption in Indigo is < 200 pages. you can do it.
IS this a standalone? because it doesn’t FEEL like a standalone! i am about 60 pages in and i am LOST!