Song of Kali: Winner of the World Fantasy Award

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSong of KaliSong of Kali by Dan Simmons

I read a number of reviews prior to buying Song of Kali by Dan Simmons. I noticed several took issue with the book’s portrayal of India as a trash-filled, disease-ridden country. After reading the novel, I have to say these people saw only the superficial images of filth and decay Simmons so vividly evokes, thus missing the point of the novel.

At heart, Song of Kali is the story of a man whose eyes are opened, in the most tormenting of fashions, to the social realities of the third world; a changed view of his own culture and environment is the result. Not a cheap shot at the expense of undeveloped countries, Song of Kali is foremost a personal journey which seeks to better contextualize differing qualities of life. In other words, those wishing to read a horror novel purely for the genre’s sake should look elsewhere. If you’re still interested, the idea of the story is as follows:

Sent to pick up the manuscript of an Indian poet thought dead, the writer Robert Luczak and his family find themselves in the underbelly of Calcutta street life, a place wholly unlike their native USA. Uncertain of who to trust, Luszak must deal with underground sects, literati, the politically connected, as well as strangers on the street as he attempts to track down the ever elusive manuscript.

The horrors he finds along the way, however, are not limited to scenes he witnesses at the bottom end of India’s caste system. Beneath the squalor of Calcutta’s streets, a cult of Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction, is rising. New members are subject to unthinkable initiation rites, and in the basement of the temple itself, Luszak encounters something from a nightmare. This nightmare, however, pales in comparison to the reality which he faces after completing his mission. Heartbreaking beyond belief, the manner in which Luszak triumphs over this power is not only riveting but emotionally charged. Beyond the horror and dirty streets, it is the true message of the story.

Winner of the World Fantasy Award, Song of Kali is recommended for anyone seeking a well written story of redemption whose horror elements are but auxiliary. As usual, Simmons’ prose is smooth and easy, stark yet evocative, not to mention the narrative he produces has an atypical structure which enhances the story’s conclusion. Yes, Simmons does not paint a beautiful picture of India, but that is not the point. Read for yourself and find out.

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JESSE HUDSON, one of our guest reviewers, reads in most fields. He lives in Poland where he works for a big corporation by day and escapes into reading by night. He posts a blog which acts as a healthy vent for not only his bibliophilia, but also his love of culture and travel: Speculiction.

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  1. I thought the horrific aspect of the story was the idea of the smug Americans; because we’re so secular, we believe that these “primitive cults” can have no effect on us.

    • A very interesting take, Marion. I hadn’t thought of that before, but I’m certainly thinking about it now! :)

    • Marion, your comment reminds me of some of the historical adventure fiction that Harold Lamb wrote back in the 1920’s. He was one of the few western writers who actually appreciated the different cultures and history of India and China and the surrounding lands. The few books by Simmons that I’ve read would lead me to believe that he would be complex enough to purposely provide the point you mention as a part of the book. I’ll try to check it out.

  2. Very good review Jesse! I think you’re right on point about the novel being multi layered and that the novel is as much about the protagonist finding that things are much more complex than he initially realizes. It sounds like he comes to a realization that his own view of the culture and place he and his family have come to is too parochial. The best horror and fantasy writers use the genre as a means of viewing our world through different lenses that most people do in their daily life, I think. Again, very good review. Now I’ll try to find this one.

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