Tattoo: Back to Kasai’s ravaged yet eerily beautiful world

Kirsten Imani Kasai Ice Song 2. TattooKirsten Imani Kasai Ice Song 2. TattooTattoo by Kirsten Imani Kasai

Tattoo, the sequel to Ice Song, takes readers back into Kirsten Imani Kasai’s ravaged yet eerily beautiful world, picking up Sorykah’s story just after her rescue of her twin babies from the mad Matuk the Collector. She’d love to return to normal life, but fate has other plans.

Kasai’s prose is as beautiful as ever. In the haunting prologue, she once again evokes a fairy-tale atmosphere as she tells the creation myth of the octameroons: human/octopus hybrids like Sorykah’s acquaintance Rava. Then we move back into the present, where Tirai Industries is exploiting the octameroons for their ink. This ink is used in addictive tattoos that destroy the bodies and minds of their wearers, just as surely as the harvesting process destroys the octameroons and the ice fields in which they live. Sorykah learns that the very submarine she works on, the Nimbus, is involved in this trade.

Meanwhile, Sorykah has another problem. During her quest to defeat Matuk, she gained the ability to switch more easily between her female primary self and her male alter, Soryk. Now, any extreme of emotion can make her switch involuntarily. This leads to poignant conflicts. Soryk doesn’t care about the babies as Sorykah does, and Sorykah doesn’t care about Soryk’s lover the way he does, and so each of them has the potential to thwart the other’s purposes while the other is dormant.

Sorykah is then manipulated into participating in a scheme that doesn’t really serve her goals or Soryk’s, and in which she is essentially a figurehead. As a result, the plot of Tattoo loses some emotional urgency as compared to Ice Song. Whatever your opinion of the cause itself, it’s not Sorykah’s cause in the same way that rescuing her children was. In Ice Song, she was a player. Here, she’s more of a pawn, and a pair of eyes through which to show us more of the setting. Several of the other point-of-view characters are unsympathetic, and my other favorite from Ice Song — Dunya the dog-faced girl — gets a sweet resolution but not enough page time.

Post-prologue, the plot itself is less fairy-tale-ish than that of its predecessor, which is also a little disappointing. I don’t mind reading about corporate sabotage and drugs and organized crime, but there was a mythic quality to Ice Song that is less evident here.

Ice Song is a self-contained gem that didn’t need a sequel to feel complete — though I was definitely thrilled to see one! By contrast, Tattoo needs a sequel. It raises as many questions as it answers and leaves several plotlines on uncertain notes. I’m curious what will happen next in the intriguing world Kasai has created, and I hope the mythic aspects stick around.

Ice Song — (2009-2011) Publisher: There are secrets beneath her skin. Sorykah Minuit is a scholar, an engineer, and the sole woman aboard an ice-drilling submarine in the frozen land of the Sigue. What no one knows is that she is also a Trader: one who can switch genders suddenly, a rare corporeal deviance universally met with fascination and superstition and all too often punished by harassment or death. Sorykah’s infant twins, Leander and Ayeda, have inherited their mother’s Trader genes. When a wealthy, reclusive madman known as the Collector abducts the babies to use in his dreadful experiments, Sorykah and her male alter-ego, Soryk, must cross icy wastes and a primeval forest to get them back. Complicating the dangerous journey is the fact that Sorykah and Soryk do not share memories: Each disorienting transformation is like awakening with a jolt from a deep and dreamless sleep. The world through which the alternating lives of Sorykah and Soryk travel is both familiar and surreal. Environmental degradation and genetic mutation run amok; humans have been distorted into animals and animal bodies cloak a wild humanity. But it is also a world of unexpected beauty and wonder, where kindness and love endure amid the ruins. Alluring, intense, and gorgeously rendered, Ice Song is a remarkable debut by a fiercely original new writer.

Kirsten Imani Kasai Ice SongKirsten Imani Kasai Ice Song 2. Tattoo


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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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