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Book: Song of Kali

April 25, 2011
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I’m discovering that I like Dan Simmons an awful lot. I loved The Terror and also Drood, so I thought I would go back and try some of his earlier books. Song of Kali was the winner of the 1986 World Fantasy Award, so I figured it must be a fairly good place to start. Also, with a back jacket like this, who could resist?

Think you know true fear? You don’t.

Think you’ve read the most chilling book? Not even close.

Think you can’t be shocked? Good luck!

Maybe you’re ready for the most truly frightening reading experience of your life, the World Fantasy Award-winning novel that’s been terrifying readers for over a decade.

Song of Kali.

Well. I wouldn’t go quite that far… it was definitely a good read, but not really the “most truly frightening reading experience of my life.”

The book tells of poet Robert Luczak and his wife and baby daughter, who travel to Calcutta to receive the mysterious manuscript of a famous Indian poet, long believed to be dead. Luczak’s wife is Indian by birth and is a whiz with languages, so he brought her a long as a translator of sorts. Their horrible adventure starts the instant they land in Calcutta.

While this book certainly had its share of horrifying scenes, what was truly horrifying were the descriptions of Calcutta, “a city to evil to be allowed to exist.” The teeming masses, the lepers, the corpses lying in the streets, the beggars and slums and abject poverty, the violence and chaos. It was hard to read sometimes.

Luczak is drawn into a confusing, scary web of mystery surrounding the poet Das, his possible revivification from the dead, and his connection to a cult of Kali rumored to be more dangerous than the local mob. The cult is somehow linked to the poet, and the manuscript… but how? Luczak’s self-appointed guide, Krishna, is a frightening figure himself, and seems to lead our hero further and further into the mess with tantalizing promises of meeting the resurrected poet. An initial interview with a poor student who was drawn into the the cult is truly terrifying, as they describe an angry idol demanding corpses as offerings, and of grave-robbings in the Calcutta slums. Really, truly awful stuff. That passage kept me awake for awhile.

Bad things happen. The city is bad, the writer’s union/cult of Kali is bad, and Kali herself is (in this book) bad, bad, bad. I did a little research after reading this and I don’t think Kali is really supposed to be as evil as she is depicted in this book — she is a goddess of death, but also of purification and protection, a mother goddess. But anyway, she *looks* scary, with her skulls and decapitated heads and long tongue, so she is an easy idol for a fictional cult.

The “terrifying” bits were more weird and chilling than truly terrifying, but I may be too jaded to really get scared anymore by books. Still, a four-armed idol clicking around on all six limbs in the dark is a pretty scary image, I’ll give you that.

The climax is heartbreaking, and the ending sad. Eventually Luczak does the right thing (we hope) and he and his wife rebuild their lives. Although this wasn’t as scary as, say, ‘Salem’s Lot, it was definitely a good book, kept me fascinated with Calcutta the entire time, and I enjoyed it, despite not having my socks scared off. Dan Simmons is a great writer and this early book is worth reading if you like him.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 25, 2011 1:05 pm

    Well, if I had read that book jacket, I would NEVER have opened the book. I don’t like scary movies and don’t think I can do scary books. In fact, not sure what scary books I have ever read? OH, VC Andrews Flowers in the Attic maybe?! eek

  2. April 25, 2011 6:42 pm

    It was actually quite a good book and not terribly scary, but the back of the book hyped it up so much I was considering saving it for the RIP months! Glad I didn’t. Flowers in the Attic was probably scarier.

  3. April 27, 2011 8:45 am

    Oh Dan Simmons. Loved The Terror. Really must read more of his stuff.

    • April 27, 2011 9:34 am

      I just got Hollow Man from the library, so we’ll see how that goes over. I think you would really enjoy Drood!!

  4. April 27, 2011 11:52 am

    this one sounds good.

    i see the terror all the time at the library and think of you and your review. i have it in my hand and then end up puttting it back, not certain if i can handle the fear and suspense. im a chicken. 🙂

    • April 27, 2011 8:41 pm

      It’s so good! It’s a good one for the start of winter; then you’ll appreciate your cozy warm bed all winter long. 🙂

  5. April 30, 2011 3:07 am

    you are so right ..love Drood!!! I must reread it someday soon.
    This sounds like a good RIP read for sure… but I have such a tbr pile that I’ve not even gotten to The Terror and I’ve had it over a year!

  6. May 4, 2011 1:27 pm

    You must read it!!

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