Song of Kali by Dan Simmons
Dan Simmons is one of the authors I hear a lot about. I have been checking his work out in the last couple years. And so far it’s been a mix bag. The Terror was an absolute train wreck. Abominable was not a very good story, but had some great characters with a strong secondary arc that held it together. So I haven’t been impressed although I like his writing style. So I am giving Dan Simmons another shot with a shorter book called The Song of Kali. And here is my review.
So what is it about? The book is set in the early seventies and follows Robert. He works for a magazine, and a long lost world famous Indian poet has come out of hiding and he wants his latest work published in America. Robert just has to travel to Calcutta and pick it up. He’s warned by his employer not to go there. "There’s something wrong with that place," he says. But Robert goes anyway. He thinks he can get a bigger story with a personal interview with the poet. And not only that, he takes his wife and young daughter along. His wife is Indian, so she could be helpful, he assumes because she knows the language.
When they arrive in Calcutta, it’s a horrible place. The caste system is in full force. And the homeless poverty stricken poor souls are the dominate cast. The city though beautiful is falling part, and other than a few higher income areas, it is an absolute slum. In this sea of uncertainty, potential danger, and shady characters, Robert does his job. But as he does so, he learns there is a creepy cult that a faction of city worships in. They worship a strange four-armed goddess name Kali. And as Robert goes down the rabbit hole to interview this very private poet, he learns that he may be connected to this cult. And of course, things turn sideways as they always do in these books.
So the good? It’s very grounded horror. Its slow burn mystery. Also, the characters are likable and believable. These are dumb Americans getting themselves in trouble in another country and at no point were they annoying. Also, one thing something I personally liked is this book did not try to over explain things. In fact, since it all told from Robert’s point of view, it comes to a point where he just doesn’t care anymore what is going on and wants to escape. These unknown elements add to spookiness. The book gives the reader just enough to have a good story but leaves enough mystery for creepiness. Also, the detail and world building are great.
The bad? The book has a downer ending. It was shocking and tragic. And it ends on a note where Robert comes to terms it and has to cope with his PTSD from all that had happened. I did not see it coming. And despite liking the book, I did not like this sad twist. Then there’s another scene that caught me off guard. When the cult wants him to embrace his darkness, he has a flashback. A brief one of him and a girl when he was twelve. He was screaming at her in the flashback to take her pants off and there’s no other context given to the scene before returning to the future. I guess is supposed to indicate he did something terrible to the girl despite that he was a little kid. But it’s unclear and never touched on again. What happened there? It was just two paragraphs. Is the book trying to say Robert is a piece of crap? Was some force putting thoughts in his head? There’s little context, I don’t know what to think about it. Also, he has a chance to leave the city at one point, but doesn’t
Overall, this was a great book. This is a very well written suspenseful horror thriller. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It kept me guessing, and it was just fun. So despite the tragic ending, I think this is a great horror thriller to check out. Despite its faults, it’s a must read.
Overall Rating: An American Gets Mixed Up With an Ancient Indian Cult
5 smoothies out of Five