Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Calcutta: a monstrous city of immense slums, disease and misery, is clasped in the foetid embrace of an ancient cult. At its decaying core is the Goddess Kali: the dark mother of pain, four-armed and eternal, her song the sound of death and destruction.
Robert Luczak has been hired by Harper’s to find a noted Indian poet who has reappeared, under strange circumstances, years after he was thought dead. But nothing is simple in Calcutta and Luczak’s routine assignment turns into a nightmare when he learns that the poet is rumoured to have been brought back to life in a bloody and grisly ceremony of human sacrifice.
It is actually the first longer novel published by Simmons back in the eighties (1985 to be precise). It might be not as brilliant and imaginative as e.g. the first two parts of Hyperion Cantos but it is good. It is also distinctly shorter (about 300 pages) so a perfect option for those who are not sure yet whether or not Simmons’s prose is their thing. Anyway: if you’ve ever been to India or to Calcutta you might find the descriptions very close to real life. If you’ve never been there you might learn some tidbits hardly ever shown or advertised by tour operators. A win-win situation, don’t you think? ;p
The novel is dark, gritty, violent, sometimes even cruel – take it from a reader who likes dark atmosphere and doesn’t flinch when, metaphorically, gore splashes her pages (or screen). Robert arrives to India with his wife and baby girl in tow (foolish man), hoping he is visiting a perfectly normal, civilized country of Mohandas Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore. Still from almost the very beginning he is forced to wade through a grim netherworld of festering violence, callousness and a palpable sense of evil. The fantasy elements are few and far between but when they show themselves they are unstoppable.
I admit I was a bit taken aback by the way Simmons portrayed Kali and her various manifestations BUT, I suppose, artistic licence would stretch to cover his version of that unusual goddess. In a nutshell: no, Kali is not an Indian evil bitch divinity but yes, I understand why the author made her so bloodthirsty. After all one of Indiana Jones movies (I.J. and the Temple of Doom) employed the same approach.
If you like good horrors with bitter-sweet endings and novels written with scarcely a wasted word, this one is for you.
Other Dan Simmons books reviewed on this blog: