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Redemption in Indigo

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Paama's husband is a fool and a glutton. Bad enough that he followed her to her parents' home in the village of Makendha, now he's disgraced himself by murdering livestock and stealing corn. When Paama leaves him for good, she attracts the attention of the undying ones – the djombi – who present her with a gift: the Chaos Stick, which allows her to manipulate the subtle forces of the world.

Unfortunately, not all the djombi are happy about this gift: the Indigo Lord believes this power should be his and his alone, and he sets about trying to persuade Paama to return the Chaos Stick.

Chaos is about to reign supreme...

188 pages, Paperback

First published July 6, 2010

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Karen Lord

42 books495 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 541 reviews
Profile Image for Amanda.
282 reviews315 followers
June 9, 2013
What a lukewarm cup of "meh." After all of the stellar reviews, I just knew this was going to be ah-may-zing, but, alas, it's basically a fable. Ever since Paulo Coelho's New Agey-craptastic The Alchemist, me + fables = nervous twitch. Because I start to develop a Community's Jeff Winger like aversion to the feeling that someone's trying to teach me something--and I never learn anything! This didn't turn out to be as didactic as The Alchemist because it's more focused on the storytelling than on the lesson, but just waiting for that other moral-of-the-story shoe to fall was mentally exhausting.

The basic premise of the story is that the deity known as Chance has become hardened toward mankind. Over the years, he has watched as men have squandered second chances and made a mockery/waste of the gift that is life. For this reason, the other gods no longer trust him with the Chaos Stick, the instrument of chance to nudge events toward a certain probability. The Chaos Stick is stolen from Chance and given to a woman named Paama who has proven herself to be kind, patient, and impervious to the suggestions of the minor Trickster deities who sometimes inhabit the bodies of insects and stir up mischief whenever possible. When Chance discovers Paama has his power, he sets about trying to get it back.

The story was marginally entertaining and it was at least a quick read, but even at that the plot seemed to drag on. This is not necessarily a criticism of Lord as the book does what it's intended to do: mimic the narrative style of a traditional storyteller who is in no hurry to get to the end of the tale and is even eager to follow parallel narratives to their endings before bringing the main story to a close. I suppose this storytelling style had a certain charm when villagers gathered around the campfire each night to listen to the newest installment of the tale (it's not like there was tv to watch or books to read, so I guess sitting in the dark and listening to an old man ramble on was the cat's pajamas after a long day of running from lions and whatnot). However, this meandering quality did not translate well into written form for me as I expected it to be more cohesive and more to the point. The plot itself was like a dog chasing rabbits in the middle of a hunt, and the characters were fairly uninteresting and one-dimensional (except for Paama, but even she was bland). Again, all of this is as it should be for a fable. What I've really learned from this reading experience is that fables and I need to break up and maybe see other people. Don't look at me like that, fables--it's not me, it's you.

Cross posted at This Insignificant Cinder
Profile Image for Spencer Orey.
514 reviews108 followers
June 21, 2020
The prose in this book has a gentleness that makes it a real delight to read, especially in the beginning.

Without spoilers, I'll say that this story starts as a kind of Senegal-inspired folk tale but quickly shapeshifts and goes to surprising places. As a story, it's a little inconsistent and full of often-passive characters, but at the same time, it's also made of several connected tales that spin together dazzlingly, even again, if they never quite form a whole.

But when it shines, it shines, and some of the sections were a real joy! There's humor and heaviness in equal measure, and some evocative nonhuman characters that really ask for more stories after this one comes to an end.

Profile Image for Charlotte Kersten.
Author 3 books426 followers
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February 6, 2022
“Everything teaches, everyone preaches, all have a gospel to sell! Better the one who is honest and open in declaring an agenda than the one who fools you into believing that they are only spinning a pretty fancy for beauty’s sake.”

Spoilers follow, as well as a discussion of eating disorders.

So What’s It About? (from Goodreads)

“Paama’s husband is a fool and a glutton. Bad enough that he followed her to her parents’ home in the village of Makendha—now he’s disgraced himself by murdering livestock and stealing corn. When Paama leaves him for good, she attracts the attention of the undying ones—the djombi— who present her with a gift: the Chaos Stick, which allows her to manipulate the subtle forces of the world. Unfortunately, a wrathful djombi with indigo skin believes this power should be his and his alone.”

What I Thought

This is mostly a weird and delightful fable that unfolds before you in a winningly conversational manner. It truly feels like you’re listening to an old storyteller spin a yarn, with all of the commentary and little asides that you would expect from someone telling you a story. It’s a delightful effect, and it helps that the narrator’s voice is as charming and clever as it is. The sense of humor that shines throughout is another strong point:

“…you have no idea how talking animals operate. Do you think they would have survived long if they regularly made themselves known? For that matter, do you think an arachnid with mouthparts is capable of articulating the phrase ‘I am a pawnbroker’ in any known human language?”

Redemption in Indigo features another cruel, ruthless African immortal in the same vein as Octavia Butler’s Doro from Wild Seed and Tananarive Due’s David from My Soul to Keep. As befitting the much lighter tone of this book, however, the djombi ends up being disillusioned because of the unending, thankless nature of his work with mortals, being confronted with the never-ending problems of mortality:

“It was like being made to play with broken toys, and the moment a few were fixed to some degree of functionality, a fresh set of broken ones was pushed his way.”

And, also befitting the much lighter tone of this book, the whole point of the book is to emphasize that redemption is possible. The djombi learns to respect mortals again through his relationship with Paama and is his process of development throughout the book was another of my favorite aspects of it. I think the other theme of the book is that, mortals and immortals alike, we are all constantly confronted with choices, and that these choices define us. They may be desperate, wise, calculated or foolish, but at the end of the day they’re all we are left with.

There is one aspect of the book that I debated whether or not to discuss because I know that my feelings around it are so deeply rooted in Personal Issues. Ultimately, though, I figured that someone else might benefit from knowing that this book was kind of difficult to read as someone in recovery from anorexia because of the way that Paama’s husband Ansige is treated. He is constantly binging and portrayed as a bumbling, selfish and foolish character because of his obsessive relationship with food. Ansige is based on the traditional Senegalese folk tale of “Ansige Karamba the Glutton” and I know that the intent behind the character is to portray the dangers of excess of any kind, but at the same time it did feel as though we were supposed to laugh at him and hold him in contempt for his behavior- what I could not interpret as anything other than an eating disorder. I’m not sure that it totally strays into the territory of fat-shaming, but if you have ever had a dysfunctional relationship with food in one way or the other it might feel like people like you are kind of the butt of the joke here. Towards the end of the story I did feel like he was treated with a lot more compassion, but this might only have been because he was dying.

The plus side of the focus on food is that there are some truly luscious descriptions of Paama’s cooking:

“I could relate for you a description of a morsel of her honey-almond cake, a delicacy which is light enough to melt on the tip of the tongue and yet it lingers on the palate with its subtle flavours long into the dream-filled reaches of the night. I could sing the praises, secondhand, alas, of her traveller’s soup, a concoction of smoothly blended and balanced vegetables and herbs guaranteed to put heart and strength back into the bones of the weariest voyager. I have heard of her pepperpot, wherein meat from the hunt simmers slowly all the day long in a fantastic chutney of seasonings, selected spices, peppers, and green pawpaw. And forgive my tears, but I have just this moment recalled a certain jar that sits in her kitchen, filled with dried fruit steeping in spice spirit, red wine, cinnamon, and nutmeg, patiently awaiting that day months or even years hence when it will be baked into a festival cake that will turn the head of the most seasonal toper.”
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,143 reviews1,908 followers
June 25, 2016
4.5 stars
This is a fable, almost a fantasy with an all knowing narrator/story teller. I must admit I am sometimes wary of fantasies (remember The Alchemist!!), but I enjoyed this one. It is a reworking of a Senegalese tale, “Ansige Karamba the Glutton”, the main protagonist being Paama, his wife. She is driven away by his greed and selfishness and returns to her family home. She is noticed by the djombi (undying ones), some of whom gives her the Chaos Stick, a totem that has some power. However, another djombi (with an indigo skin, hence the title) claims the right to wield it. A fantastical journey ensues.
Karen Lord speaks thus about Paama, the main character;
“It was a risk, making Paama the protagonist. After all, what makes for good living does not always make for good story. But Paama told me very clearly the kind of heroine she was going to be and the plot moulded itself around her personality. She failed, and did not despair; cried, and stayed strong; left, and returned on her own terms. Her enemy expected a head-on confrontation, but she countered with strategic yielding. She kept making choices, good and bad, and never stopped learning from the bad and improving on the good. She mastered the art of serendipity, which is more than mere luck. She wielded the Stick well.”
And she sums up her tale in this way;
“Don’t get distracted by the talking animals, the deathless beings, the Object of Power and the other staples of fantasy that I’ve added to Paama’s story. Redemption in Indigo is a novel which celebrates ordinary people and everyday magic, because sometimes all it takes to be a heroine is to choose wisely, walk softly and carry a small Stick.”
This is Lord’s first novel and she has continued to write speculative fiction based on tropes from Caribbean and African tradition. I’m going to quote from Lord again, talking about her work and what Caribbean speculative fiction is and how it differs from other types, because she writes rather well
“Location, language, worldview. It won’t be set in the same places, it won’t be told in the same voice, and it won’t seek the same outcomes. The Caribbean is a beautiful paradox: insular and cosmopolitan, ancient and modern, radical and conservative, accommodating and unforgiving.”

The novel moves at a good pace and is easy to read and in a fabulist narrative it is a good to encounter a strong female protagonist and there’s a nice little twist at the end. It is essentially about change and choices, learning and teaching. Food is also a central theme;
“I have heard tales of how magnificently she can cook. I could relate for you a description of a morsel of her honey-almond cake, a delicacy which is light enough to melt on the tip of the tongue and yet it lingers on the palate with its subtle flavours long into the dream-filled reaches of the night. I could sing the praises, second-hand, alas, of her traveller's soup, a concoction of smoothly blended and balanced vegetables and herbs guaranteed to put heart and strength back into the bones of the weariest voyager.... I have just this moment recalled a certain jar that sits in her kitchen, filled with dried fruit steeping in spice spirit, red wine, cinnamon, and nutmeg, patiently awaiting that day months or even years hence when it will be baked into a festival cake that will turn the head of the most seasonal toper."
The novel is well written and has great human warmth and it was good to come across a fable that is Non-European roots. Lord herself is an interesting character and I will certainly read more of her work.
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books674 followers
October 27, 2020
This has been a book I've meant to read for ages and I'm so glad I finally got to it. It is exactly what I needed right now--fun, hopeful, playful, and whimsical. Just delightful.

CONTENT WARNINGS (pretty mild this time!):

Things to love:

-The writing style. It's basically a "transcribed" oral retelling and gosh it worked beautifully for me in this context. It hit all the right beats for the moments being described, and meant that Robin Miles' audio narration could just be exactly the right thing.

-Paama. So often the central woman in folk tales is so obviously one dimensional, merely a vehicle for moralizing. But I thought Paama was great. Very human, but also the kind of human that I wish more people were.

-The mythology. Ahhh, finally! A book featuring non-European monsters that feels at once grounded in itself and cozy to my American aesthetic. You'll feel the story beats like from Grimm's fairy tales, but it was great to see new gods, tricksters and fairy creatures.

-The tone. Like I mentioned, this was just such a breath of fresh air. No grimdark, no melodrama, and yet still propulsive in nature. I gobbled this up and laughed out loud a few places.

I was trying to think what I'd say as a detractor, and I can't really think of anything. It was a bit simplistic, but I think that's what it was going for, and often craftsmanship is most visible in the simple. This is deftly woven, and a breath of fresh air from the contemplative, preachy, macabre books I seem to have found recently. So, by my own metrics, 4.5 stars rounded up.
Profile Image for TheBookSmugglers.
669 reviews1,968 followers
November 7, 2011
There is a point in Redemption in Indigo when the omniscient narrator says that “tales are meant to be an inspiration, not a substitute”. It is a meaningful line and one that sticks around longer than expected. It is one line among many others within this novel that provokes the reader and stimulates a certain level of engagement about the nature of storytelling and reader’s expectation. It is also an appropriately self-descriptive line because Redemption in Indigo is inspiring.

The story draws inspiration from a folk tale from Senegal about a heroine named Paama. Her story though is only but a starting point for Karen Lord to construct her own fantastical tale – one that includes djombi (spirits that are mainly personifications of ideas or forces such as change or patience), tricksters and a stick that can control the forces of chaos.

Paama is a wonderful cook and her husband Ansige is a glutton. You would think theirs is a match made in heaven but Ansige’s gluttony is accompanied by intolerance, arrogance and stupidity and finally after years of endurance, Paama leaves Ansige. Two years later, the man is finally moved to go in search of his wife, finding Paama living with her parents in her childhood home. Ansige’s penchant to get into silly situations and create a myriad of problems is equivalent only to Paama’s awesome efficiency with dealing with them. It is this mixture of endurance and brilliance that brings Paama to the attention of a djombi in search of someone to carry the Chaos Stick after it was seized from its previous owner – another djombi with indigo skin who misused its power but still insists he is its rightful owner and will do anything in his power to get it back.

What ensues is an extremely elaborate tale that deals with very human feelings against the backdrop of universal- sized problems in a sublime combination of the immediate (and short-lived) and the everlasting (and immortal). On the one hand there lies Paama and her family, their village, their prospects in life. There are dreams to be lived and love to be had as well as hurdles to be overcome. Paama is a brilliant heroine, resilient, brave, vulnerable and uncertain. This is someone who buries her tears and carries her burden and deals with her problems the best way she can.

On the other hand, the immortal djombi and the trickster watch, mingle and affect and are in turn, affected by all this humanity. The principal plot is that between the indigo djombi and Paama and their way of using (or not) the Chaos Stick. The djombi at first shows a disregard for human beings (reason of his downfall) that is equal to Paama’s esteem for them although her gaze turns out be perhaps too short-sighted which is, of course, only to be expected. It is ironic actually that this puny, short-lived human is given the stick by the personification of patience. There is an undeniable gravitas to this story and yet it is deceptively light due mostly to its narrative. As great as the story and the characters are, the omniscient narrator is what tips the scale and sets this story into awesome territory. The narrator tells this story in a way that reminisce oral traditions, that reminds of old times, that invites the reader to come closer and to listen carefully. It is a narrator that is utterly familiar and incredibly original at the same time and equal parts funny, opinionated and wise:

I told you from the very beginning that it was a story about choices – wise choices, foolish choices, small yet momentous choices – for with choices come change, and with change comes opportunity , and both change and opportunity are the very cutting edge of the power of chaos. And yet as the undying ones know and the humans too often forget, even chaos cannot overcome the power of choice.

Redemption in Indigo is a brilliant little gem of a novel, as close to perfect as storytelling can be. It is hard to believe that such an intricate tale could be told in just about 200 pages. It is even harder to believe that this is Karen Lord’s debut given how self-assured the narrative is. But it is extremely easy to see how this book has earned such well-deserved admiration, mine included.
Profile Image for Serge.
116 reviews24 followers
December 7, 2021
“You must never tell people their own stories. They have no interest in them, or they think they can tell them better themselves. Give them a stranger's life, and then they're content.”

Redemption in Indigo, Karen Lord's debut novel, takes a Senegalese fable and gives it a new stroke of life. The story centers around a girl named Paama, who, after escaping her gluttonous husband, is given a gift by immortal deities, called djombi, a stick called the "Chaos Stick" which gives her the power to influence probabilities to take a turn for her benefit. They give her this gift, because they notice exceptional qualities she has, which make her immune to being influenced by quasi-malicious beings called "tricksters" who manipulate people to do their bidding. One of these djombi, an indigo skinned creature to whom the power in this stick once belonged to, named "Chance" is hell-bent on retrieving what was rightfully his, and attempts to convince Paama that she does not truly want to wield this power. Initially resorting to trickery, Chance decides to change his approach and puts her through situations where the lives of people are in her hands, and she must choose to wield her chaos stick to trigger events that would either save their lives, or make things worse, to see how well she fares under that pressure.

This is a nice example of magical realism, since the setting is very much quite realistic, but sprinkled with odd supernatural elements that add a great deal of humour to the story, due to their sheer absurdity. We have spider tricksters that disguise themselves as humans, supernatural entities that possess insects and spy on people, and others who take the form of children and manipulate people to do their bidding. The prose was very humorous, and if you're in the mood for a lighthearted read, with several chuckles throughout your reading session, then this book is for you.

“Everything teaches, everyone preaches, all have a gospel to sell! Better the one who is honest and open in declaring an agenda than the one who fools you into believing they are only spinning a pretty fancy for beauty's sake.”

Thanks to Karen Lord's warm and humorous writing, I was invested in this story from the get go. However, closer to the second half of the book, the narrative became a bit too scattered for my taste, with shifting perspectives becoming quite regular and the main plot losing its sense of excitement. The dynamic between Chance and Paama started out as very interesting, and I wanted there to be a deeper interaction between the two, but it seemed to have ended quite abruptly, and Paama ended up with a random character, and their relationship felt very rushed. Additionally, I would have wished for Karen Lord to have added a slight element of suspense during the second half of the book, to keep the plot from stagnating, which I felt like it did.

Regardless, this was an enjoyable read I breezed through, and I definitely recommend it if you're into lighthearted fables sprinkled with humour and wisdom throughout. This would also be a nice book to read for younger readers. The Caribbean and African inspired elements of the story can also guarantee an exotic trip into this nicely crafted world, and I found this to be a good introduction to Karen Lord's writing, and I'm looking forward to reading her science fiction works after this.

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“For some in my audience, a tale is like a riddle, to be solved at the end. To them I sail the best tales leave some riddles unanswered and some mysteries hidden. Get used to it. For others the tale is a way of living vicariously, enjoying the adventures of others without having to go one step beyond their sphere of comfort. To them I say, what's stopping you from getting on a ship and sailing halfway around the world? Tales are meant to be an inspiration, not a substitute.”
Profile Image for Angela.
389 reviews752 followers
December 27, 2021
What I loved: A better question is what didn't I love. The authorial voice for one just instantly pulled me in from the first paragraph which I can honestly say rarely happens for me. I loved the humor and satire that is sprinkled thru ought. I adored the ending and the journey that Paama goes on. This story was really so close to perfect for me, I bought a copy so I can re-read it.

Recommendation: If you like humor in your stories and want a Caribbean based fantasy with an amazing story and characters you should pick this up. It feels like a classic story that I can read to my kid but also thoroughly enjoy. Not saying that it is for children but it has that timeless classic story vibe about it, where its something everyone can enjoy.
Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 58 books7,645 followers
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January 10, 2018
A magical read, not surprised it won so many prizes. It's a sort of fairytale with an oral-tradition feel narration, about a woman who is briefly given the power of chaos when the spirit of Chance stops doing his job properly. Wise, funny, immensely readable, written with deceptive simplicity: if you like T Kingfisher, or books that centre human decency without ever being rose-tinted, you'll love this.
Profile Image for Wendy.
598 reviews132 followers
November 5, 2020
Based on a Senagalese folk tale, Redemption in Indigo follows a similar quirky story telling style to weave an intricate and sweet little story about a woman named Paama. Paama is the elder of two daughters, married to a not-overly-impressive lord. The match seemed like it would work well enough, though, since Paama is an exceptional cook and Ansige loves food. But after ten years of feeding his insatiable maw, Paama has had enough and returns home to her family. Ansige follows with his moronic bumbling, but Paama reveals her true character by never once trying to make him look bad (though he does it well enough on his own). When they finally part ways, the djombi see her true heart as worthy of the Chaos Stick, but the indigo lord disagrees and demands she return his power. What happens next is both surprising and bittersweet.

This originally popped up as a Goodreads recommendation and I quickly grabbed it, though I ended up reading and loving Lord’s second book, The Best of All Possible Worlds, first. The two books are very different in many ways – the latter being more of a subtle science fiction story that sneaks in romance – but both books share Lord’s artful storytelling. It’s something that I can only describe as “comfortable,” because that’s how it makes me feel when I read her books. Her words flow so smoothly and unobtrusively, quietly sucking you into the story and characters before you even realize it. Lord is, quite simply, a master storyteller.

Re-imagined fairy tales and folk tales are not uncommon, but it is rare to find ones that aren't based in European lore. Some might recognized the trickster spider, Anansi, making an appearance in Redemption in Indigo, but otherwise, this is a refreshingly different tale. And different is very, very good.

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Profile Image for Jim.
Author 88 books2,247 followers
July 14, 2012
Lord mentions that chapters two through four are loosely based on a Senegalese folk tale, and the entire book has that same feel. From the very first page, Lord creates the illusion not of turning the pages, but of sitting back and listening to a master storyteller, one who has no compunctions about addressing the audience directly. It’s a voice that works perfectly for Paama’s story.

I loved this book, and to be honest, I’m having a hard time figuring out what to say about it, beyond the fact that Lord consistently made choices in her storytelling that I didn’t expect, but that felt right when I read them. None moreso than the way she ended things, which I can’t talk about without spoiling the whole darn book. Sigh.

I will say that if you’re looking for a traditional Western/American fantasy about an orphaned farmboy who vanquishes the evil overlord with a magic doohickamabob, this isn’t the book for you. Lord’s story challenges such tropes from page one, questioning everything from the nature of evil to the assumption that the only heroic choice is to fight and defeat your presumed foes.

One of my favorite moments in the book is when the djombi threatens to harm Paama’s family unless she returns the Chaos Stick … so she immediately hands it over. It’s instinctive. She doesn’t crave power, and she refuses to risk her loved ones over some ridiculous need to maintain face or appear defiant.

And of course, topping everything off, there’s a trickster spider character. How can I not love the trickster spider?

Let me put it this way. I read most of this one in the airport on the way to Kentucky, and I was happy my flight was delayed, because it meant I had more time to read.
Profile Image for Ranting Dragon.
404 reviews228 followers
April 18, 2011
http://www.rantingdragon.com/redempti...


Redemption in Indigo is the debut novel from Barbadian writer Karen Lord (I did have to Google how to refer to someone from Barbados). It has won several literary awards that are unfamiliar to me, including the Crawford Award for best fantasy novel by a new writer. Redemption in Indigo was also chosen as one of Amazon’s Top 10 science fiction and fantasy books of 2010 and has been nominated for the Locus Award.

I feel woefully unqualified to review this book, but …
I was (and honestly remain) completely ignorant of the folkloric tradition in which Lord is writing, so I feel utterly unable to comment on Redemption in Indigo’s place in that tradition. Nor will I comment on the tale’s advertised African, specifically Senegalese, flavor because I am admittedly the whitest man alive. I also know next to nothing about the author. I chose to read the book on the strength of numerous recommendations. I came in cold, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing—high expectations but zero preconceptions.

The story begins as the simple tale of Paama who is trying to escape her buffoonish husband, Ansige. Ansige’s foolishness derives from his absolutely insatiable appetite. He goes to bewildering lengths in order to remain well-fed, ironically driving Paama away in spite of her love of cooking. The scale of the story escalates as Paama’s journey brings her into contact with the djombi, spirits of a sort, who entrust her with the power of chaos in the form of a stirring stick. There is another force who seeks the rod, the indigo djombi, who has become detached from humankind and confronts Paama with the realities of human nature and the responsibilities of great power.

Sometimes people say ‘interesting’ or ‘different’ when they mean ‘bad’
Redemption in Indigo is not the sort of book I typically read. I knew I was in for something different from the usual fantasy fare the moment I picked up the book without straining any muscles. There are certainly fantastic elements, such as the self-conscious fairy tale beginning “Once upon a time …” and Paama’s interaction with spirits, but the content and style are unique in my limited experience. I might step out on a limb and describe Redemption in Indigo as a mashup of fantasy, folk legend, and science-fiction. Far from being put off by Lord’s new (yet somehow traditional) approach, I found it intriguing.

Everything old is new again
Lord’s storytelling fits nicely in the oral tradition. The narrator’s voice recreates the intimate experience of sitting around a campfire listening to a tale filled with anecdote, brief narratorial intrusion, opinion, and sentiment. Thus an already humorous and enchanting tale becomes even more charming. There is a mischievous joy in Lord’s writing, evident in chapter titles such as “Ansige eats lamb and murders a peacock.” Yet there is distinct warmth, particularly played out in the character of Paama, who strives to protect Ansige even in her immense exasperation.

The story is tightly paced, which many fantasy readers may find refreshing. Redemption in Indigo will probably be the shortest novel I read this year. The narrator’s sense of humor also serves to keep matters brisk and entertaining even as deeper, difficult issues are explored; however, the levity didn’t always work for me.

Why should you read this book?
Fantasy readers will enjoy a delightful and unique reading experience which they will find brisk if nothing else. To put it bluntly, like myself many will benefit from expanding their horizons beyond doorstop fantasy written by white males.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,022 followers
October 18, 2015
Lord is a Caribbean author who weaves a Senegalese folk tale into a somewhat modern retelling. Not having read the original folktale, I'm not sure where one leaves off and another begins, but the story of Paama ("she could cook") and her foolish glutton husband was an easy and entertaining read.

All of these quotations are food related, a placeholder for when I bake something Senegalese.

"[Paama] could cook. An inadequate statement. Anyone can cook, but the true talent belongs to those who are capable of gently ensnaring with their delicacies, winning compliance with the mere suggestion that there might not be any goodies for a caller who persisted in prying. Life... could be sweet when there was a savoury stew gently bubbling on the stove, rice with a hint of jasmine steaming in the pot, and honey cakes browning in the oven. It almost cured Semwe's stoically silent worry, Tasi's guilty fretting, and Neila's bitter sighs."

At one point, she decides to make millet dumplings and grinds the millet as she sings this call-and-response song:
"Beat him down, beat him down
then we can hold his wake
Maize for porridge, barley for beer
Millet for dumpling and cake...."

"I have heard tales of how magnificently she can cook. I could relate for you a description of a morsel of her honey-almond cake, a delicacy which is light enough to melt on the tip of the tongue and yet it lingers on the palate with its subtle flavours long into the dream-filled reaches of the night. I could sing the praises, secondhand, alas, of her traveller's soup, a concoction of smoothly blended and balanced vegetables and herbs guaranteed to put heart and strength back into the bones of the weariest voyager.... I have just this moment recalled a certain jar that sits in her kitchen, filled with dried fruit steeping in spice spirit, red wine, cinnamon, and nutmeg, patiently awaiting that day months or even years hence when it will be baked into a festival cake that will turn the head of the most seasonal toper."
Profile Image for Hissa.
252 reviews288 followers
July 30, 2020
What a magical wicked read. This book is a strikingly new folktale written for grownups. The story line is very enchanting moving between different locations, characters, relationships, Gods, it’s very whimsical.
The author honed a well rounded characters and events that explore themes of hope, redemption and resilience after experiencing trauma.
This book exhibits features of a genre called Africanfuturism or Afrofuturism. It basically means “a way of imagining possible futures through a black cultural lens” (Ingrid LaFleur).
Profile Image for Emily .
711 reviews72 followers
April 27, 2016
So, I was out of town this weekend and found this book available as an audio file from my local library. I chose this one because it was only 6 hours long and because it fits many fantasy bingo categories (magical realism, fantasy that isn't western culture, under 3k reviews, book published in the 2000s). Anyway - if I had been reading this as an actual book, I would have quit, but since I had nothing else to do for my 10 hour round trip drive I persevered just so I could check off one of the more obscure bingo categories.

This book is an African fable and I hated it. It was really boring, I didn't care about any one in it. I thought parts of it were really repetitive and ridiculous. I was completely uninterested in the story. Everything just moved really slowly. Frankly, I'm probably being generous giving it two stars. Obviously, this type of book, just isn't for me.

Edit:
PS - the narrator for this book was fantastic.
Profile Image for Krista D..
Author 63 books296 followers
March 5, 2020
I read this for r/Fantasy bingo because I needed something for the "retelling" square. I am so glad I picked this one!

I really liked the beginning and the ending of this. The middle, I admit, was a little duller and I got bored a couple of times. But not nearly enough to stop reading. One of the things I loved about this was the narrator's storyteller voice. The narrator is funny, fun, and there to chat you up. The story itself was a nice unfolding of story after story.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,002 followers
September 28, 2013
I've been meaning to read something by Karen Lord for a while. For some reason, the fact that a group I participate in a lot on GR is reading one of her other books (which I also own) next month made me read this one. I won't question it too much, because I enjoyed this a lot. It's a short/quick read, and it's different: it isn't at all your run of the mill fantasy. I read it without knowing any of the background stuff about it being based on a Senegalese story, and I don't regret that -- instead of looking for the joining places between Lord's story and the original story, I enjoyed the whole thing.

It's told fairly simply, in the style of a more or less oral narrative -- there's a conversational narrator, and the basic ideas are easy to lay hold of. I really enjoyed that it was in many ways a domestic story, with cooking and family at its heart. I also enjoyed that I didn't guess every twist exactly right.

Because of the fable/fairytale-like tone, I wasn't looking for too much from the characters: the execution matches the form, while still providing likeable/pitiable who you can, to some extent, get to know. Still, if characters, setting, etc, really matter to you, then this might not be for you. I'm normally all about the characters, but this so perfectly hit my soft spots for a) something new and different and b) something that emulates another form well that I couldn't resist it.
Profile Image for Andrew.
743 reviews
September 9, 2016
This was a very enchanting tale and an enjoyable read. The author has incorporated an interesting collection characters nicely into this story. Some of the writing is truly excellent, as in chapter 20 where the story teller relates the heroine's culinary skills:

"I have heard tales of how magnificently she can cook. I could relate for you a description of a morsel of her honey-almond cake, a delicacy which is light enough to melt on the tip of the tongue and yet it lingers on the palate with its subtle flavours long into the dream-filled reaches of the night. I could sing the praises, secondhand, alas, of her traveller's soup, a concoction of smoothly blended and balanced vegetables and herbs guaranteed to put heart and strength back into the bones of the weariest voyager.... I have just this moment recalled a certain jar that sits in her kitchen, filled with dried fruit steeping in spice spirit, red wine, cinnamon, and nutmeg, patiently awaiting that day months or even years hence when it will be baked into a festival cake that will turn the head of the most seasonal toper."

A great page turner which I would gladly recommend.
Profile Image for David Hebblethwaite.
335 reviews231 followers
October 25, 2012
Redemption in Indigo is Karen Lord’s interpretation/extension of a Senegalese folktale. We begin with the gluttonous Ansige tracking down his wife Paama, who had left him; after being tricked and humiliated three times by djombi (spirit creatures, ‘gods’), Ansige takes his leave. That’s where the traditional folktale ends. Lord then continues Paama’s story by having a djombi present her with the Chaos Stick, an artefact which can manipulate the small possibilities of chaos – and Paama uses it with some skill. But the Chaos Stick was stolen from another djombi, the indigo lord, who rather wants it back; he takes Paama on a journey to show her the dangers of the chaos stick – but ends up learning lessons of his own as well.

Lord’s novel is written as though being spoken aloud by a storyteller, and this unknown narrator frequently interjects to address the reader directly; as here, when a djombi (in the form of a spider) makes itself known to human characters for the first time:

I know your complaint already. You are saying, how do two grown men begin to see talking spiders after only three glasses of spice spirit? My answer to that is twofold. First, you have no idea how strong spice spirit is made in that region. Second, you have no idea how talking animals operate. Do you think they would have survived long if they regularly made themselves known? For that matter, do you think an arachnid with mouthparts is capable of articulating the phrase “I am a pawnbroker” in any known human language? Think! These creatures do not truly talk, nor are they truly animals, but they do encounter human folk, and when they do, they carefully take with them all memory of the meeting. (pp. 20-1)


I just love this: it says to readers that they must accept the book on its own terms, must take the time to appreciate how it works. This kind of interjection would normally derail a novel completely, but it’s integral to the project of Redemption in Indigo; and, once you get into the rhythm of the book, I think it’s nigh-on impossible not to be carried along.

Redemption in Indigo balances traditional roots with what feels a very contemporary take on the folktale form.For one thing, Lord includes modern details – antacid chews, buses – in a setting that nevertheless seems timeless; it doesn’t feel forced or strange that she has done this – it’s just that the specific temporal markers are largely irrelevant. Redemption in Indigo also feels contemporary because it has underpinnings in quantum physics. That’s the level on which the Chaos Stick works, and the indigo lord is keen to show Paama that tiny changes can have far-reaching – and sometimes unintended – consequences. It’s an archetypal ‘character learns better’ scenario, but placed in a scientific framework.

So the plot of Lord’s novel is all about choices and having multiple options; but this theme is embedded even deeper in the text. The narrator is at pains to point out that this story has a moral, but rather less eager be specific what that moral is. The tale is left open, in terms of what we are to think about it (‘I have no way of knowing which of these characters will most capture your attention and sympathy,’ pp. 265-6) and its ending (‘Do I have more stories to tell? There are always more stories,’ p. 266) – but even that isn’t left to stand, as the epilogue brings a more novelistic conclusion. As in quantum theory, multiple possibilities exist within the text, yet to collapse into something definitive.

Redemption in Indigo is a novel of contradictions: written yet spoken; defiantly ragged but carefully controlled; a book that swears to your face it’s didactic whilst telling you to nothing but make up your own mind. It embraces yet subverts the folktale form by giving its comic beginning a certain dramatic weight by the end, and turning its characters (both human and djombi) into rounded individuals who can learn from and teach each other in equal measure. And it’s enormous fun to read; heartily recommended.

You can also hear me discussing Redemption in Indigo in this episode of The Readers podcast.
Profile Image for Jeannette.
643 reviews136 followers
January 18, 2020
Also available on the WondrousBooks blog.

Not the best book from my adventures around the world, but definitely an interesting one. It was pretty tough to decide which country to put Redemption in Indigo for, as the author is from Barbados, but the book is based on Senegalese folklore. Ultimately, I decided to go with the author's home country and opt for another Senegalese book in the future, hopefully one, written by an author whose native country is Senegal.

Redemption in Indigo is a short novel, part fairy tale, part fable, highly inspired by folk tales. Even not having read/heard the original tale(s), it was pretty easy to see the structure of a fine folk fable behind the narrative of the book. It starts with Ansige, a man whose gluttony has no bounds and who finds himself in the most absurd situations thanks to it - he gets robbed, he falls down a well, gets his head stuck in a pot (from what I remember), and so on. This part felt the most like the traditional folk tales I was read or read myself as a kid. My best guess is that in all countries' folklore there's a silly character who is humorous mostly because of his foolishness.

The main character, however, was Ansige's wife, Paama, who in part thanks to bearing with Ansige, becomes the holder of the Chaos Stick, an instrument that can influence people and nature alike, and with the help of which, its holder can achieve amazing things. Paama, unaware of the powers of the object she has come in possession of, continues with her life until strange things begin happening and she has to, at last, understand and wield the power of the Chaos Stick.

While Ansige's stupidity and gluttony were in the base of stories I felt a lot more familiar to me, Paama's journey was one that was obviously based on a folk tradition unfamiliar to me. It contained the powers of good and evil, the spirits in the nature, the forces that stand behind our world and our very own decisions.

From the perspective of a fable, the book presented the ambiguity of the human nature and the human drive. Even the seemingly humorous Ansige was in fact an important character in delivering this message - if the spirits, or djombi, can whisper thoughts of mischievousness to people, thus encouraging them to at least think about doing bad deeds, what happens when someone is overly eager to act on those bad thoughts. Furthermore, what happens if no spirit is needed, because a person has already convinced themselves that even the worst deed possible is excused because this person has a great need of something, no matter how immoral the need/desire is?

I chose to see the best of this book, but that's not to say that it was perfect, though.  The characters felt a little bit flat and lacking personality, as it often happens in fables, much thanks to the simple need of the author to deliver a message through them. Also, I felt like certain episodes where a bit too drawn out, while others were quite rushed. Nevertheless, an interesting novel to add to my collection of pieces from around the world.
Profile Image for Lata.
3,431 reviews179 followers
December 15, 2021
4.5 stars.
This was pretty much perfect from beginning to end. From its knowing, humourous narration to the ridiculous husband to the long-suffering, creative, gentle and wonderful Paama, and to its terrific ending.
I'm definitely rereading this.
Profile Image for Shannon.
121 reviews99 followers
March 17, 2022
When the story opens, Paama has left her gluttonous husband Asinge and returned to the home of her parents. Asinge goes to her village to bring her back, but his self-indulgent actions lead to a series of blunders that leave the people of Paama’s village applauding her for leaving her foolish husband. Unbeknownst to Paama and Asinge, Asinge’s actions are being manipulated by spirits.

Meanwhile, the spirit Indigo Lord loses his power, chaos, as punishment for past actions. Indigo Lord becomes upset when other spirits tell him that his power has been given to a human. Indigo Lord wants his power back and sets out to find the person who has received it. After doing sloppy research, Indigo Lord mistakenly concludes that his power was given to Paama’s sister when, in fact, the power has been given to Paama in the form of a Chaos Stick.

The situation comes to an anticlimactic plateau, but things remain interesting as Indigo Lord learns that taking back his power is not as simple as taking away the Chaos Stick. So he kidnaps Paama and the journey of him convincing her to return his power begins. During their time together, Paama has a revelation about her husband’s actions that leads her back to him.

If you're looking to delve into this genre, this is an easy book to start with. It's a book I'd recommend.
Profile Image for Craig Laurance.
Author 27 books146 followers
August 5, 2010
A charming retold Sengalese folktale, very lighthearted and magical. A whiff of Tutula, a sprinkle of Okri, a dash of LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE, told in a witty, wise storytellers voice. Tricksters and magic and morality tales abound in this colorful story.
Profile Image for Lost Planet Airman.
1,234 reviews69 followers
October 9, 2021
Audio. That means my understanding of the plot has some gaps in it, where my attention lapsed. It's a short novel, maybe a six-hour story read aloud.

I liked it, but felt the author was vague in theme for most of the story, then a sudden lesson.

Gotta run; more to follow.
Profile Image for Mike.
Author 45 books152 followers
December 31, 2014
I read fantasy and science fiction, in part, to expose my mind to new perspectives, to the situations of people with very different backgrounds to my own, who nevertheless have a basic kinship to me so that I can identify with their struggles. It seems natural, then, to expand my reading beyond British and American writers of European descent, and take in some fiction by people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds from my own.

There's a small, but flourishing, group of Caribbean writers of African descent working in SFF at the moment, and I'm starting to read their work and, so far, finding it excellent. I very much enjoyed N.K. Jemison's first book (note: it's been pointed out to me that Jemison isn't, in fact, Caribbean), and this work of Karen Lord's is just as good. The language, for instance, is highly competent, more so than in all but a few books I read (like me, Lord has a degree in English language, and it shows). Even though it's told in the voice of a traditional storyteller, with the simplicity and directness of style that implies, it's a beautiful simplicity and directness. It's also flawlessly edited - meaning, most likely, that it was close to flawless when it was submitted.

The narrator's voice is very much present, saying things like "Perhaps I will tell you about it later, if we have the time." That's unusual in current writing, where the fashion is for a third-person narrative that tries to make the narrator disappear, and shows us the events from the perspective of the participants without quite using their first-person voices. (YA and urban fantasy are frequently exceptions, pulling out the full first-person perspective.) I found this evident narrator, displaying biases and assumptions openly, a refreshing change. At one point, the narrator says "The village court of Makendha, like village courts the world over..." Of course, as the author is well aware, village courts don't exist the world over, but in the world of the narrator, they do - and this is just the kind of thing that narrators, and authors, of Eurocentric fantasy tend to say, displaying their unquestioned belief that everywhere is like the places they are familiar with.

The book even concludes with a harangue to the reader from the narrator, talking about how some people will dislike the characters, and scolding those who don't want to take a moral or learn anything from the stories they consume. I thought this was bordering on too much narratorial voice, and it almost dropped my rating down to four stars, but the story itself is good enough that I forgive it.

The story situation is this: A powerful spirit, tasked with looking after humanity, has come to have a degree of contempt for them, and his power has accordingly been confiscated and handed over to a human. This human, a woman who's separated from her deeply flawed husband and whose most distinctive skill is an amazing ability to cook, has a number of adventures in which both she and some of those around her learn a great deal and change their perspectives on life.

That's the core story. However, it starts with the story of the idiot husband, and finishes with the story of the woman's sons, and both of these stories interact with the main story, giving and receiving light. It isn't a straightforward through-line such as I'm used to in fiction. Told in a different style, the beginning and end might seem tacked on, and an editor might prune them away, but told in the way this story is told, they both contribute to the whole book for reasons that are more related to theme and character than they are to plot, strictly defined.

The characters are beautifully drawn, from the trickster who finds himself becoming responsible to the main character, a strong woman whose strength is nothing at all to do with combat and whose greatest skill isn't used to resolve the plot (though it is important to building the character relationships). It's as far from a fantasy novel based on someone's game of D&D as you can get.

I've been reflecting lately that there are two major kinds of genre writing. The first kind is simply an adventure: unusual things happen to a character and they deal with them. Adventures are wonderful, and I enjoy them. What makes a much more lasting impression on me, though, are books of the second kind, in which the adventure points beyond itself to insights about human experience in general, of which the adventure is one example. This is a book of that second kind.
Profile Image for David Anderson.
225 reviews38 followers
March 23, 2019
A delightful reworking of an African folk tale, with the word choices and rhythm and flow of the narration imparting the same feeling you might get from listening to a master oral storyteller, complete with appropriately placed periodic asides by the narrator to comment on the action and the characters' motivations. Warm, witty, and wise, with a deep appreciation of the importance and power of empathy. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for colleen the convivial curmudgeon.
1,155 reviews285 followers
August 13, 2018
This book came to my attention when it was nominated in SFFBC as a Book of the Month. It didn't win, but I was interested enough in it that I decided to go ahead and read it anyway.

In the end, I just felt like it was "ok". I liked the idea of the story, and it had potential - but I didn't really click with the writing style. It was written as if someone was orally telling the story, and it had several diversions and whatnot.

I think my biggest issue, really, was that there was no subtext. Every lesson or moral of the story got spelled out for you. And then the author went into something at the end about how there are some people who don't like morals in stories because, gods forfend, they don't want to learn something... but, honestly, I don't mind stories with morals and messages, but I don't want to feel beaten over the head with belabored explanations of what the story was meant to teach me.

I think it had potential but, ultimately, the characters just didn't draw me in, and then I got annoyed with it.
Profile Image for Sophy H.
1,180 reviews60 followers
August 24, 2022
Having a re-read as part of my "book cull". I was very generous first time around of reading this, giving it a 5 star rating (back when I was still wet behind the ears on GR!)

On a re-read, this gets a 2 star rating. The premise for the book is great and the story itself is novel, but it feels a little like reading a YA book, with pretty basic and simplified writing. The characters feel like caricatures, the setting prosaic and the trickster god thing feels like its been done too many times now (admittedly probably after Karen Lord).

Yeah, not my thing this time round so off to the charity shop it goes to see if someone else can get new life out of it.
Profile Image for Kristen.
322 reviews258 followers
July 1, 2016
My favorite of Karen Lord's books is still The Best of All Possible Worlds, but I also really enjoyed Redemption in Indigo (especially the first half, which I LOVED). Though there was more focus on storytelling than characterization, Paama was a great main protagonist--resourceful, compassionate, and overall admirable. The book was often quite humorous, but it was less light in the second half.

Full Review: http://www.fantasybookcafe.com/2016/0...
Profile Image for Ali George.
181 reviews9 followers
September 1, 2016
I enjoyed this a lot. I loved the folk tale framing with a bit of chaos theory chucked in. I liked the narrator who merrily took the mickey out of storytelling conventions. I loved the heroine, Paama, a practical and kind woman who kept confounding the expectations of all the other characters. I also enjoyed the volume and diversity of female characters, particularly the Sisters. The stand out passage for me was actually when Kwame asked them to describe Paama and they told him of her courage and integrity - it didn't occur to them to think in terms of appearance. I loved that.
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