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Review of the book I read on Sunday, July 17th.

This fascinating first novel is based on a Senegalese folktale with which I am not familiar. The world is full of djombi, who are mostly somewhat immaterial, and who have things they do-- there's a benevolent kind, who help humans, and a trickster kind. Djombi can borrow the forms of human beings and also craft shadow-shapes that they use to move in the world. The protagonist, a woman who has just gracefully left a marriage which was failing to work in some awkward directions, winds up with a chaos stick, a powerful thing belonging to an extremely powerful djombi who is not remotely happy that she has it.

I am not entirely sure that everything in this book feels as though it is in the same book, but all of it is very interesting. Lord has definitely mastered slapstick comedy; the sequences involving the woman's husband and her village would go beautifully in silent film. But the book changes gears rather abruptly from humor into drama, and I don't think there is as much of a sense of danger to the protagonist as is really necessary to make a change like that feel like the shock it would be for her. She is dumped out of a milieu she can handle perfectly (domestic comedy) into one she is not equipped for (spiritual tragedy) and I think it needs to be more brutal than it is. Also, I can't tell whether it's first-novel syndrome or whether it's because this is a book that is being orally narrated by one of its characters, but there are portions of the prose that don't feel either told or shown to me so much as summarized. If it's because of the oral narrative I think I'm all right with it, but those passages aren't long enough for me to be able to tell.

That said, though, this is eminently readable, funny, human and sympathetic. The worldbuilding is unique, Anansi has a series of pleasing cameos, the characters have some depth when they need to and not when they don't. It is the sort of book that makes me mark it down in my head as charming and different, though flawed, and remember that I should look for the author's next books when they appear, because she definitely has potential.


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March 2017

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