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13 Days of Darkness Part 1 – Book Review: Song of Kali

The next 13 days are a countdown to Halloween.  Therefore, I’ll be writing every day about darker, colder, more skeletal and demonic things than is usually the case around here.

It starts with this review of Song of Kali and will end on Halloween with a short story I’ve written for you.

Song of Kali by Dan Simmons

song of kaliSteven Spielberg was not the first one to find inspiration in the horrors of the Thuggee cult.  In fact, as I sit here remembering Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, I would love to know if Steven had read any Dan Simmons.

I first wrote about Dan Simmons in my book review of The Terror. There are so few “horror” books that are actually frightening.  Gory doesn’t mean scary.  Gross and sadistic scenes don’t necessarily make a book terrifying, or even interesting. 

Song of Kali does for Calcutta what Temple of Doom did for…well, for corridors full of bugs, human sacrifice, shrill blond women, suspension bridges, mine cars–man, that was a great movie.

Temple takes place in India, with frequent references to Pankot Palace and the dark goddess Kali.  She’s the one with the fiery, spiky head and all the skulls around her neck.

Song of Kali is set in Calcutta and there’s no campy humor or monkey heads to relieve the tension.

The story in brief

An American poet takes a freelance writing assignment to travel to Calcutta.  He is going to find the famous Indian Poet M. Das.  Das vanished years earlier and was presumed dead.  Now reports have surfaced that he is alive and has written a new, long, and strange epic poem.

The poet flies to Calcutta with his wife and their seven month old child.

Things go badly.  Simmons creates a mood of dread that I can’t even begin to describe. If you like horror, Song of Kali is a treat.

That’s all I’m going to say.  You’ll thank me for leaving the restraint if you read it.

See you tomorrow.


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  • Heather October 19, 2009, 8:56 am

    That’s it! KALI, INDIA, POETS, THE? I’m so in! Thanks, Josh!

  • Jessica Marie October 19, 2009, 9:54 am

    I’m always up for a good scary read. Thanks.

  • Craig Brown October 19, 2009, 12:54 pm

    I am responding late to the apocalypse books thread:

    Ambient – Jack Womack
    Winterlong – Elizabeth Hand

    Ambient is short, fast, and black black black humor genius, Winterlong is lush, dark and seriously disturbed. I love Liz Hand!

    Just because it’s so crazy and fine:

    The Tooth Fairy by Graham Joyce. It’s funny and perverse and sad and scary….

  • pseudosu October 19, 2009, 3:26 pm

    I LOVE scary books/movies. Great to get some good recommendations!

    • Josh Hanagarne October 19, 2009, 3:36 pm

      Do you have any favorites? I’m always looking for recommendations as well.

  • Tito Philips, Jnr. October 20, 2009, 10:39 am

    Josh, pardon me if i am not one of the novel lovers, lol.
    I am more into the non-fiction books for people, business and life development. For my sake, lol, maybe you should try reviewing any of those 😉

    • Josh Hanagarne October 20, 2009, 10:41 am

      Tito, non-fiction finds its way in occasionally, as do self-improvement and business books. You might take a browse through the book reviews section in the menu bar and search under non-fiction. I’m always taking recommendations, so if you’d like to see me review something specific, let me know. Thanks for visiting!

  • Casey Brazeal (North and Clark) October 20, 2009, 12:09 pm

    My dear friend Shaheli is from Calcutta and its easy for me to see how this city could play host to terrifying ideas of every stripe.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 20, 2009, 12:50 pm

      Casey, the book has gotten a ton of backlash for being xenophobic and racist. I should have said that I have no idea if any of the cultural claims were valid. Accurate or now, it was suffocating and scary to me.

  • Sarah October 25, 2009, 7:37 pm

    Hi Josh,
    What is your opinion of “The Shining”?
    Your comment about the feeling of dread made me think of this story. I think Stephen King wrote some lousy books and some great ones, this is one of his best.


    • Josh Hanagarne October 25, 2009, 7:44 pm

      Sarah, I really like The Shining and I agree it’s one of his best. The oddest things about the book, in my opinion, is that King was in the middle of some serious drug use when he wrote it. But I think it may be his most “literary” work. I’ve often heard “it’s not as good as the movie,” but the book is not about fireworks. I think you’re right in this comparison. It’s about dread.