Sunday, July 12, 2009

Review: Zadayi Red by Caleb Fox

Zadayi Red (Amazon USA, UK, Canada)
by Caleb Fox
Tor Books

 I think Caleb Fox has a brilliant future.

Zadayi Red is a fantasy novel based on a Cherokee legend. It starts with the tale of Sunoya, who is marked as a shaman at birth because her last two fingers on her left hand are webbed. She was bears another mark--a mark of doom--and according to tradition should have been killed at birth. Her mother concealed this mark and warned her never to reveal it.

She has a vision that the clan's most precious object--the Cape of Eagle Feathers--has become descecrated and powerless, rendering the clan deaf to the wisdom of the gods. To avert this calamity, Sunoya travels to the cave dwelling of Tsola, the Seer of the Galayi people. Together, they embark upon a journey to the spirit world to learn why this is going to happen. They learn that it was the fault of the Galayi, for they will start to kill each other. And when they do, the gods will turn away from them.

They also learn of a way they can earn another cape. It will require a hero.

Upon Sunoya's return, she right away gets caught up in an adventure, which leaves her as the adoptive mother of a newborn babe who might be that hero. His name is Dhazi, which means "hungry one." As Dhazi grows up, the focus gradually shifts to him. The task that he eventually must perform doesn't seem difficult on the surface, but when you add in almost constant assassination attempts, it gets considerably more exciting.

This novel is not like other novels you read every week. Even the voice of the novel is distinctive. Consider this excerpt:

Fear zinged tremolos through him, body and soul.
He looked around again. His eyes brought him nothing. I am in utter nothingness.
He put his hand on his heart like he would have put it on Awahi's zither. He wanted to stop the vibrations and end the sounds. They were terror aborning.
I loved "fear zinged tremolos". I could almost feel the shivers.

I do have one major critique. A violent act takes place toward the end of the novel that I thought completely out-of-place and perhaps even out-of-character. The main conflict was over. It was almost as this character got punished for doing something good. And it was senseless because the person who perpetuated the act seemed to me a character who might redeem himself. I don't want to say any more, but I was disappointed by that particular plotline.

This novel is not light reading, but neither is it particularly heavy. At first, I read it in small doses, and I even read another novel while I was reading this one (The Stars Blue Yonder which, it may surprise you, complemented this book quite well.) But I hope you don't think this a bad thing. It's not. Not ever book need be a can't-put-it-down thriller. This book inspires thought.

Kudos for not dragging out a torture scene--just about when I couldn't stand anymore, it was over. It didn't even take two pages. I must warn about a rape--some of my readers will never forgive me otherwise--but it does take place off-page.

The main villain--who is almost single-handedly responsible for all the killing that is going on--is deliciously evil and horribly cruel. No shades of gray there. And the author did a wonderful job with a mentally handicapped character. He turns out to be of great value to Dhazi, and a great friend. Well done and bravo for that, because all too often I've read about mentally handicapped characters portrayed as monsters.

This is a memorable book--one for the keeper shelf.  It reminds me of Carole McDonnell's Wind Follower, which I reviewed almost two years ago. If you like delving into unfamiliar cultures and reading novels that seem wholly un-Western, then I recommend you give this one a try.


In an earlier post, I blogged about the opening chapters, so if you are curious, you might want to give it a read. You can also enter a contest to win a copy of Zadayi Red, complements of Tor.

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