Book review: 'KA' is a charming and uplifting epoch tale

John Crowley is a former Lenox author who has written acclaimed fantasy novels, "The Deep" (1975), "Little, Big" (1981) (World Fantasy Award for Best Novel), and many more including his 15th volume of fiction, "Four Freedoms" in 2009. These titles will ring true with fantasy fiction enthusiasts as the very refined and complex works characteristic of his magically transporting landscapes.

His new novel, "KA," is a most charming and uplifting epoch tale that marries the mortal struggles of both man and beast. There's an ancient crow in the hero role, a shamanistic soul-mate named Fox Cap and an unnamed narrator enduring the crumbling end of the human world as his story teller. Crowley expands on the adventurous hero cycle structures in this crow's story including adventure, travels to the land of the dead, supernatural intervention, transformation and enlightened return. The novel succeeds in spooling out a series of Zen-like meditations on the nature of death, immortality and the essential qualities of living a full life.

The prologue of this novel by the narrator sets the stage for how this story about the crow unfolds. In the present, apparently ruinous time, the Earth has been overrun by many diseases for which, as in the case of the narrator's wife, there is no cure. In fact, the narrator explains he has life-threatening illnesses that he assumes will be his end.

One day he notices a crow in his backyard. It is ill and struggling. The narrator's first impulse is to mercifully kill it with a shovel. But when he moves closer, he sees that the bird is preternaturally intelligent and its demeanor suggests too much character for him to commit the act of euthanasia. Instead, he nurtures the crow to health and when it is time for it to leave, it enigmatically stays.

The crow demonstrates, to the narrator's amazement, that he has abilities for languages other than its own crow language from the world of Ka. Through word-by-word lessons, the crow establishes a rapport with the storyteller and the crow, whose name is Dar Oakely, imparting many tales of extraordinary proportions. When Dar Oakley followed Fox Cap into the human land of the dead, he inadvertently takes on the essence of eternal life.

Dar Oakley tells the narrator stories that he can remember. As one character, Coyote, states: "We're made of stories now, brother. It's why we never die, even if we do." Eventually, the narrator realizes Dar Oakely is taking him on, "The journey into the old woods, the deep dens of the beasts; the door into no-place. Where Aeneas went following Odysseus, and Dante following Virgil. And now me following a Crow."

In 1991, Crowley received the Arts and Letters Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and in 2006 he was awarded the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement. Along with being a novelist, he is also a well-known documentary filmmaker.

Crowley will appear in a book event at The Bookstore and Get Lit Wine Bar to read from and discuss the novel KA at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

Colin Harrington is the events manager at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar in Lenox. He welcomes reader comments at

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By John Crowley

Publisher: Saga Press

442 Pages


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