When legendary Indian poet M. Das begins producing new work almost a decade after disappearing and being presumed dead, literary intellectual Robert Luczak is tasked with tracking down the elusive poet. Along with his Indian wife, Amrita, and daughter Victoria, Luczak travels to raucous and sweltering Calcutta. It doesn’t take long for Luczak to discover that Das’s reappearance is somehow connected with a violent and dangerous group that worships the cult-goddess Kali. What follows is a brutal descent into violence and grotesquery that leaves Luczak altered in ways he could never have imagined.
Dan Simmons is well known as an author that transcends genre, and that uncanny ability is on full display here in the fantastic Song of Kali. In fact, although this work was the winner of the 1986 World Fantasy Award, this is a story that pulls no punches as a full-fledged horror story, showing just how adaptable Simmons is as a writer. Song makes good use of Simmons’ versatility by conjuring up convincing imagery that is simultaneously fantastic and repulsive. Make no mistake, this is a seriously dark piece of writing. Less a scary mystery and more a gruesome work of body horror, more casual audiences may find Song of Kali disgusting or even vulgar, but for those devotees of horror who love the visceral degradation of body horror, this might be just the ticket.
Not everything is spot on. In this reviewer’s opinion, Luczak can sometimes be a frustratingly ineffective and whiny protagonist. Some readers may also find the overwhelmingly negative portrayal of Calcutta as evidence of some latent Western bias on the part of Simmons. However, as an effective, visceral, and conveniently compact work of horror, Song of Kali is hard to beat.