From the author of Little, Big (1981), a fantasy novel set in a bleak, dystopia world, about a man who tells the story of an immortal crow named Dar Oakley and his impossible lives and deaths in the land of Ka.
Ka is a beautiful, often dreamlike late masterpiece ... The novel expands upon ideas and themes Crowley has examined in nearly all his fiction; it feels at once valedictory and celebratory ... Elegiacal and exhilarating, Ka is both consoling and unflinching in its examination of what it means to be human, in life and death. If, as Robert Graves wrote, 'There is one story and one story only,' we are very lucky that John Crowley is here to tell it to us.
Over the years, as [Ka] tells of his own mates and rivals in the world of crows, he meets more human allies, including a medieval monk, a young Native American and a Civil War-era poet — only to watch all of them age and pass away. As he witnesses the growth of cities and the deterioration of the natural world at human hands, his tale, one of the finest fantasy novels of the year, gains the power of a true epic.
Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr is the most baffling novel I can remember reading. At the prose level, it’s beautiful. Thematically, it seems to be a story about stories and, perhaps, also about death: about change and changelessness. Maybe. I’m not sure. That uncertainty is not a productive tension ... we have a leisurely ramble through myth-making and the lives of Crows. (Crowley’s crows are believably corvid.) But across the novel’s sections—and there are several chronologically distinct ones—it was difficult for me to find any sort of unifying idea to bring the project of the book into focus. The hazy meandering is a pleasure in itself for a time, but after a while, the accumulated But what? Why? …Is this trying to say something in particular? grows heavy. In the end, I can’t find enough purchase here to form a strong conclusion about what Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr is doing, or to whom it will appeal. It seems to me to veer between the facile and the deep, and its persist refusal to commit to having an argument, or at least making its thematic argument visible, making its structure less paradoxically open-ended and circular at once, is a trait that annoys me to bits.