Caren Gussoff Sumption Reviews Karma of the Sun by Brandon Ying Kit Boey

Karma of the Sun, Brandon Ying Kit Boey (CamCat 978-0-7443-0760-3, $25.99, 352pp, hc) January 2023.

Brandon Ying Kit Boey’s debut novel, Karma of the Sun, is a much-needed and welcome shot in the arm to apocalypse fiction – a rich subgenre, to be sure, but one crowded with Western views and Western voic­es on the end of the world. Instead, Boey takes us to the future nestled in the safety of (what’s left of) the Himalayan mountains, mountains which took much of the brunt of the explosion of the first six of seven ‘‘suns’’ which, ostensibly, have destroyed much of the rest of the Earth, along with the bulk of the population.

Here, we meet Karma, a young man marked by stigma: he is the son of a Sherpa who, ac­cording to the people of Karma’s village, came, married a beautiful local, and then absconded with desperately needed supplies and wealth to search for a mythical place deep in the moun­tain’s remains, where the people would be saved from the prophesized seventh sun, which will bring about the final destruction of all that is left. As his father failed to either return or send word, Karma inherits the scorn and anger of the village, who now view his father as no more than a scoundrel.

The suns, which are never overtly explained, were obviously detonated nuclear weapons, as Boey weaves in both concrete details – how the snowfalls are as much ash as water – along with symbolic ones. The winds carry the wails of the dead, who cannot be reincarnated on an Earth that is doomed, and terrible omens abound (animals behaving in strange ways and other phenomena unexplainable to locals by any other language than supernatural). Karma and his people are on the highway to destruction, with seemingly no way to stop it, until the day a local shaman is brought in for his traditional yearly blessings and predictions.

The shaman reveals, of course, that Karma is a ‘‘chosen one.’’ Readers will see that one coming, as Karma’s brave endurance of the jeers of his friends and relatives signals. It’s not surprising that Karma is reluctant to accept his appointed fate (he is so very humble). Karma will and does accept, not only because he has no choice, but because he is told that he must find his father and complete the journey his father started; Karma, along with his mother, hangs onto faith that his father is not the villain he has been cast as. His father had visions, and Karma has inherited this gift. So, when the powerful warlord Minister Hanumanda arrives at the village, willing to supply men and provisions for the journey, Karma accepts. He wants to not only finish his father’s work and save his people, he wants to find the man he barely remembers and clear his name.

Nothing goes according to plan. Along the way, Karma encounters bandits, nuns and monks seeking the latest incarnation of the Lama, and traumatized survivors willing to take their chances in the lawless Bor­derlands. He is embroiled in political machinations and quests for power, used as a pawn and taken as a prisoner; he uncovers hard truths about his own family, and even falls in love. Fans of Tolkien will love how the treacherous journey makes for the bulk of the book, and how each character Karma meets changes him, much like Frodo Baggins, from a shy, reticent young man into a hero worthy of his own legends.

In fact, for all the Eastern setting, symbolism, and eschatological perspec­tive, Karma of the Sun reminded me much of Tolkien’s trilogy in scope and pacing, as well as the stubborn, persis­tent hope that makes up its heart.

Boey’s prose is luscious. It’s not always an easy read, because each sentence feels loaded – with meaning, with imagery – that takes time to digest and appreciate. But it is not tiring. The lilt of the language is irresistible, once you get into its rhythm, and the fact that there is (nearly) nonstop action drives the novel forward. It’s an interesting reading experience, to be honest, a push-and-pull that easily could not work, but does.

The end, however, feels quick. For such a long, steady build, I found it to be a bit jarring. In fact, I found the end somewhat disorientating, and was the only part of the novel that I needed to go back and reread in order to absorb. There are quite a few threads Boey needs to tie up at the end, and many of them feel like they are tied up all at the same time, frenetically. The fact that they are even tied off – at all – is, admittedly, pretty impressive. But I would have loved a mo­ment of denouement to catch my breath, and to be able to say goodbye to Karma properly.

Overall, Karma of the Sun is a not-to-miss debut from a ridiculously talented newcomer.

Caren Gussoff Sumption is a writer, editor, Tarot reader, and reseller living outside Seattle, WA with her husband, the artist and data scientist, Chris Sumption, and their ridiculously spoiled cat-children.

Born in New York, she attended the University of Colorado, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Clarion West (as the Carl Brandon Society’s Octavia Butler scholar) and the Launchpad Astronomy Workshop. Caren is also a Hedgebrook alum (2010, 2016). She started writing fiction and teaching professionally in 2000, with the publication of her first novel, Homecoming.

Caren is a big, fat feminist killjoy of Jewish and Romany heritages. She loves serial commas, quadruple espressos, knitting, the new golden age of television, and over-analyzing things. Her turn offs include ear infections, black mold, and raisins in oatmeal cookies.

This review and more like it in the March 2023 issue of Locus.

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