“Review of Inkarna by Nerine Dorman with Dark Continents Publishing”
by Jay Wilburn
Inkarna by Nerine Dorman with Dark Continents Publishing is a novel born from pain. The art is heightened and the reader is rewarded for this. The South African author provided a voice and a category defying work that should read differently from any other work that readers have likely encountered. Dorman makes first person work like most authors cannot.
I love a great first line and I love this one enough to make you go read it yourself. One theory of writing is the investment of doubles. A good first line makes you read the first paragraph. One paragraph leads to reading two. Committing to reading one page likely leads to reading two. Finishing one chapter makes it likely to finish the second. According to the theory, if a reader breaks three chapters, they are more likely to finish the book than to quit. Dorman will likely have you and not let you go with Inkarna.
The book is written in first person present tense. It is rare to read a major publication in this voice for good reason. I believe strongly that this was a specific choice for this material by the author and not just an accident to torture readers. The nature of the story is served by the immediacy of this choice. Normally this sort of thing pulls me out of a story and makes me want to delete the story more than read it. With the displaced spirits and tenuous holds of the physical world by the characters in Dorman’s story, this voice establishes the appropriate mood and texture for this unusual novel. At one point, the main character asks the readers a direct question. I read the novel through to the end with satisfaction.
Dorman demonstrates a masterful use of language and description. She has an eloquence missing from most modern prose. Inkarna spins a solid mystery in small pieces across the scale of the novel. She uses the mythology to full effect.
Inkarna is a little bit of a ghost story that grows into a big ghost story. It is a little bit of a metahuman story and a bit of an urban fantasy that uses an unusual urban setting for a unique fantasy.
The story plays well with the concept of a spirit from one time period experiencing our era. The main character is quickly thrust into the role of an imposter in a foreign body. The main character is out of time in a setting unlike the world of the reader and addresses it in a voice with new things to say about a world that is ancient and deep under us.
The old spirit in the assumed life of Ash is frustrated trying to solve old business in the life the body left behind. The spiritual being learns to function in a strange physical world trying to make sense of problems from multiple levels of existence. Things lost in the physical and spiritual world sometimes can’t be recovered.
Taking over someone else’s past proves to be full of baggage. Sometimes old spirits don’t want to let go. Some ghosts still have flesh and bone. Some are really ghosts and want to bloody your nose or worse. Then, they tell Ash to get out of the car and the story becomes something different. Ash is forced to admit he is a spirit from another time in need of help.
Dorman sells the torment and confusion of a culture of reincarnation. At the halfway point of the novel, we realize there is more competition in this strange world of Inkarnas. A bigger mystery and conspiracy begins to unfold.
The female spirit loses herself to experiencing all that it means to be in a male body. As two people become entwined in the physical world, two spirits lock violently in the spiritual world in a way that changes the story yet again. We now have a story that finds a new take on the concepts of possession and the devil on the shoulder. This is the point where I became aware that Dorman had hold of me until the end.
Our lead characters fight desperately against physical enemies and angry spirits as the action builds around their attempts to protect an ancient, dangerous power while fighting the temptation to employ it themselves becoming like the ones they struggle against. Strange kindred and surprising enemies force other enemies to form unsettling alliances in order to survive the final phase of the story.
As I cross the halfway point and enter the final third of Inkarna, I don’t want to divulge much more. While the chapters move the story forward, it is not the same story from one portion to the next. The ending is crafted in a way that is worthy of the strangeness and intensity of the journey in the novel.
Inkarna by Nerine Dorman has mythical weight and language. It is a powerful voice from outside the culture and land of many readers. Like the characters, at points I wanted to escape, but then a new twist drew me back into the journey wanting to see around the next corner and into the next, spirit-infested shadow. Inkarna may well be what urban fantasy was always supposed to be.