I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Speckled God by Marc Joan
Published by Unsung Signals on February 6 2017
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
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The nitty-gritty: A short but foreboding story about the reincarnation of gods, and one unlucky man who finds himself in the middle of it all.
I’ve come to appreciate solid writing and storytelling from the folks at Unsung Stories, and so I was excited to accept The Speckled God for review, which turned out to be much shorter than I expected. The Speckled God apparently falls into the “novelette” category, a work that is longer than a traditional short story, but shorter than a novella. And it turns out I like novelettes very much! The length was perfect for this sinister tale about an accountant for a tea company in India who finds some suspicious entries in the logs of one of the estates of the company, and decides to pay them a visit to audit their books. It might sound like dry material, accounting and all, but trust me, this story was anything but dry.
The story is told forty years after the strange death of one Joki de Souza in 1975, a mild-mannered man who worked for the Sarpal Tea Corporation. An unnamed narrator is trying to piece together the events that led to Joki’s death, and so the story includes interviews with some of Joki’s friends, as well as evidence from a journal that Joki kept at that time. During his day-to-day accounting of the various landholdings of the company, Joki uncovers some rather odd entries, which lead him to do a little digging into the Kalisholi estate in Mansholi. He voices his concerns to the personnel director of the company, Miss Raganathan, who promptly decides to send Joki to Kalisholi to perform an audit. Joki reluctantly agrees, and is greeted by the assistant to the head of the Kalisholi estate, Mr. Subayah.
During their long, hot drive from the airport to the estate, Joki takes over the driving at one point and, to the horror of Mr. Subayah, runs over a cobra in the road. This sets off a strange chain of events, as Subayah explains to Joki that in this village, snakes are sacred animals and are worshiped by the locals. They eventually make it to the house, where the head of the estate, Mr. Kannan, is suspiciously absent. Joki is determined to complete his audit, with or without Mr. Kannan, and so he proceeds to look though his records. But a secret ritual is taking place right under Joki’s nose, a ritual that involves the cobra that Joki ran over.
I’m keeping my review deliberately short, because The Speckled God is short and it’s better to read it and experience it for yourself. But I will tell you what I loved about this story. Marc Joan is a new author to me, but I’ll be looking up his other work, because wow, can this guy write! Not only does his prose feel like that of a seasoned writer, but the construction and pacing of this short tale worked perfectly for me. Joan is a master at dropping hints and giving the reader glimpses into the events that took place in Kalisholi, but he doesn’t go so far as to completely explain what happened to Joki. I love when authors give the reader a chance to connect the dots on their own. Because he uses an epistolary format (of sorts), the evidence of what happened is spotty and inconclusive at best.
One of the interviewees is Joki’s best friend from school (long ago!), a man named Harpreet Singh, who went to Kalisholi after Joki died to pick up his things. Harpreet is an important character, even though he’s not on the page much, because of his wife, Mina. Something horrible happened to her that directly relates to what happened to Joki, and is just one more piece of this strange puzzle.
The “speckled god” of the title is also important, but I don’t want to give too much away. Let’s just say it involves snakes, goddess worship and sacrifice. Marc Joan infuses his story with a wonderful taste of India, with its vast jungles, tea plantations and village secrets. I did a little research on the author and discovered he was raised in India, which is probably why this story feels so authentic. I’ll be seeking out more of Marc’s stories very soon!
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.