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.
... Ka — an exploration of the bond between the living and the dead — may be a challenge for some readers ...crows have long been regarded as 'death-birds.' Eaters of carrion and corpses, they are sometimes even said to convey the soul into the afterlife. Crowley’s title itself alludes to this notion... Throughout his fiction he returns repeatedly to the notion of recollection, whether of past selves, lost wisdom or secret history ...depicts quiet loneliness — because Dar Oakley connects human and crow cultures he isn’t quite at home in either — and achingly evokes the spring-fever of dawning love ... As that suggests, Ka is nothing if not syncretic. More than a book of stories nested in stories, it is, as the Skeleton implied, a book about Story.
They are fascinating birds: garrulous, social, intelligent, creative. The eponymous crow narrator from Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr, the newest novel by John Crowley (revered for Little, Big), certainly exemplifies these characteristics ...novel is swatched in mythology and the epic...political dynasties, the great tide of history, a clash of kings. Ka certainly contains some of these elements — the broad sweep of time, the bird’s eye view of humanity (if you’ll forgive the metaphor). But something about its manner of telling invokes an older meaning of 'epic': poems sung around the hearth... Eventually, its hard to tell whether or not Dar Oakley is actually a product of the man’s ailing imagination — a prognostication and memory of the long life of humanity, told in a dying place by a dying man ... This novel contains all of it.
A worthy summation and knotting together of his eternal main themes: life as story and stories as life; the relations between nature and humanity; the meaning of and transcendence of death; the teeter-totter between social duties and rogue outsiderly freedoms; and the value of families … Crowley’s inventions consort so well with what we know of these birds that the reader never feels any artificiality … Although it’s a given with those who know Crowley’s books, I would still be remiss if I did not comment on the sheer agile beauty of his prose.
Crowley cleverly grounds the book with a prologue recounted by an unnamed narrator in a near-future world on the verge of collapse from climate change ... It’s never clear whether the human lead merely imagines all of Dar Oakley’s reminiscences, but this ambiguity sustains, rather than lessens, the reader’s engagement with Dar Oakley’s stories.