Tuesday, 31 March 2009

‘Lamentation’ – Ken Scholes (Tor)


After reading Mark Charan Newton’s piece on ‘Dying Earth Fiction’ it just seemed like the right time to pick up Ken Scholes’ much praised ‘Lamentation’ (for reasons that will become clear later on), the opening book in his ‘Psalms of Isaak’ sequence. It was also in no small part down to the great things I’ve heard about ‘Lamentation’ that persuaded me to give this one a go, I made a decision a while ago that I wanted to be in at the start of great things not to be the last one to find out about them!
As it turned out, ‘Lamentation’ wasn’t perfect but I found it an enjoyable enough read to confirm to me that the good things I’d heard about it were more than well founded...

In a world of the far future (possibly this world, it’s not confirmed that I could see but that’s what I’m guessing) the Androfrancine city of Windwir is the greatest, and only, repository of information and technology dating back thousands of years. Windwir is the last beacon of knowledge’s light in a world that is fighting not to fall into the darkness; at least it was until ancient weapon wipes it out in an instant.
The questions arising from Windwir’s destruction soon prove to be secondary in importance to the questions over what is going to happen next in terms of rescuing what knowledge is left and a rush for power set against the rubble of a dead city. Armies gather and great statesmen manoeuvre for position, or are they being manoeuvred by someone else entirely...?

Not only is ‘Lamentation’ almost entirely concerned with statesman like politicking it’s also the first book in a five book sequence. This means that not only does the reader get said politicking but they also get a lot of story that is there purely to set things up for future books. The end result is that ‘Lamentation’ is a book that starts very slowly and, even when it does pick up, maintains this slow pace throughout. As far as this goes I think a re-read of ‘Lamentation’, after a couple more books in the series have been published, will cast it in a more favourable light as it is clearly a part of a series rather than a work that stands alone...

I’ll admit that I found the slow pace off putting to start off with but I stuck with it because not only did the sheer level of devastation visited upon Windwir pique my interest (just what was behind the death of around two hundred thousand people?) but the characters involved also proved to be well worth my time reading about. The destruction of Windwir affects everyone on a number of levels and Scholes keep this fresh by allowing things to develop to their natural conclusions. No-one is given the opportunity to just sit and sulk as the world is moving in strange new directions and they must go with it... Neb’s story is particularly poignant in this regard, especially where the death of his father is concerned, and the fact that we don’t get enough time to really find out what is going on with Isaak lends him an air of mystery that bodes well for the future...

I mentioned Mark Charan Newton’s ‘Dying Earth’ piece earlier and it was this feeling in the atmosphere of the book that really kept me going as well as the very skilful manner in which Scholes ties up all the loose ends while at the same time setting up more questions that will hopefully be answered in future books (I still don’t think ‘Lamentation’ is a stand alone work but it’s definitely good that not too much is left hanging come the end).
While there is plenty going on in the book it is also clear that this is a world approaching the end of its days. The Named Lands are a place where the line between science and magic has become irretrievably blurred as knowledge has been lost over thousands of years; it’s also a place that is hemmed in by the threat of the unknown in the Churning Wastes and what lies beyond. There is an air of what is almost futility to people’s actions (given the broader picture) and this makes the fact that people stand up and fight anyway all the more worthy, especially when you see what has been sacrificed...

There’s no denying that ‘Lamentation’ is a very slow read but once you get past this it’s clear that it’s a book that’s well worth your time and one that bodes well for the rest of the series. I’m looking forward to more of the same...

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten.

4 comments:

Mark C Newton said...

I write an article and you read someone else's book?! Damn my futile attempts at promotion! :P

ediFanoB said...

When I look around the blogs I try to read on a regular base I must confess that there are a few books mentioned often and with apositive attitude.
And to be honest I get keen to get and read these books. You wrote a mouth watering review about one of these books. And the author of the other book left a comment.
Anyway I look forward to the release of the mmbp releases of LAMENTATION and NIGHTS OF VILLJAMUR !!

Tia Nevitt said...

I found the opening of Lamentation quite slow as well, but for me it picked up well into the first quarter of the book. I would be willing to read future books--I'm very curious about the nature of the moon in this world and the lost technology.

Nice, spoiler-free review!

Graeme Flory said...

Mark - I couldn't help but laugh when I read that! :o) I will be reading your book soon though, promise!

ediFanoB - I don't think you'll be disappointed by 'Lamentation' and if 'The Reef' was anything to go by 'Nights of Villjamur' will be well worth a look as well...

Thanks Tia! Mention of the Moon & the Moon Wizard has got me interested in reading more as well...