Lamentation by Ken Scholes

October 12, 2009 at 8:12 pm (fantasy, Reviews)

This is a mentally and emotionally exhausting novel.  At least, it was to me.

The Named Lands were founded in the New World only a few thousand years ago, by refugees from a land blasted by madness and magic run amok.  Their heart and center is the city of Windwir – seat of the Androfrancine Popes and the Order’s Great Library, where dangerous knowledge is kept hidden and from which useful bits of knowledge are slowly, carefully disseminated.

In the opening pages of the book, the city is utterly destroyed.

The rest of the story is a clash of competing powers and a gradual circling-in on the truth of what, in all the (apparently multiple) gods’ names the one who brought about the destruction thought he was doing, and also who will successfully claim the honor and responsibility of trying to re-build the Library.

I like a book that puts so much emphasis on libraries and knowledge, even though the Order’s research was also the cause of its destruction.  The world Scholes has invented is fascinating, rife with bits of commonplace magic (message birds, stealth magic) and less commonplace magic (mechanical men … maybe they’re aren’t magic, but I doubt it, and of course the spell that destroyed the city).  Small and useful magics and technology are what the Order feels is safe to let out – most people live in a low-tech, low-luxury world.

Most of the main characters are not ordinary, though.  There is Rudolfo, Lord of the Ninefold Forest Houses, who gets blamed for the destruction of Windwir by the real culprit.  There is Jin Li Tam, loyal daughter of Vlad Li Tam, whose career of information-gathering and occasional information-dropping is interrupted by, of all things, love.  There’s Petronus, the Androfrancine who reluctantly admits he has to take up the job he laid aside thirty years ago.  And there’s Nebios, a young Androfrancine student who actually witnessed the destruction of Windwir and lived – but to what purpose?  (Vlad Li Tam also gets some point-of-view space later on, which is remarkably informative and unilluminating at the same time.)

So, Scholes is an absorbingly good writer.  He made me really want to know which replacement Pope was going to win out … whether the accusation against Rudolfo would survive … why the real culprit thought he was doing the right thing … what the Marsh King is up to and what Nebios has to do with it … what Vlad Li Tam has been doing … how Rudolfo was going to handle all this … and especially, why the real culprit thought he was doing the right thing.

There’s a sequel (it’s another stealth series!!), so of course the answer to that last question (and a couple of the others) is not entirely complete or satisfying.  Fortunately, the next volume, Canticle, is coming out later this month.  Maybe some more of my questions will be answered, or more completely.  I still really, really want to know.


1 Comment

  1. Paul said,

    Thanks. Maybe I will pick this one up and add it to my queue of doom!

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