Review of LAMENTATION by Ken Scholes (see his website)
Tor, February 2009
For centuries, the Androfrancine monks have searched out and catalogued ancient knowledge. Where they view it safe, they release old technologies to the general public. In many cases, though, they keep it for themselves. One particular technology seems especially dangerous--but the monks are certain they can keep it safe. They are, that is, until their capital city of Windwir is completely destroyed.
In the aftermath of Windwir's destruction, war breaks out between Sethbert, the Overseer of the Delta cities and Rudolfo, the gypsy king. Squabbling popes battle for power in what remains of the Androfrancine order, and unseen hands attempt to manipulate the situation, playing out a game that's been going on for centuries.
Author Ken Scholes sketches a complex world where magical powers work, ancient technology has magical components, and hidden heresies abound. One of the remarkable things Scholes does is make every major character the hero of his own story. Even Sethbert, the man responsible for the mass destruction, sees himself as the savior of humanity. Scholes also handles romance with a deft touch, especially the adolescent relationship between Winters and Neb.
LAMENTATION is an impressive first novel. While it's derivative of Walter Miller's A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ in its post-apocalyptic setting, its reliance on a holy order recovering ancient knowledge and its cycles of destruction, Scholes brings a strong fantasy angle to the story. Scholes leaves critical questions unanswered, perhaps setting the stage for a series. If so, however, he's largely cleared the stage of characters.
Although I enjoyed LAMENTATION, the book does show some first-time-novelist flaws. From a big-picture perspective, things were just too easy. With Li Tam blockading Sethbert and cutting off finances for Sethbert's anti-pope, there's never really much doubt about Rudolfo's victory. On a smaller scale, it's hard to believe a group of a couple dozen (or few hundred) volunteers could complete the burial process for a city of hundreds of thousands in only a few months, Jin Li Tam seems to learn too much too easily, Petronus's reluctance and final acceptance of the role of Pope don't really seem consistent, and the pivotal battle scene where Rudolfo and his scouts free the mechanical men isn't really necessary. After all, freeing the robots didn't really help Rudolfo defeat Sethbert and they would have fallen into his hands when Sethbert fell even if he hadn't risked himself and his men in this battle. On a small scale, I thought it odd that all of the characters instantly refered to the destroyed city as "the Desolation of Windwir." Coming from different societies, with different religious views, wouldn't the different nations of the story come up with their own unique names?
LAMENTATION is an impressive launch novel for Ken Scholes. I'll look forward to seeing more by this promising author.
Too generous? Too stingy. Or did I miss the whole point? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll publish the best letters I get so let me know if I can use your name.
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