For those that haven’t been following, I have been trying to work my way through books from the past few years that I found interesting but had not read yet. Now, I’ve brought my attention to Ken Scholes’ Lamentation, debut novel for Scholes and first in the Psalms of Isaak series. I came into this novel with few expectations and I left it with a longing for the next books in the series. It is not without its flaws but as a first book for this writer, it deserves to commend much respect. Like the other books I’ve caught up on, Lamentation holds up satisfyingly to what I’d heard of it.
An ancient weapon has completely destroyed the Androfrancine city of Windwir. From many miles away, Rudolfo, Lord of the Ninefold Forest Houses, sees the horrifying column of smoke rising. He knows that war is coming to the Named Lands.
Nearer to the Desolation, a young apprentice is the only survivor of the city - Nebios sat waiting for his father outside the walls and was transformed as he watched everyone die in an instant.
To the south, Petronus, the Hidden Pope of the Androfrancine Order, also sees the column of devastation. He knows that he cannot turn away from his Order any longer.
And within sight of Windwir sits Sethbert, Overseer of the Entrolusion City States, gloating over what he believes is the triumph of his plan to dominate the Named Lands. At his side, though, is Lady Jin Li Tam - her father’s pawn in the game of statecraft, but destined to become her own Queen on the board.
Soon all the Kingdoms of the Named Lands will be at one another’s throats, as alliances are challenged or collapse, and the hidden plots of many powers are revealed.
Lamentation is a tough story to pin down. It is immediately obvious that this is a story with scope, both geographically in its world, The Named Lands, but also in terms of its history. The history, especially, plays a big part in the development of the story as hints to greater things past are a constant during the entire book. We have robot-like metal men and other animated objects, the appearance of firearms, etc. in a world that is otherwise un-technological. Then, on the other hand, there is also powerful “magicks” whose secrets are essentially unknown, just like the secrets of the technologies. So at the time we enter this world, it is devoid of everything, magical or technological, and their most educated men, the Androfrancines, are reduced to the roles of archeologists, digging to recover their past. As you can see, it’s a very interesting premise with plenty of potential.
For the most part, Scholes uses this potential well, though it’s clear that he leaves room for the sequels to expand further. Lamentation is a multi-facet story that operates on many levels. You have the vaguer world-spanning plot, but underneath you have a variety of rivalries, family concerns such as those between Jin Li Tam and her father and as of yet obscure plot-threads like that concerning Neb and the Marsh King. With all these things going on there are only very few moments of respite in what is a fast pace tale. The interest level, due to the variety of plot, remains high at all times. Though the destruction of the city of Windwir has repercussions that are felt (since the whole story stems from this event), I still had a hard time grasping the fact that the most important city in their world was destroyed, it just seemed to me like an excuse for all the tensions already present to be released, leading to the ensuing war. Perhaps it’s because we never get a look at what The Named Lands were like before and so our, or at least my, perception of the gravity of events was skewed. Nevertheless, since none of this deters from the plot Lamentation remains a strong novel.
Tying in to the scope of its storytelling, Lamentation has many characters from whose’s angle it tells its story. Every chapter has no less than four points of view and often more, leading to a more complex and detailed narrative. The characters themselves are appropriately varied with differences in origin, age, protagonist/antagonist and, in one case, gender. Scholes excels at creating characters of many layers, meaning that every time an event pierces that surface of one layer, it only serves to reveal another below it. All in all, Lamentation contains some well-crafted characters that ask nothing more than to be followed in their continuing adventures.
Lamentation is beautifully original novel and is made even more impressive by the fact that this is Ken Scholes debut. It offers a rich world with a great deal to discover, strong characters and a story that comes to a satisfying close while leaving enough questions unanswered and plot-threads untied to lead on into the subsequent books. Just this one book, for me, confirms that the Psalms of Isaak is going to be a series to cherish. I am already looking forward to Canticle, the sequel to Lamentation, which was released in October 2009 and is due for paperback publication this August, while the third volume in the series, Antiphon, is set for September. My council: read Lamentation, enjoy it, and then move on to its sequels!
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Reading Age: 14 and up
Ken Scholes's website: http://www.kenscholes.com/