Book review of Ken Scholes’ Lamentation
Lamentation is the first in a five book series, collectively titled “The Psalms of Isaak”, although it is not clear after reading the first book whether the “Isaak” referred to is the dead twin of the lead character Rudolfo, or the mechanical man Rudolfo names after his deceased brother. Scholes has taken a unique twist on the fantasy genre with Lamentation. The setting is a post-apocalyptic world where the past had seen heights of technological innovation, but after reaching a certain plateau in technological progress, the technology lead to a disaster and subsequent technological regression, giving the novel a fine social commentary on the dangers of the technological advances in our own world. At the height of this pre-apocalyptic era there existed mechanical men, a pinnacle of the society’s technological achievement. In Lamentation, we see some of these mechanical men, who have been constructed using the knowledge of old, as well as a few other technological innovations that survived the devastation not typically seen in the fantasy genre.
Knowledge is a central theme to the novel. Like deleting a civilization’s existence in Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana, one of the hubs of knowledge in Lamentation, a city named Windwir, is destroyed in the opening pages of Lamentation. The ensuing four hundred pages deal with how to save what little is left of the knowledge that was destroyed, and how to go about building a new center for that knowledge. Like any literary commentator, I thoroughly enjoyed this theme.
The characters that go about deciding how to manage this tragedy and attain retribution for the destruction of the death of thousands of people and knowledge are in a word, fantastic. Scholes immediately gives you something to care about in Lamentation, and then brilliantly brings in characters you can not only relate to, but genuinely get behind and root for. From the free-spirited gypsy king Rudolfo to the ex-Pope-in-hiding Petronus, to the father and daughter team of Vlad and Jin Li Tam, and a host of others, these are well fleshed out characters and they truly make Lamentation come to life.
Scholes has a familiar writing style, that is both comfortable and vibrant. He writes with a clarity and succinctness lacking in modern epic fantasy; there are no needless words in this novel. His ability to make an ordinary situation exciting is quickly apparent, as displayed in this example where he describes the look on a merchant’s face when Rudolfo offers the service of his squad of gypsy scouts free of charge:
He watched at least three emotions wash over the arch-scholar’s face. At first, surprise. Then anger. Then weariness. These are the only currencies our hearts can spend now, Rudolfo thought.
Lamentation is a novel that flies by, first because its just plain good. Second, because of the author’s ability to communicate an emotionally-charged story in a minimal amount of words, this paperback weights in at around 400 pages, with many other epic fantasy novels coming closer to the 700 page mark. The chapters are in smaller chunks, making it very easy to consume quickly; whether you can sit down and read five or six, or only have time for a quick one or two chapters. The viewpoints shift perspective per chapter, each being from the point of view of a different character. This is a style I enjoyed originally in George R.R. Martin’ s A Song of Ice and Fire series, and completely enjoyed visiting again in Lamentation.
Overall Lamentation is a fantastic debut in the fantasy genre for Ken Scholes, and I’m extremely excited for the second installment, Canticle. The first novel does a great job of building up to what you believe is going to be a complete resolution of the issues presented (which it does do to some degree), but does open the door to a whole set of new problems, on a much larger scale than you could have imagined having read the first novel. All I can say is bravo, Mr. Scholes, and keep up the good work.
You can purchase Lamentation over at Amazon.com.