For my review this week, I’m once again journeying into Ingland with the friendliest guide in the world. That’s right, it’s The Trials of Koli, by M.R. Carey, the second part of the Rampart trilogy. Thanks to its publisher, Orbit, for the free electronic copy of the book which I received in exchange for this fair and unbiased review. Anyway, take up your machete, we’re going in…
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From the blurb:
Koli has been cast from his village and into the strange and deadly forest beyond. But he heard a story, once. A story about lost London, and the mysterious tech of the old times that was there. And if Koli can find it, there may be a way for him to redeem himself – by saving what’s left of humanity.
Picking up immediately after the events of The Book of Koli, this second part of the Rampart trilogy begins with Koli heading South, desperately seeking a way to halt the decline of the human race. He is, of course, still accompanied by Monono, the AI resident of an entertainment console, changed considerably since he first met her by this point. But it’s not just Koli’s story this time round.
The first thing you’ll notice upon opening The Trials of Koli is that the contents is divided into sections – some for Koli and some for Spinner, his best friend and one-time lover. Koli narrates his journey to find the mysterious Sword of Albion, whilst Spinner tells us of events in Mythen Rood. These two narrators differ greatly from one another, with Spinner not only coming across as better educated than Koli – her grammar being considerably more advanced than his – but also distinct from him in personality, with some of her values and ideals not only differing from his but also differing from what he thought they were himself. Koli’s banishment is given a different slant in Spinner’s version of events, and it’s interesting to see this story from another perspective, as well as seeing the ramifications of it.
Spinner’s account doesn’t just cover Koli’s flight though, taking us some way past it and letting us see how the Ramparts and the village they rule have fared since his discoveries. There is more exploration of one of the major themes of The Book of Koli in this storyline, specifically, power: how it is won (or seized), how it is retained (sometimes unjustifiably) and how it is used (or exploited). Carey stops short of obvious pointing of fingers or overt satire here, showing us that there isn’t necessarily an easy answer for everything, and what’s right for some might be antithetical to others. It’s one of numerous complex issues raised, and it’s handled with as much skill and lightness of touch as we’ve come to expect at this point, inviting us to draw our own conclusions on some of the decisions taken.
Elsewhere, other issues raised tend to be the ones Koli finds himself embroiled in, and they range from debates around gender and sexuality, to environmentalism, to artificial intelligence and the nature of being. Relayed in Koli’s unique voice, it’s almost as if these huge, hot button issues are boiled down to their barest fundamentals, any counterpoint that might be raised against his reasoning falling flat in the face of Koli’s guileless sense of right and wrong. Just as his descriptions of something mundane from our world that he’s trying to make sense of encourage us to look at it anew, his assessment of these hotly debated issues invites fresh thinking. Carey’s unerring ability to empathetically see things from Koli’s perspective, capturing his sense of fear and wonder at the sight of things we take for granted, is just as powerful as in the previous instalment, imbuing the narrative with the same distinctive fable-like quality.
But what of the more overt hazards in Koli’s world? Well, anyone who was hoping for more run-ins with the deadly flora and fauna than the first book had is in luck here, as Koli’s journey forces him to cross paths with a number of deadly critters, as well as those altered, carnivorous trees. In particular, the horrific choker seeds are described in gruesome detail; you might well flinch away from sycamore pods after reading. Additionally, we’re given more insight into how different pockets of humanity are eking out a living in this harsh and unforgiving landscape. At times, it borders on some kind of anthropological study, with settlements having different languages, traditions and beliefs, and adapting to their surroundings in different ways. Sometimes this might be through repurposing parts of the old world, whilst in others it’s a case of living off the land. Just as in The Book of Koli, reading about humanity’s tenacious survival is always relentlessly interesting.
The Trials of Koli does so much more than just continue the story of the first book, managing to be even more ambitious and emotionally impactful. Where The Book of Koli took root, The Trials of Koli bears strange and wondrous fruit, tackling big ideas in an engaging way and with a deft touch. It expands upon both the wider world of Ingland and the much smaller one of Mythen Rood, splitting the narration between two different, distinct voices to do so. Both storylines are also perfectly paced, building to climactic moments in turn and promising huge payoffs to come. Payoffs which I can’t wait to see.
If you liked The Book of Koli, the chances are very good that you’ll like Trials, and will be left wanting more by its end. Good news, then, that The Fall of Koli is expected to be released in March of next year. In the meantime, you can order a copy of The Trials of Koli through this affiliate link. If you’re somehow still on the fence about this fantastic series, you can read my review of the first book here.