Thursday, February 05, 2009

Review: Lamentation by Ken Scholes

Lamentation (n): (1) an act or instance of expressing sorrow, mourning, or regret; often demonstrably. (2) a song, poem, or piece of music expressing grief, regret, or mourning.

I often find that the titles of the books I read mean rather little – they generally trend towards sounding cool or clever rather than representing anything within the book itself. This makes it all the more refreshing when a book’s title so perfectly fits the text it represents – as is the case of Lamentation by
Ken Scholes (US, UK, Canada).

Ken Scholes’ debut novel, Lamentation, begins The Psalms of Isaak, a five-book series expected to be completed in 2010/2011. It follows the reactions of a handful of people after the destruction of the greatest city in the Named Lands, Windwir, and the seat of the great religious order known as the Androfrancines. Leaders of nation-states clash in the disorder of the city’s destruction, witnesses are changed forever, new Popes emerge to claim power, and a potential puppet master’s plan is slowly revealed – or so we think. The political machinations of the players are complex and fluid as the reader struggles to catch up.

As I mentioned above, the title of Lamentation relates very well to the text within. The events of the novel are horrific – the opening scene is the death of a great city, library, and the Androfrancine order. In that respect, the rest of the novel laments this destruction. However, each character has their own lamentation(s) – Neb looses his innocence and the father he wanted to know more, Petros is reluctantly forced back into the life he left decades earlier, Rudolfo learns more of his own roots and deals with other loss, Jin Li Tam laments the loss of her relative freedom and family, Isaak regrets his role in Windwir’s destruction, etc. The entire book is a lamentation about recent events, ancient events and everything in between.

To me a word like lamentation is loaded with religious context – with the Androfrancine order front and center to the events of the book, this context is embraced. The next books in The Psalms of Isaak series are Canticle, Antiphon, Requiem, and Hymn, continuing the religious context and the sense of poetic song with the titles. While Scholes’ prose is more pragmatic and efficient than it is poetic or song-like, it could be imagined that Lamentation is an oral re-telling of long-past events.

Scholes explores some interesting ideas, somewhat in opposition to what is expected. The Androfrancines spent much of their time exploring the wasteland ruins of an ancient (and far more advanced) civilization. This civilization destroyed itself in a horrendous war, devastating much of the world. When the Androfancines and their great city of Windwir are destroyed, it is a fairly direct result of knowledge gained from studying this past – the take-away meaning of which could be ‘those who do learn from history are doomed to repeat it’. The exploration of these implications and how they relate to the future direction of the Named Lands adds a rich layer to Lamentation.

Some other aspects of Lamentation that I enjoyed are the Machiavellian politics and high degree of skillful political manipulation present. Secret languages and codes abound and every aspect of person’s bearing has meaning. While Lamentation does have a few battles, the true battles are political, and the players at work are masters. In fact, Scholes may take things too far – the political maneuverings often seem too intricate, precise and long-reaching to actually be possible. However, this is quickly lost within the skillfully laid layers of intrigue.

My only real complaint aside from the small quibbles mentioned above is the relatively slow start. Scholes lays the groundwork for a five-book series, and it took time for me to connect with any of the characters. None were immediately of interest – but as the book moves forward and layers are unearthed, a strong connection does develop.

As the buzz around Lamentation’s release builds, I’m seeing more and more mixed reviews. People are throwing around comparisons to recent debuts from authors like Scott Lynch, Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Abercrombie and others – some with praise, others using terms like hype and over-hyped. My advice is to pick up Lamentation and judge for yourself – I found it to be a powerful new addition to epic fantasy and a series that I can’t wait to read the rest of. 8/10


Robert said...

Very nice review Ken :) I really liked how you covered angles that I didn't such as the book's religious aspect and the title.

As far as mentioning Lynch, Rothfuss and Abercrombie in my review, I did so to make a point. When I first read the debuts by those authors, I was blown away by them and instantly thought they could become bestsellers. "Lamentation" on the other hand, I thought was more of an acquired taste like Daniel Abraham's Long Price Quartet. Myself, I personally liked "Lamentation", but would others? Especially on the scale of Lynch, Rothfuss and Abercrombie? I guess we'll have to wait and see...

Speaking of Abraham, if you liked "Lamentation" then I highly recommend the Long Price Quartet if you haven't read it yet.

Also, funny enough, if I used ratings myself, I would probably give "Lamentation" the same score as you did ;)

Neth said...

Robert - I wasn't specifically referring to your review with the comparisons to other recent debut authors. I've seen more than one review/discussion that has done so - I'd say it's a logical thing to do, comparing recent debuts like that.

Your comparison to Abraham isn't the first I've seen either. I have the first book laying around someplace, and I'm going to have to pick it up sooner rather than later now that I keep hearing such good things about it.

Neth said...

and thanks for the kind words :)

Robert said...

Ken, I've seen those other reviews as well mentioning Lynch, etc., but I just wanted to take the opportunity to clarify about mine because I didn't think my point of view was that clear ;)

The Long Price Quartet is a vastly underrated and underappreciated series, so I hope you get the time to check it out! Have a great weekend...

ediFanoB said...

What an excellent review. It is so promising. The book went straight to my list.

Plinydogg said...

Nice review! I can't wait for this one!


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