Do you sometimes see books that you know will love, but keep losing sight of them for some bizarre reason? The Book of Koli by M.R. Carey was one of these until recently. I’ve been checking into NetGalley a lot more lately, and serendipitously saw that The Book of Koli was available for request – presumably to coincide with the launch of the final book in the Rampart Trilogy, The Fall of Koli. NetGalley kindly gave me access to a promotional copy and three days later, I’ve not only finished it, but also immediately loaded up the next in the series. You can see where this review is going!
Although it’s not specifically sold as YA, it has a teenage protagonist and contains plot devices that YA readers will recognise, particularly from post-apocalyptic novels. In interviews, the author references Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban and John Wyndham’s work. There are also glimmers of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (trials), Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve (old tech) and The Road by Cormac McCarthy. M.R. Carey succeeds in creating a world that’s completely alien and scarily familiar at the same time.
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The Book of Koli begins a breathtakingly original new trilogy set in a strange and deadly world of our own making.
Beyond the walls of the small village of Mythen Rood lies an unrecognisable landscape. A place where overgrown forests are filled with choker trees and deadly seeds that will kill you where you stand. And if they don’t get you, the Shunned men will.
Koli has lived in Mythen Rood his entire life. He believes the first rule of survival is that you don’t venture too far beyond the walls.
Koli starts out with one name and ends up gaining others over the course of the book. He tells the story directly to the reader in his own distinctive voice. The language is jarring to begin with, and swings between present and past, so you have to push through this until you become accustomed to the new rhythms and constructs. Some may find this technique too experimental, but I liked the blend of intimacy and otherness. Koli’s character is brilliantly rounded, with a believable mix of intelligence, emotion and weakness. Rather than simply going through the motions, he tries to reason things through – we understand why he chooses to think and acts as he does.
I have a soft spot for this trope and the author wields it well. In The Book of Koli, tech equals power and those who can activate ‘ancient’ machinery, have major life advantages. This idea is played out in the first half of the story as we see how the Ramparts, the ruling family in Koli’s settlement, use tech to hold their place in society – raising lots of questions about the nature of power and how it should be used.
It’s also worth mentioning that the tech in this book is more advanced that the tools we have now, so M.R. Carey plays with some interesting projections. This extends to genetic engineering, especially in connection with nature (it’s one of the reasons Koli’s world is in a mess). The standout piece of technology has to be Monono Aware though, a complex AI interface, who befriends Koli and has ‘her’ own story. I add quotation marks because gender, race and sexuality are seen through many lenses in the novel.
It was fascinating to journey through the post-apocalyptic setting The Book of Koli. For anyone living in the north of England, the names of the settlements will be recognisable (Half-Ax is Halifax for instance), but the places themselves have changed beyond recognition – reverting to medieval-like villages that rarely connect with one another. The surrounding landscape is full of deadly wildlife – carnivorous trees, toxic seeds and creatures that skulk in the shadows – not to mention the cannibals, shunned men, who live in the woods. Survival is everything. Satisfyingly the author explains some of the reasons why civillisation has crumbled by introducing a Gandalf-like character, Ursala-from-Elsewhere, who shares her tale, together with handy backstory, as the book unfolds.
I don’t have strong feelings about trilogies, but if truth be told, it takes a really strong first book to carry me to the second installment and beyond. The very fact that I downloaded The Trials of Koli as as soon as I’d completed the first, tells you how much I enjoyed this novel. It has a mythical quality with touches of humour and horror. I also like the way the story is confined to a tight setting. This isn’t an epic novel in the classic sense – more a deep dive into the present and imagined future of mankind.
- Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
- Publish Date: 16 April 2020
- No.of Pages: 400
- ISBN: 9780356509556
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