Book Review: The Trials of Koli by M. R. Carey

Title: The Trials of Koli (Ramparts trilogy, #2)
Author: M. R. Carey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: September 17, 2020
Length: 445 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The journey through M. R. Carey’s “immersive, impeccably rendered world” (Kirkus) — a world in which nature has turned against us — continues in The Trials of Koli, book two of the Rampart Trilogy.

The earth wants to swallow us whole… Koli has been cast out from Mythen Rood. Behind him are his family and the safety of the known. Ahead, the embrace of the deadly forests awaits.

But Koli heard a story, once. A story about lost London, where the tech of old times was so plentiful it was just lying on the streets. And if he can safely lead Ursula, Cup and Monono to this sparkling city, maybe he can save the rest of humanity, too.

In a world where a journey of two miles is an odyssey, he’s going to walk two hundred. But the city is not what it once was…and around him, Ingland is facing something it hasn’t seen in three centuries: war.

Middle books in trilogies rarely are as great as first books or as satisfying as third books, but I’m happy to report that The Trials of Koli is a terrific 2nd book, and more than lives up to the promise of the start of the trilogy.

The first book, The Book of Koli, introduces us to a far-future world, long past the days of the Unfinished War. Main characer Koli lives in the village of Mythen Rood, population about 200, where survival is a daily struggle — especially since everything outside the walls, including the trees, wants to kill people.

In The Trials of Koli, we pick up where we left off , with Koli in exile from Mythen Rood, making his way with the healer Ursala, their prisoner Cup, Ursala’s tech — a surviving piece of long-ago technology that includes advanced medical equipment — and Monono, the artificial intelligence persona who lives inside Koli’s own piece of tech, a sort of IPod with a mind of its own.

The Trials of Koli also introduces a 2nd point of view, the young woman named Spinner whom Koli loved back in the village, but who married another boy in hopes of joining his influential family. In alternating sections, we follows Koli’s journey with Ursala and Cup through a harsh, unforgiving world, as well as Spinner’s experiences in Mythen Rood, where she gains access to forbidden knowledge and tech herself.

The Trials of Koli takes us across the dangerous terrain of Ingland, past killer trees and up against warrior bands from other villages, at the same time digging deeper into the inner workings of Koli’s home village, its people and their politics.

This book is exciting and strange. The author keeps Koli’s distinctive voice alive, full of odd word choices and attitudes, very much evocative of a different world than our own. Spinner’s voice is unique as well, a little more refined and with access to more education and knowledge than Koli has. Both characters are compelling, and I never really wanted to leave whichever character I was reading about to return to the other.

I can’t wait for the 3rd and final book, The Fall of Koli, due out in 2021. Meanwhile, now’s your chance to read books 1 & 2! Don’t miss out on this terrific saga of survival and community in a post-apocalyptic world.

Book Review: The Book of Koli by M. R. Carey

Title: The Book of Koli
Author: M. R. Carey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: April 14, 2020
Length: 416 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Beyond the walls of the small village of Mythen Rood lies an unrecognizable world. A world where overgrown forests are filled with choker trees and deadly vines and seeds that will kill you where you stand. And if they don’t get you, one of the dangerous shunned men will.

Koli has lived in Mythen Rood his entire life. He knows the first rule of survival is that you don’t venture beyond the walls.

What he doesn’t know is – what happens when you aren’t given a choice?

The first in a gripping new trilogy, The Book of Koli charts the journey of one unforgettable young boy struggling to find his place in a chilling post-apocalyptic world. Perfect for readers of Station Eleven and Annihilation

I got a story to tell you. I’ve been meaning to make a start for a long while now, and this is me doing it, but I’m warning you it might be a bumpy road. I never done nothing like this before, so I got no map, as it were, and I can’t figure how much of what happened to me is worth telling.

Meet Koli. Koli lives in the village of Mythen Rood, a town of 200 people — which to Koli, is a “terrible big place”, located in “a place called Ingland”. Mythen Rood is surrounded by walls, because everything in the outside world can kill. Koli is the youngest child of the town’s woodsmith — and in a world where trees are deadly, this is indeed a dangerous job.

Everything that lives hates us, it sometimes seems. Or at least they come after us like they hate us. Things we want to eat fight back, hard as they can, and oftentimes win. Thing that want to eat us is thousands strong, so many of them that we only got names for the ones that live closest to us. And the trees got their own ways to hurt us, blunt or subtle according to their several natures.

The world of Mythen Rood is protected by Ramparts, people who have a special connection to old-world tech, and use the tech to fight off the dangerous elements — like wild animals, deadly drones, and killer trees — that threaten the town. According to the town’s rituals, fifteen-year-olds enter a year of seclusion called Waiting, then undergo a test to become a Rampart. If the tech wakes when they touch it, then they become a Rampart too. But in Mythen Rood, it seems that one family in particular has the gift of waking tech, so despite Koli’s dreams of becoming a Rampart, it’s a long shot.

And when Koli learns a secret that might upend the world of Mythen Rood and threaten the power of the dominant family, he faces punishment and exile, and is cast out into the harsh world to fend for himself… or die.

Koli’s story fits the pattern of the hero’s journey, and the new world in which the story takes places is absolutely fascinating. The setting is centuries into the future, when old cities have all died, tech is something people view as practically magical, human settlements are scattered and isolated, and the natural world is deadly. The idea of trees being able to move, hunt, and kill is simply terrifying. People only venture into the forest to hunt for food and catch wood for lumber when it’s cloudy, because the trees wake up and become active when the sun shines, and if you’re caught out in the forest when it’s sunny, you’re most likely not coming back.

The interweaving of technology and mythology is so well done. Because of course, to people who have no access to technology and the knowledge of how it works, such things would appear to be magic, and the people able to use them must be favored with great powers.

Koli himself is a terrific characters, smart but illiterate, aware of his own flaws and honest about them. Koli’s life changes when he comes into contact with an old Sony music player powered by AI. The Dreamsleeve is programmed with the voice of a Japanese pop star from the old days, whose voice is perky and full of Tokyo party slang and attitude. Monono becomes the central focus of Koli’s life, and his interactions with her are what propels his story out of the safety of village life and into the unknown.

I can’t say enough good things about this book! I’ve heard that some readers find Koli’s voice irritating. I didn’t experience it that way. The author has created a unique personality in Koli, and his speech patterns let us know right away how different his world is from ours.

The Book of Koli is the first book in a trilogy, with the second book, The Trials of Koli, due out later this year. I will absolutely be reading #2 the second I can get my hands on it!

Terrifying two-fer: Our War and Wanderers, two all-too-believable versions of our world (and its future)

Over the past two weeks, I read two gripping, enthralling, un-put-downable books that scared the pants off me. These two books are quite different, but each presents a vision of our world that’s utterly terrifying because it’s so utterly possible.

Title: Our War
Author: Craig DiLouie
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: August 20, 2019
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Speculative fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher 

A prescient and gripping novel of a second American civil war, and the children caught in the conflict, forced to fight.

When the president of the United States is impeached, but refuses to leave office, the country erupts into civil war.

10-year-old Hannah Miller, an orphan living in besieged Indianapolis, has joined a citizen’s militia. She had nowhere else to go. And after seeing the firsthand horrors of war, she’s determined to fight with the Free Women militia.

Hannah’s older brother, Alex, is a soldier too. But he’s loyal to the other side. After being separated from Hannah, he finds a home in a group calling themselves The Liberty Tree militia.

When a UNICEF worker and a reporter discover that both sides are using child soldiers, they set out to shine a light on something they thought could never happen in the United States. But it may be too late because even the most gentle children can find that they’re capable of horrific acts.

Where to even start describing this powerful and upsetting book? It feels all too real, as an increasingly factionalized and radicalized America is plunged into a brutal civil war. Sides are drawn — and armed. It’s deadly serious, and as is sadly the norm in armed conflicts, children are the ones who are caught in the middle, starving, orphaned, witnessing death and brutality that no child should have to see,

Hannah is one of several POV characters; others include a hard-charging journalist pursuing her next great story, an inexperienced but determined UNICEF representative, the militia leader who takes in Hannah’s bother Alex, and Alex himself. Each shares their unique viewpoint on the war and its impact, and through each, we see the futility of the armed conflict and the seeming hopelessness of any attempt to find a resolution.

The political situation in Our War is, honestly, not so far different from our own current situation. It’s scarily easy to imagine these events evolving from where we stand today.

As a reporter, Aubrey had always been shocked by the right wing’s war on facts. They regularly vilified anybody in fact-based professions, from scientists to doctors. They generated and consumed propaganda and called anything else fake. For them, reality wasn’t as interesting as a good simple narrative that had them righteously and perpetually enraged.

At first, I found it confusing to keep track of which side was which, but I think that’s part of the point. After all, your view of whether someone is a patriot or a rebel may depend very much on which side of the line you yourself are standing on.

The writing here is raw and shocking and immediate, and makes for a completely gripping read. Above all, the children caught in the middle are the ultimate victims here, and seeing the war through Hannah’s eyes is truly gut-wrenching.

Title: Wanderers
Author: Chuck Wendig
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Publication date: July 9, 2019
Length: 800 pages
Genre: Speculative fiction
Source: Purchased

A decadent rock star. A deeply religious radio host. A disgraced scientist. And a teenage girl who may be the world’s last hope. In the tradition of The Stand and Station Eleven comes a gripping saga that weaves an epic tapestry of humanity into an astonishing tale of survival.

Shana wakes up one morning to discover her little sister in the grip of a strange malady. She appears to be sleepwalking. She cannot talk and cannot be woken up. And she is heading with inexorable determination to a destination that only she knows. But Shana and are sister are not alone. Soon they are joined by a flock of sleepwalkers from across America, on the same mysterious journey. And like Shana, there are other “shepherds” who follow the flock to protect their friends and family on the long dark road ahead.

For on their journey, they will discover an America convulsed with terror and violence, where this apocalyptic epidemic proves less dangerous than the fear of it. As the rest of society collapses all around them–and an ultraviolent militia threatens to exterminate them–the fate of the sleepwalkers depends on unraveling the mystery behind the epidemic. The terrifying secret will either tear the nation apart–or bring the survivors together to remake a shattered world.

This massive, 800 page book seemed like a huge reading undertaking… but once I started, I savored every word, paragraph, and chapter. Did it need to be this huge? Why, yes. Yes, it did.

Wanderers is truly epic in scope. What starts as a weird local event — a sleepwalking girl who can’t be woken or stopped — turns into something huge and eerie (and to some, horribly frightening) as Nessie is joined by more and more sleepwalkers in her journey across America. Escorted by family members and friends who look after them, the flock moves endlessly forward. Meanwhile, the CDC scrambles to find out why, and right-wing militiamen, politicians, and conservative rabblerousers see the flock as a harbinger of end-times, and use their existence as an excuse to ramp up their hateful, violent rhetoric, whipping their public into a frenzy.

Just what is causing the sleepwalking phenomenon is revealed over time, as is the connection to a money-hungry tycoon’s mysterious death. The weirdness of the sleepwalking is leavened by the beauty of the human interactions and interconnectedness as we get to know the various shepherds, their motivations and fears, and their own sense of running out of time.

Parts of this book are terrifying. Strangely (or not), I was much more disturbed by the human evil and hate-mongering than by the pandemic threat to all of humanity. Nature, science, possible extinction — these just are, without good or evil. Instead, it’s the people of Wanderers who inspire admiration for their bravery, sacrifice, and wisdom, as well as despair over the cruelty that people display toward one another.

This book takes our current crises related to climate change, increasingly drug-resistant bacteria and viruses, and hate-filled politics, and spins these into a tale that feels prophetic, cautionary, and disturbingly real. Wanderers forces the reader to ask “what if”… and then see how the scenario plays out in full, grisly, technicolor detail.

I suppose I should add, if not already clear, that this book contains violence and cruelty and should be approached cautiously (or not at all) by anyone who may find themselves triggered.

That said, I just loved so many of the characters, felt completely invested in their journeys and ordeals, and could not stop reading. At the risk of sounding incredibly corny, reading Wanderers made me feel like I’d been on a journey too. A terrific read.

I want to note that Craig DiLouie and Chuck Wendig are both new-to-me authors, although they’ve been on my radar for a while now thanks to friends’ recommendations. Having read these two books, I definitely want more! Please let me know if you have suggestions for me!

Side note: I have so much more I’d love to say about both of these books, but with my arm and hand in a cast for several more weeks, typing is a challenge — so I’m keeping this on the short side. Bottom line: Both of these books are 5-star reads for me. I can’t recommend them highly enough!

Highlights from two favorite publishers: Orbit & Quirk

Orbit Books is celebrating their 10th anniversary…

… and they’re making it fun for all of us! Today is the last day to get special price breaks on some of their bestsellers:

Click here to connect to the page with the actual “buy now” links. And for more info, check out this awesome timeline of 10 years of Orbit from the B&N blog.

Over at Quirk Books, they’re launching a two-week series of events called…

Book Pop!

They have all sorts of online activities (and prizes) on tap, including:

WEEK ONE

Monday, 7/31:
Digital Cosplay Contest semi-finalists are announced
Q&A with Sam Maggs on SuperSpaceChick
Quirk Books blog: Fred Van Lente (Ten Dead Comedians) — Sponsored by Loot Gaming from Loot Crate

Tuesday, 8/1:
Facebook Live: Fred Van Lente and Grady Hendrix, 2pm ET — Sponsored by Loot Crate
Q&A with Paul Krueger on Hollywood News Source
Quirk Books blog: Sam Maggs (Wonder Women)

Wednesday, 8/2:
Twitter Takeover: Sam Maggs, 2pm ET —Sponsored by Loot Anime from Loot Crate
Quirk Books blog: Kim Smith (The X-Files: Earth Children Are Weird)

Thursday, 8/3:
Instagram Live: Kim Smith, 2pm ET

 – Sponsored by POP Classics
Q&A with Ashley Poston on Forever Young Adult
Quirk Books blog: Cindy Wang (Literary Yarns) and Bonnie Burton (Crafting with Feminism)

Friday, 8/4:
Facebook Live: Rick and Blair, 2pm ET – Sponsored by Cards Against Humanity
Q&A with Bonnie Burton on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
Quirk Books blog: Ashley Poston (Geekerella)

Full Book Pop! Schedule

What are your favorite books from Orbit and Quirk? Let’s share the love!