Lamentation (The Psalms of Isaak)
by Ken Scholes
Review by Andrew Brooks
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765321275
Date: 17 February 2009 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
It should be said that Lamentation is not your typical epic fantasy. But of course every blurb on every book says something along those lines. In this instance it's true, and pleasantly so. At least, as pleasantly so as a novel about the near end of a civilization in fear of mass destruction can be. There are familiar things here: magick, a boy coming of age, an old wise man who's more than he seems, and a warrior along to save the damsel as well as the world. But to say that's all this book is about is to simplify it, and all the other books that contain these elements, too much. Of course there's more to it, an entire imagined world's worth. Scholes takes the familiar fantasy tropes and…twists. It's an artful blend of fantasy and SF, and a breath of fresh air in a genre that desperately needs it.
Will it be one of the all time greatest works man has ever laid eyes upon? If that's your expectation you'll be disappointed. But if you're looking for a book with great characters, a fascinating premise, robots (yep, I said robots), and enough twists to keep you up late reading, then Lamentation is worth your time. It's also worth the wait you'll have to endure for book two, but isn't that like a badge of honor now for fans of epic fantasy? That's what I tell myself, anyway.
The novel opens with the city of Windwir, home to the Androfrancines, the keepers and protectors of knowledge from the Old World, being razed to the ground. By a robot speaking aloud the text of Xhum Y'zir's Seven Cacophonic Deaths. What a way to shoot out of the gates! The robot, or metal man as they're called here, is the aforementioned Isaak. He of the series' title, Psalms of Isaak. Lord Rudolfo of the Ninefold Forest Houses, a gypsy warrior, then finds Isaak among the ruins and the story zooms on from there. Overseer Sethbert of the Entrolusian City States is identified early as the person responsible for Isaak's speaking the Seven Cacophonic Deaths, and that's never really in question. However his reason for doing so is, and here is where Scholes provides the twists and mysteries and double crosses that make Lamentation a very good book.
Scholes also manages to create a vivid world without overburdening the reader with too many details. You get what you need to know, and he lets the characters do the rest. It reminded me in this way of Joe Abercrombie and his First Law trilogy. Both books hinge on the characters' development and interactions, and fill in only the necessary detail needed to put you in their worlds. There are magicks in Scholes' world that can make people disappear (it makes for some amusing combat) as well as having other attributes. There's not a full on disclosure of how exactly these magicks work, and I'm cool with that. High marks as well to Mr. Scholes for also not ending Lamentation on a cliff-hanger. There's clearly more to come for the characters still in play at the end of this novel, but he wraps things up nicely by the last page.
Ken Scholes starts his series off quite well, and I'm very excited to see what's next in store, but I guess I'm going to have to wait for volume two. Repeat after me fantasy fans: Badge of honor, badge of honor.