Thursday, August 4, 2011

Lamentation - Ken Scholes


About the book

An ancient weapon has completely destroyed the city of Windwir.   From many miles away, Rudolfo, Lord of the Nine Forest Houses, sees the horrifying column of smoke rising.  He knows that war is coming to the Named Lands.

Nearer to the Devastation, a young apprentice is the only survivor of the city – he sat waiting for his father outside the walls, and was transformed as he watched everyone he knew die in an instant.
Soon all the Kingdoms of the Named Lands will be at each others' throats, as alliances are challenged and hidden plots are uncovered.

This remarkable first novel from an award-winning short fiction writer will take readers away to a new world – an Earth so far in the distant future that our time is not even a memory; a world where magick is commonplace and great areas of the planet are impassable wastes. But human nature hasn’t changed through the ages: War and faith and love still move princes and nations. 

368 pages
Published on: Feb. 17, 2009
Published by: Tor
Author’s webpage

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For some reason right now I’m having some serious issues reading long, long books. I start them, get a few hundred pages into them and give up. I’m blaming a short attention span on a soon-to-arrive baby. Whatever the reason, it worked in Ken Scholes favor this weekend. I can’t, for the life of me, pull myself through Dust of Dreams or A Dance with Dragons like I had planned to do before the baby came, but I can read Lamentation. The length is perfect. The epic feel spoke to me. Basically, for my mood right now, it just fit.

Lamentation starts out with an impressive bang, with an important religious city getting completely obliterated by some sort of magic. You’d expect the book to follow this shocking start with breakneck pace, but it doesn’t happen. Scholes reigns himself in and because of this, Lamentation is, as another reviewer says, a slow burn. Despite the slow pace of the plot, there always seems to be something happening or developing. The book itself has the feel of building itself into an impressive crescendo, which is exactly what it’s doing.

Scholes writing does leave a little to be desired, especially toward the beginning. However, he irons himself out as the book progresses and his awkward sentences and weird choice of words become fewer and further between. His writing becomes smooth and even, and if he does fall into the trap of “telling” rather than “showing” on multiple instances, I chalk it up to the fact that this is his first book, and it’s also rather short so there is less room for him to “show” the reader what is happening.

Lamentation is the first book in a projected five book series and even though it’s the first book, Scholes doesn’t spend the whole time setting up the world and cultures. This is a huge benefit for the work as a whole. Lamentation doesn’t have that; “I only exist to set up the rest of the series” feel to it that so many first books have. Things actually happen in this book. There is a good story here; an interesting plot and it’s also nicely wrapped up. There’s room for Scholes to continue on with the series (obviously), but the book is also nicely self-contained. It doesn’t end with a hook or a horrid cliffhanger. Readers can choose to continue on with the series, or end on this book and either way, the writing and structure is done in such a way that either decision will be fulfilling.

That being said, Lamentation does have its problems, namely in characterization. Many, if not most, of the characters are cookie cutouts of typical fantasy characters. For example, there’s the terrible, horrible villain who is painfully obvious. There’s the beautiful and oh-so-intelligent consort. The hero is romantic, passionate and incredibly cunning. Everyone loves him because he does everything right. Then there’s also the puppet master pulling everyone’s strings and plenty of secrets to go around. What’s disappointing about this is how formulaic it is. Lamentation has such an interesting premise that these by-the-book characters aren’t nearly unique or interesting enough to support the story that Scholes is trying to tell. In fact, the hero (who is also the main character) is just plain boring, which is odd and really unfortunate. I hold hope that these characterization issues improve as the series progresses.

While the world isn’t the most impressive I’ve ever read; it’s still very well done. Scholes keeps things interesting, and unique with a dash of steampunk and an overall post apocalyptic feel. This does somewhat make up for his lacking characters. Readers who are less than impressed with characterization might find themselves interested enough in the world Scholes created to make up for their lack of interest in the characters.

Lamentation is a book of layers woven together like a web. Though it does have a fairly slow start, it quickly warms up and Scholes seems to find his legs. The true action in Lamentation is political, though there are some physical battles as well.  The political action allows Scholes to really dig deep and slowly, deliberately reveal the layers he has created in his world, situation and characters. There is depth here, and impressive forethought toward the rest of the series. A lot happens below the surface, and many readers will find a lot of appeal in guessing who did what and why. There are also several nicely done plot twists and turns that will keep people hooked and waiting with baited breath to see what will happen next.

Despite some clunky writing toward the beginning of the book, a slow start and something lacking with overall characterization, Scholes has laid the groundwork for an impressive series here. The world and conflict are both quite interesting. The book is short enough to be a quick read, but has enough depth and layers to give readers that epic feel many are looking for, without being oppressive with it. This is the start of a five book series, and though it has its problems, Lamentation shows great promise and Scholes shows skill as a writer. While I wasn’t absolutely blown away with this work, I was impressed enough to start looking for the next installment of this series.

3.5/5 stars

4 comments:

  1. Indeed, an accurate summation. I think for me, the payoff in the third act of the book is what really blew me away and his writing in that section was surprisingly deft for it being the same person who wrote the rather clunky beginning. To the point where I felt emotion for the villain of the piece. A good start. I have CANTICLE in my TBR pile and haven't gotten to it yet, but I plan to soon.

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  2. Good to hear. I've got both Lamentation and Canticle on my shelf ($1 for the set when I joined the SFBC) and I've been meaning to read them for some time now.

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  3. The characterization is what has me worried. I have a very difficult time with character cutouts, particularly in fantasy. Too many fantasy books stick to the same formulas and after having recently read a fairly bad fantasy novel with mostly terrible characterization, I'm a little hesitant to jump into anything that might follow that approach, even if overall it's good enough strengths to make it worthwhile...

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  4. Reading CANTICLE now Sarah...and holy crap does it start out well! Huge things are afoot in this world, and the pacing has jumped. The events at the end of LAMENTATION have made for some really interesting character paths.

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