karen_w_newton (karen_w_newton) wrote,

Lamentation, by Ken Scholes (a review, sort of)

While I was sitting in the lobby of the Fairmont at WFC in San Jose this fall, a guy sat down on the coffee table in front of me (there were no chairs available) and started chatting with my some of my WFC friends (i.e., folks I generally see only at WFC). He seemed to know them, and they introduced him as Ken Scholes. He talked about how his second novel was out and how fast things were moving for his writing career now. When I asked about his first book, Lamentation, it sounded intriguing, so I pulled out the Kindle and bought it on the spot.

Having finished the story the other day, I figured I would do a post on it, not so much as a review, but to talk about why I liked it and what I didn't like. The most striking thing about this book is that like Robert Silverberg in the Majipoor books, Ken Scholes is not afraid to mix science fiction and fantasy. At first it reads like it's all fantasy, but the science fiction starts to show through after a while, rather like my natural hair color a few weeks after I've been to the hair salon. In fact, the world of Lamentation is not one of fairies or wizards but rather a post-apocalyptic Earth; what seem to be areas devastated by nuclear winter are described as The Churning Wastes and the period after the war (or similar disaster) was The Age of Laughing Madness (don't those names sound like they could have come from The Princess Bride?). "Metal men" are robots, constructed from long-lost knowledge.

And yet, the "technology" that makes scouts invisible, clothes and all, is called magicks; the user both ingests a powder and sprinkles it over specific body parts. Somehow that makes all of him or her completely invisible, even the parts not sprinkled. In addition, several characters have quite specific prophetic dreams. Sure sounds like fantasy to me.

Put simply, Lamentation is about a complex feudal society in which knowledge has become wrapped up in religion and thus is subject to manipulation by people acting from religious impulses. As the story opens, an entire city has been destroyed, and most of the book is spent trying to bring the destroyer to justice. Rudolfo, king of one nation, is accused of the crime but literally fights to prove his innocence, aided by a boy called Neb, an old man who goes by Petros, and a young woman named Jin Li Tam. The characters are well drawn, and balanced, As the plot unfolds, the reader learns more about what makes each of them tick, and none of them is perfect. I do wish there had been more female characters. We get 60% into the book (no page number on the Kindle but you do see a percentage) before we finally see a second significant female character, other than Jin, and even insignificant ones aren't much in evidence.

Still, it's a good book. In some ways, it breaks some of the rules new authors are taught, like don't have too many POV characters and stick to one per chapter whenever possible. Lamentation has at least six (I might have missed one) and Scholes simply lists the POV character's name above each new scene, some of which are quite short.

So, Scholes isn't going to let rules boss him around, or science. I like that. I've written my share of characters with abiltities I don't anticipate humans will ever really have, just because I liked writing a story in which those abilities came into play. I actually had more trouble with the "tapping messages" thing. Rdolfo taps out fairly complicated sentences on Jin Li Tam's arm without anyone else noticing. A secret handshake I could buy, but not verbs with different tenses, nouns, adjectives, and correct sentence syntax— unless it's virtual Morse code. If it is, then it would take so damn long that someone would be bound to notice.

But that's a mere quibble. This is a neat story with some really cool touches. The moon is green! Humans terraformed it, before the great disaster. What a neat idea! The story ends with some resolution but the big mystery is still outstanding, so I'm going to fire up the Kindle and get the sequel some time soon.

If anyone else has read this, feel free to weigh in with your thoughts. I love to talk about books.

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Tags: books, reviews

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