(2020) M. R. Carey, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, 447pp, ISBN 978-0-356-51349-2
Koli has been cast from his village and into the strange and deadly forest beyond. But he heard a story, once. A story about lost London, and the mysterious tech of the old times that was there. And if Koli can find it, there may be a way for him to redeem himself - by saving what's left of humanity.
Mike Carey’s Rampart Trilogy continues in The Trials of Koli, picking up where things left of in book one The Book of Koli. In theory, given Carey’s clever inter-lacing of the events of the first book into the plot of the sequel, you could theoretically start with book two, having not read the first book, but that would be missing out on great world-building, a group of different, fleshed out characters, horror, romance and lashings of action and adventure, so my advice is to go back to the beginning where Koli lived in Mythen Rood, dreamed of becoming one of the ruling Ramparts, but blew it all by falling in love and stealing some old technology called Monono, an AI which inhabits an iPod. Now his old home is behind him and he is on the road with Ursala, who is a scientist, believing in science and distrustful of practically everything in this bad, new world, especially if it involves religion and cults. They also are accompanied by Cup, a teenage trans girl they rescued from a cult, although Cup doesn’t see it that way and views Koli and Ursala with a fair dose hatred even as she gradually comes to realise that being rescued wasn’t a bad thing after all.
The trio are heading for London through a post-apocalytic Midlands and end up in Birmagen which bears the scars of the Unfinished War and encounter the warriors from Half-Ax (Halifax) who are on a mission to conquer everyone who gets in their way, and gather up any old tech they find on their way. Naturally, Koli has no desire to lose Monono, and Ursala has no desire to lose her Drudge – which is an armoured mobile hospital. Their quest or mission is to get to London where a wireless signal is coming from called The Sword of Albion. Koli believes that in London, with Ursala’s help they will be able to reverse the terrible rates of infant mortality, and widen the gene pool, but his dreams are dented when he learns that London is under water and the trio end up in a village called Many Fishes near the coast which seems an ideal place to be given the discovery of an old boat in the woods which, if, restored, could be the means of reaching London.
Even though the trio encounter different circumstances and endure new perils and conflicts, and grow as characters – even the AI, Monomo grows into a “real girl”, but Ursala remains wary of her, thinking that she is going to take over the Drudge; Carey wisely doesn’t make Koli the sole focus of the story, unlike the first book, as the events in book two are partly-narrated through the eyes of Spinner Vennastin, Koli’s love interest back in Mythen Rood. Spinner has her own version of events and what led to Koli’s exile from the village, mainly because she had been fed the party line by the Ramparts. Spinner is a refreshing change from Koli in that she is tougher, more practical and less idealistic and naïve than Koli. She’s going to need to draw on all of these things as life in Mythen Rood is becoming harder. People are less trustful and more suspicious now that Koli has gone, the Half-Ax men are knocking at the village door. If killer trees weren’t bad enough, a plant has released a deadly plague into the community – shades of CoVID-19, with some of the warnings of measures that should be taken to stay safe.
Not for Carey, the difficult second novel of a trilogy, his world-building skills, character development and excellent plotting combining tension and action and revelations galore, continues a great series and builds towards what will no doubt be a cracking finale. I’m looking forward to reading it, despite the rather ominous title, The Fall of Koli.
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