Antiphon
Ken Scholes
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Buy *Antiphon (The Psalms of Isaak)* by Ken Scholes

Antiphon (The Psalms of Isaak)
Ken Scholes
Tor
Hardcover
384 pages
September 2010
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Antiphon is the third book in Ken Scholes' "Psalms of Isaak" series, and it suffers from the "middle book syndrome." I don't know how many books will ultimately be in the series, but this one lacks some of the luster of its predecessors. It's more fragmented but less interesting as Scholes maneuvers his pieces around the board. It's still good, but it's definitely the least of the series so far.

The ancient and the modern clash as the Wizard Kings of old, long believed to be extinct, reach forward to war with the Androfrancine Order to take control of the ancient magicks. Neb, the Home Seeker for the Marsh People, runs the wastes looking for the Hidden Library, chased by a strange group of women for purposes unknown. Meanwhile, mechanical people from the ancient past, ancestors of the mechoservitors created by the Androfrancines, search for their own reasons. The Crimson Empress is coming, and her acolytes are attempting to pave the way for her ascension in the Named Lands. Only a few people can stop her.

The main problem with Antiphon - and it may turn out to be a problem with the series' resolution if Scholes keeps it up - is that most of the characters are suddenly "destined" to do something. Jin Li Tam and her newborn son, newly healed by the Marsh Queen usurper using ancient Blood Magic, are destined to bring about the return of the Empress. But Jin is told by a relative long-thought dead that she should do something else to fulfill her proper destiny. Neb and Winters are destined to bring about the Marsh People's new home. Petronus is guided to where he's going by visions of the same song that Neb hears. Vlad Li Tam is led by a watery spirit. It strikes the reader as merely moving chess pieces around.

That being said, Scholes' writing is as brilliant as ever. Even as you feel the pieces moving around the board, he makes their journey interesting. The characters continue to develop, with Winters (the former Marsh People queen before her long-lost sister came, celebrating the Crimson Empress, and took her people away) changing the most. The loss of her people is devastating to her, even more so when she's asked by Jin Li Tam to accompany her back to the Marsh People to stay with her. Winters learns a lot about herself, as well as about the new religion being foisted on her people. She also learns that not everybody has converted.

There is one character issue with Antiphon: Rudolfo, king of the Ninefold forest. Even as he attempts to restore the Androfrancine library, he is set upon from all sides by various warring factions. The Marsh People seem to be the only safe haven, even though he knows that what they desire will ultimately lead to the destruction of the Named Lands. The realization that he can do little to stem the rising tide against him drives him to lose himself in alcohol.

First, I don't buy the transformation to begin with. Rudolfo seems far too sure of himself to do this. Yes, he may begin to doubt himself and fear what may come, but I can't quite see him falling into this behavior. Secondly, even if it were believable, it's dealt with much too quickly to really be considered good character development.

It's sometimes hard to figure out which side is the "good" side and who is working for whom. It appears to be the ancient mechoservitors against the Crimson Empress' people, with our heroes caught in the middle. At other times, it seems there might even be a third side as well. It all gets a bit convoluted, and I hope Scholes differentiates things more in the next book.

Antiphon is certainly an enjoyable book well-worth reading. Just make sure you're invested in the series first, as it's not the best place to start - not only because it's the third book in the series, but also because it's not the best example of Scholes' work. Start at the beginning, and you'll be rewarded handsomely.



Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Dave Roy, 2011

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