Canticle is the second in breakout author Ken Scholesís ďPsalms of IsaakĒ series. Aside from a few pacing issues, itís even better than the first one (which was pretty good on its own). Reportedly, this will be a five-book series, and the second does its best to take things in a new direction, introducing a force that has been influencing events for many centuries. If Scholes continues to do things like this, heíll be able to keep the series fresh even as he tells his epic story. I know Iíll be along for the ride.
The ancient Androfrancine city of Windwir is gone, destroyed by an ancient weapon used with misguided intentions. Windwir was the seat of power and knowledge in the Named Lands, and the last Androfrancine Pope, Petronus, has charged Rudolfo, the leader of the Ninefold Forest Houses, with protecting what remains of that knowledge and potentially rebuilding it through the mechanized men that the Androfrancines were hiding. Itís been nine months, Rudolfo will soon have an heir, and he is holding a celebratory feast. Suddenly, strange hidden assassins burst into the room, killing the noble guests from the various other lands, with the strange exception of Rudolfo himself. At the same time, another mechanized man appears at the gates to the Churning Wastes with a message to Petronus, a message that will spark an exploration of the Wastes in order to find what knowledge may have been hidden away - or what ancient enemy may be finally willing to reveal itself.
Canticle starts out with a bang with Rudolfoís feast being so rudely interrupted. One would hope it would go on from there, with almost 500 pages of action, whether violent or political. For some reason, though, the pacing in the novel seems off at times. Long stretches are a little boring, potentially building up character or the political situation in the series but otherwise lying flat. Itís not that these scenes arenít important, because they do further the plot. They just arenít particularly engaging. Mostly these were the scenes involving the democratic revolution in the City States and Petronusís trial, but even some the scenes involving Rudolfo and his wife, Jin Li Tam, scenes are like this too.
Other than these slow scenes, though, Canticle is marvelous. The political intrigues are absorbing; the humiliation of Vlad Li Tam as the secret network that he and his father built over many years suddenly comes down around his ears, all of this makes for riveting reading. Jin Li Tam has much more to do this time (answering one of my criticisms of the first book), and Neb doesnít seem quite so annoying this time around.
Scholesís character work is strong. None of the players are perfect; they make mistakes and misjudgments, including one weakness which will make life a lot harder for those in the Named Lands. None of them fall flat, though Esarov (the leader of the Democracy movement) comes closest.
The authorís world-building, too, is exquisite. While the map seems small, a lot is going on in the various countries and territories. The Churning Wastes - the remnants of the old civilization that was destroyed 500 years ago - makes an interesting new setting to explore as it slowly reveals its secrets. Sometimes itís hard to believe that so many secrets and hidden organizations, so intricately timed and managed, can actually work, but itís never completely implausible.
The squeamish should be warned: there are some torture scenes, though nothing exceedingly graphic. Still, be wary if that kind of thing makes you uncomfortable.
There isnít a lot of violent action in the novel, but the political and societal maneuvering is top-notch. Scholes keeps everything well-organized and understandable for the reader, and there may even be a surprise or two in there as well.
Overall, Canticle is another great book in this series. I canít wait for the next one to come out in my price range.