Click here to read reviewer Douglas R. Cobb's take on Lamentation (The Psalms of Isaak).
It’s always exciting to check out a new author, to see whether the storytelling ability and world creation is up to the usual standards of the fantasy genre (or above them, if you think they’re already too low). It’s even better when you stumble upon a first-time author’s second book that looks so good that it makes you want to check out the first one. Such was the case with Ken Scholes and his “Kingdom of the Named Lands” series. I knew I had to start at the beginning, so I quickly devoured Lamentation. It was well worth it.
Some ancient technology or magic has destroyed the city of Windwir, home of the Androfrancine Order and the collected knowledge of most of the world both before the cataclysm hundreds of years ago and today. Sethbert, Overseer of the Entrolusian City States, glories in the results of what he has done, but others are also quick to react. A former member of the Androfrancine Order comes to see for himself the destruction that was wrought. Rudolfo, Lord of the Ninefold Forest Houses, comes to exact justice for the perpetrator of this foul deed, and other leaders of the Named Lands do as well. War is brewing as all sides play the game of politics. These leaders will have to choose which side of the game they will join.
Scholes’s novel (and, I presume, a series) is the best political fantasy I’ve read since George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire,” only not as grim as that series. Lamentation jumps from character to character, as all players maneuver around the political battlefield and the wasteland that was Windwir.
Scholes has also created some fascinating characters to build the story around, though not all of them will live to the end of the first book – again, much like Martin’s series). A bit of a fop, Rudolfo has caroused his way through life even after becoming lord when his parents were murdered, yet he is also a man of honor and tradition, coming to the aid of the Androfrancines when Sethbert unleashes his deadly ferocity. He’s the one who, upon finding the mechanical man he calls Isaak (who survived the destruction and has a secret of his own), realizes that he might be able to recreate some semblance of the library that Sethbert destroyed.
Lady Jin Li Tam, 42nd daughter of master strategist and financier Vlad Li Tam, is initially Sethbert’s consort at her father’s direction, tasked with getting information from him. Once the horror is unleashed, though, she quickly gets away and will eventually become a major player in this political production.
Her role in the book is just a bit too thin. She’s the only real female character, destined to bear an heir and support one of the other male characters. She works initially under her father’s direction, but even when she’s not, she’s more of a helper than anything else. Another female character, who looks like she’s going to play a bigger role in future books, doesn’t get much to do in this one.
That is the only real fault I find with Lamentation. A few other things - such as the hand-waving semi-magical explanation for how the mechanical men remain powered, for instance - are questions you ask only once, before giving in to the conceit of the novel, as Scholes’s storytelling takes you away.
Scholes weaves all of the characters into a dance that will have far-reaching repercussions for everybody involved. While very little “action” takes place in the novel, a lot is happening - sometimes a bit more quickly than you would like, as Scholes jumps around a bit and keeps the plot moving forward. Occasionally, his section beginnings (there are chapters in the book, but each chapter is divided into sections devoted to a single character) start ahead of the action and flashes back to how the character got there. Scholes handles these instances without too much confusion.
Lamentation is not a perfect book, but it is an excellent first novel if you like the politics/fantasy mix. This isn’t a good choice for big Michael Stackpole fans who want lots of swords swinging and limbs flying. If you want a well-told story with a little bit of magic and a lot of big ideas, though, you can’t go wrong with this one.