Click here to read reviewer Dave Roy's take on Lamentation (The Psalms of Isaak).
Ken Scholes’s sweeping, majestic debut novel, Lamentation, is about the destruction of the Androfrancine city of Windwir, the Named Lands’ greatest city, a city devoted to the preservation and promulgation of knowledge gleaned primarily from archeological digs at a region of the land known as the Churning Wastes.
Windwir was destroyed through the plans of Sethbert, the Overseer of the Entrolusan City States. The Androfrancines are similar in ways to Roman Catholics - they have a Pope as their leader – but they differ in other ways, which the novel goes into. For instance, they adhere to the words and philosophy of their founder, P’Andro Whym, rather than to a deity. One example of his philosophy from the Whymer Bible gives a taste of P’Andro Whym’s outlook on life:
Shine the light of knowledge upon the sins of the
past, the Twelfth Gospel of P’Andro Whym said, that you may be
watchful for the morrow. The scrutinized truth is the safest
path to follow. But how much light and how much truth?
The novel is told from multiple perspectives and revolves around the reactions, responses, and actions of the cast of characters to the “Desolation of Windwir.” The main characters include a teen boy, Neb, who witnessed the terrible genocide that occurred at Windwir from a mountainside while he awaited the return of his father, Brother Hebdas, from the city he’d gone back to to retrieve some important papers that Neb forgot. He is captured on Sethbert’s orders and taken to him; because the Overseer wants to hear every detail of how his plan unfolded, and of how Xhum Y’Zir’s Seven Cacophonic Deaths rained hellfire and sulphur down from the skies. Neb later becomes a friend and employee of Petronus, the Hidden Pope. He also is known later in the book as the Dream Boy, because he appears in the mysterious (and possibly crazy) Marsh King’s prophetic dreams, and vice-versa.
Lamentation is subtitled “Psalms of Isaak” for an android - the novel calls them mechoservitors - named Isaak by Rudolfo, the Gypsy King and lord of the Wandering Ninefold Forest Houses, after his dead brother. The mechoservitor is one of fourteen left, unique because he was the one chosen by Sethbert to recite the spell necessary to unleash the power of the Seven Cacophonic Deaths. He also is unique in feeling human emotions, including guilt and remorse at the devastation of Windwir and its inhabitants and his large role in causing it, even though his programming was altered by another to cause him to recite the spell.
Isaak’s role is also crucial to the novel, the first of a projected five book series, because he retains in his memory a portion of the knowledge contained in the multitude of books from the Great Library of Windwir, burned when the city was destroyed. Through the help of Rudolfo, the scheming multi-layered plans of the banker Vlad Li Tam who finances the operation, and the permission and land grants from Petronus, Isaak and the other thirteen mechoservitors work to reconstruct as much as they can of the library on the Gypsy King’s land.
Though it’s sort of strange that an entire novel is built around the ruin of a major city, the idea works in Scholes’s capable hands. It’s a nice touch to have the tale told from several different viewpoints, reminiscent of Frank Herbert’s classic Dune. You get to know the characters and want to keep reading to see how the various storylines all relate and tie the plot together. Also, you become privy to their motivations, and to how each reacts when a war breaks out between four armies because of a dispute over who the legitimate Pope of the Androfrancines is. The springs from Sethbert, intent on becoming the most powerful ruler around, claiming that a distant Androfrancine relative of his is the next in the line of succession to be Pope. The relative names himself Pope Resolute. They are surprised when Petronus (who had been a Pope) seemingly comes back from the dead with a potentially stronger claim to be the Pope.
Lamentation is an evocative, often poetic fantasy novel that touches both the soul and intellect. It is very promising beginning both as a debut novel and as the first book in a series, and I look forward to reading Scholes’s next book. On the things-that-make-you-go-hmm side of the coin, some bits are technologically peculiar, like the fact that the mechoservitors emit steam. Why and how could steam be the power source for an android? No wood or charcoal, or any energy source, goes into them to cause the steam. There must be some source of power for them, but whatever it is, is left undiscussed. Still, on the whole, I really liked Lamentation and can’t wait to read the rest of the series by this talented author in the coming years.