Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Canticle, by Ken Scholes

Ken Scholes
Tor: 2009

Canticle is the follow up to Lamentation, the debut fantasy epic from Ken Scholes. With Lamentation, Scholes introduced readers to The Named Lands and a world still struggling to come out of their version of the Dark Ages following some sort of apocalypse several thousand years prior. Lamentation opened with the destruction of a Vatican-like city called Windwir, the depository of nearly all the surviving technological knowledge of the previous age. Lamentation ended with the revelation of who was behind many of the conspiracies surrounding the fall of Windwir and everything that happened next.

What happens next is the story of Canticle. Ken Scholes takes readers in very different directions than might have been anticipated after Lamentation. The conspiracies and plots of Lamentation are only a shadow of what is revealed in Canticle to be the “true story”, though even these new revelations leave the reader wondering. As solid an offering as it was, Lamentation should be viewed as mere prologue to The Psalms of Isaak, an introductory chapter. Canticle gets into the heart of the conflict and expands both the world and the threat.

As the Gyspy King Rudolfo attempts to restore the great library of Windwir and usher in a new era of peace and cooperation, two visiting monarchs are murdered at the celebration of Rudolfo’s newborn son. More murders follow and the blame seems to be laid at the feet of the distrusted Marshers, except that the hidden ruler of the Marshers, Winters, is not responsible for this. With The Named Lands once again at the brink of war, Ken Scholes reveals the true aim of the murders and even of the Desolation of Windwir.

This is where Scholes does his best work. His handling of the various conspiracy threads and ensures that they follow what came before while still building to something much larger that the reader only has a bare hint at. The final execution of these conspiracy threads will remain to be seen, but Scholes has created a familiar world before pulling the structure of the world out from under the characters. What was believed to be true no longer is, and Scholes does well with the fallout.

One of the more interesting parts of The Psalms of Isaak is the suggestion that this is a post apocalyptic world, that this is a post-technical world thrust back into a pre-technical existence. The Andofrancine Order (Windwir) was slowly bringing The Named Lands back into a more civilized society, doling out precious bits of knowledge while attempting to prevent anything like the previous fall from happening again.

While the various societies and even the history of The Named Lands is presented in very simple terms, there is a richness to this world that is just under the surface. Canticle does an excellent job at tapping that richness. Though Scholes never completely brings that richness out to the surface, and thus prevents Canticle from truly being a fantasy novel of the highest order, there is enough there to leave the reader believing that great things are just on the next page. Like Lamentation, Canticle never fully satisfies, but this second volume is a stronger novel than the debut.

Reading copy provided courtesy of Tor Books.

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