Ken Scholes' Lamentation was heralded as one of the most anticipated fantasy debuts of 2009. Mixed reviews followed the novel's publication, yet overall the buzz has been on the positive side. Though this one was released in February, for some reason it remained on my "books to read" pile since then. When I received an ARC for its sequel, Canticle (Canada, USA, Europe), it dawned upon me that it was time to give Lamentation a shot.
When the ancient words of Xhum Y'zir's Seven Cacophonic Deaths are recited in the central square of Windwir, the forbidden magic unleashed wipes out the greatest repository of knowledge in the world. The devastation kills thousands of men, women, and children, and decimates the Androfrancine religious order. Aware that the Desolation of Windwir means that war will soon engulf the Named Lands, Rudolfo, Lord of the Ninefold Forest Houses, rides toward the gigantic column of smoke, knowing that he is too late. Sethbert, Overseer of the Entrolusian City States, is planning to use the chaos to gain dominion over the Named Lands. As the power struggle ensues and kingdoms are marching to war, schemes are unveiled and alliances shattered. Against this backdrop, the future of the Androfrancine's vast wealth of knowledge and the very future of the Named Lands will be determined.
The worldbuilding is definitely this novel's strongest aspect. I liked how technological magic has more or less vanished from the world, and how an organized religion like the Androfrancine order spent centuries digging in the Churning Wastes to recover and restore lost knowledge. The mechoservitors are a nice touch, no doubt about it. In addition, the far-reaching political machinations of Vald Li Tam hint at much more depth than meets the eye.
In terms of characterization, Scholes created a host of likeable men and women. Every chapter is separated into POV sections, which works quite well throughout. My only complaint would have to be that all the main characters appear to be way too smart, with everything around them falling into place almost too easily. That's especially true with Rudolfo, Petronus, and Jin Li Tam. It does stretch the limits of credibility and realism at times, and readers who can get past that might find the entire novel sort of off-putting. Neb's storyline, on the other hand, was quite unpredictable and engaging, and it's obvious the author has a lot more in store for him for the rest of the series.
Following a somewhat slow start, Ken Scholes set a good pace, making Lamentation, weighing in at 366 pages, a relatively fast read. With cool concepts, endearing characters, and a panoply of plotlines, Lamentation is a strong debut. Not in the same category as Patrick Rothfuss, Scott Lynch, or Naomi Novik, but a quality read nonetheless.
Canticle will be published in October by Tor Books, and The Psalms of Isaak will be comprised of three additional installments. Scholes' Lamentation will be out in mass market paperback in a few short weeks, so keep an eye out for it.
It's too early to tell just how good a fantasy series The Psalms of Isaak will turn out to be. But based on the potential displayed by Lamentation, it shows great promise. Only time will tell. . .
The final verdict: 7.5/10