The Book of Koli (Rampart Trilogy #1) by M.R. Carey

bookofkoliThe Book of Koli was one of my most  anticipated books this year.  I’ve read a few books by this author and really enjoy his work so perhaps you can imagine how excited I was to be approved for this particular book.

BoK takes us on one young boy’s strange journey, a first step into adulthood, and a period of great change and no little amount of danger.

We start the story by meeting Koli, who is our narrator, and I will just warn you now that he has his very own way of storytelling that you may find a bit disconcerting at first, but does grow on you (or at least that was my experience).

Koli is a young boy on the cusp of manhood.  He lives in one of a few villages, sparsely populated and surrounded by countryside.  This is a post apocalyptic story and whilst we don’t discover a great deal of what actually took place to cause such devastation we soon learn that travelling beyond the walls of your own village can be incredibly dangerous.  Not only might you meet outcasts (shunned people) but the local flora might also take a fancy to you.  Trees that attack and vines that whip up from the ground.  The sunshine is now the enemy as it awakens the forest and brings with it a multitude of dangers.  But, Koli, his family and friends are very aware of the dangers posed by the forest and know how to survive.  Life is simple and people are delegated certain tasks that usually pass down from family to family, for example Koli’s family are woodsmiths who collect and treat timber to make it fit for purpose.  The most desirable tasks in the village involve using the few remaining pieces of old ‘tech’ that remain and help to protect everyone – however, in order to attain such a coveted role you must be able to ‘wake’ the tech in the first place, which few can do.  If you do manage this task you will become a ‘rampart’ and live a more privileged life as a result.

So we meet Koli as he’s about to face his first trial – his first step on the road to manhood.  Still a child at this point, Koli will be given a chance to operate a piece of ‘tech’ of his own choosing.  As a child he still has hope that his life can be singularly remarkable and believes that he can achieve anything – of course, he’s soon to learn that these simple hopes and wishes are somewhat naive.  At the same time that Koli’s trial looms he is also forming an attachment to a childhood friend known as Spinner but is too nervous to make his feelings known to her.  Now, to be honest, I’m not going to elaborate further on the plot because I think you need to discover the story for yourself, suffice to say that Koli’s innocence and naivety are about to set him on a dark path.

I really enjoyed the start of the story, discovering about life in the village and getting to know Koli and his hopes and desires.  The tone then gradually starts to change, Koli discovers that not everything is quite as simple as he first suspected and in fact there is unfairness in the world.  Darkness and threat start to seep into the tale as he faces the consequences of his actions.

The world building is interesting.  I really enjoyed getting to know about life in the village but, as the story is told by Koli, and he only knows so much himself, we learn little of what caused the world to change so dramatically.   Similarly with the forest and trees.  we discover that they pose a threat to life and that the villagers have to be incredibly careful to keep new growth and seedlings under control but there is little other explanation.  I didn’t mind this to be honest and just went with the flow.

The writing may be a bugbear for some readers, although I didn’t find it to be so.  Koli isn’t a literary genius to say the least and his narrative is full of grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and colloquialisms but this is his story after all and of course he’s going to tell it in his own style and although that style not be particularly eloquent he does have a certain charm. I couldn’t help wondering how difficult it must be for an author to write in this style, you must continually want to be correcting things – not to mention auto-correct and spell check must be nightmares!

The characters.  Well, I liked Koli but in actual fact my two favourites were side characters who become quite pivotal to the story.  One is Ursala – a traveller and healer who travels between the villages spreading news and helping with ailments.  She has her own forms of protection including a drudge, a piece of tech that the ramparts from Koli’s village would like very much to get their hands on.  The other is Monono – such a great addition to the story and very unusual – I loved the way she develops but I won’t say more here, you’ll have to make her acquaintance yourself.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, I did have a few issues that held me back a little, not least my own high expectations, and let’s be honest, my concentration is not the best at the moment.  I think the first issue I would mention is that the story is a little slow.  Koli has his own speed of telling things and although you know that changes are imminent the story does slow down a little (around the 40% mark.  The other issue for me was that I probably didn’t enjoy the second half of the story as much as the first.  I can’t really go into why that is without giving away spoilers but I think because I’ve read quite a number of post apocalyptic stories over the years there was a certain familiarity to the second half whereas the first half felt very fresh, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it was like a.n.other book – just that the territory felt well trodden in some respects.  That being said, if you’ve not read many books of this type I think you’ll be bowled over.

Okay, so I didn’t love this quite as much as I’d expected but to be fair I think my head has turned into a turnip at the moment and also I’m a victim of my own impossibly high expectations for this particular author. Basically, I think it’s more a case of ‘it’s me not you’ – MR Carey is an impressive author and one that I will continue to be excited about in the future.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

Rating 3.5 of 5 stars