THE TRIALS OF KOLI by M.R.Carey
Orbit, pb, £7.37
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
One of the most difficult things a writer of a trilogy has to do is to find the right balance for volume two. It is always a bridge between the setting up of the world and the situation and the denouement. The trick is putting in enough to allow the reader to connect with the first volume which may have been read at least six months previously while giving the incomer enough to settle them into the novel without reference to what has gone before while at the same time maintaining a momentum created in the initial book. While some authors may solve the problems by giving each volume a rounded ending while having enough loose ends to allow the characters and plot to develop in later volumes.
The art of writing a fascinating middle book is exemplified by M.R. Carey in The Trials of Koli. This is a future in which society has gone through upheavals, much of which has been caused by the distantly remembered Unfinished War. Communities are mostly agrarian but with some items of working tech. These items are which give the owners status.
Koli is a young man who was born in the village of Mythen Rood. The village leaders (known as Ramparts) have three working pieces of tech held by members of the same family. Koli has left the village and is travelling with Ursala. She has a machine, referred to as the drudge, which can diagnose diseases and manufacture cure. It also provides good protection. With them is Cup. She identifies as female. Koli has an item of tech best described as a personal AI which is able to access information and talks to his as if it was his friend. For Koli, the destination is London, an almost mythical country in the far south. Ursula is following a signal which she hopes will lead her to a place where most tech still works. Since they are in the same direction, travelling together makes sense.
Although Koli’s journey in search of London is an important quest element, there is more to this novel. He has left behind in Mythen Rood, the companions he grew up with. Spinner Vennastin, a tanner’s daughter, is a teller of stories and she marries Haijon, a Rampart heir. Spinner has ambitions. Being married to a Rampart makes her part of the higher echelon of village society. She wants to manipulate herself into a position of influence. When things start to go wrong, she doesn’t give up but makes friends with Perliu, who is Rampart Remember. His item of tech is a database. Unfortunately, he is beginning to show signs of dementia, and when there is an outbreak of disease, Spinner persuades him to let her help
phrase the right questions. He lets her in on the secret of making tech work which proves useful when the village is attacked by men from the town of Half Axe.
Skilfully, Carey paints both a picture of a landscape and a future history that feels very real. For those readers familiar with British geography, there is a delight in recognising how places, and names, have changed but are still just recognisable. There is also enough for those who have not read volume one The Book of Koli, to understand how the characters have got to the point where this one starts. The characters are engaging and distinct, and their personalities continue to develop as they encounter new problems. This may be a bridge, but it is one that makes the reader want to look both ways at what has gone before and look forward to what happens next. Highly recommended.