1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Nine months have passed since the destruction of Windwir. The kingdom of the Ninefold Forest Houses has taken up the mantle of 'the light', the collected wisdom of ancient times, and built a new library to preserve the remnants of what was lost when Windwir fell. However, war and civil war wracks the Named Lands and House Li Tam has sailed into the southern ocean, following a hint that previous events are being orchestrated by a hidden power for their own, inscrutable ends.
Canticle is the second novel in The Psalms of Isaak series and the sequel to Lamentation, a reasonable debut novel which overcame its lack of depth and polish with fast, readable prose and good pacing. Canticle is a better book, making character motivations considerably more complex and murkier, expanding the world and scope of the story and adding some new factions previously only hinted at in the first volume.
It pains me to say it, but Canticle is also 'darker' than Lamentation, with one of the characters being captured by the shadowy enemy and undergoing particularly grim and unpleasent torture for what feels like half the book. The process adds to the character's development and is somewhat uncomfortable to read, contrasting the first volume's 'safe' feeling that occasionally tipped it too close to the 'bland' end of the spectrum for comfort, although Scholes always steered the story away from that fate.
Some of the issues with the first book remain, such as Jen and Rudolfo being less interesting than most of the remainder of the cast and some story developments feeling mechanical rather than organic. There's also a slight issue with repetitive story structure, with the plot once again hinging on everything our characters knowing turning out to be the result of a masterful secret agenda set in motion decades ago for shadowy purposes. The closing section of the book is also somewhat annoying for suffering from Lost syndrome, with characters resolutely refusing to ask people in the know just what the hell is going on, or if they do remember to do this getting needlessly enigmatic replies.
Still, Canticle is a more interesting read than its predecessor. Winters, a supporting character in the first book, becomes a key protagonist here and her journey very well-depicted despite over-familiarity (young female ruler having to overcome inexperience to become a plausible leader). There's also a host of new revelations which continue to show that the series is a post-apocalyptic science fantasy more in line with The Dying Earth and Nights of Villjamur than yet another MOR epic fantasy, which Scholes handles well.
Canticle (****) is an entertaining, effective fantasy novel which builds on the successful elements of Lamentation and eliminates some of its key weaknesses. It is available now in the USA and in the UK on import.
on 8 February 2011
Canticle is the second in breakout author Ken Scholes's "Psalms of Isaak" series. Aside from a few pacing issues, it's even better than the first one (which was pretty good on its own). Reportedly, this will be a five-book series, and the second does its best to take things in a new direction, introducing a force that has been influencing events for many centuries. If Scholes continues to do things like this, he'll be able to keep the series fresh even as he tells his epic story. I know I'll be along for the ride.
The ancient Androfrancine city of Windwir is gone, destroyed by an ancient weapon used with misguided intentions. Windwir was the seat of power and knowledge in the Named Lands, and the last Androfrancine Pope, Petronus, has charged Rudolfo, the leader of the Ninefold Forest Houses, with protecting what remains of that knowledge and potentially rebuilding it through the mechanized men that the Androfrancines were hiding. It's been nine months, Rudolfo will soon have an heir, and he is holding a celebratory feast. Suddenly, strange hidden assassins burst into the room, killing the noble guests from the various other lands, with the strange exception of Rudolfo himself. At the same time, another mechanized man appears at the gates to the Churning Wastes with a message to Petronus, a message that will spark an exploration of the Wastes in order to find what knowledge may have been hidden away - or what ancient enemy may be finally willing to reveal itself.
Canticle starts out with a bang with Rudolfo's feast being so rudely interrupted. One would hope it would go on from there, with almost 500 pages of action, whether violent or political. For some reason, though, the pacing in the novel seems off at times. Long stretches are a little boring, potentially building up character or the political situation in the series but otherwise lying flat. It's not that these scenes aren't important, because they do further the plot. They just aren't particularly engaging. Mostly these were the scenes involving the democratic revolution in the City States and Petronus's trial, but even some the scenes involving Rudolfo and his wife, Jin Li Tam, scenes are like this too.
Other than these slow scenes, though, Canticle is marvelous. The political intrigues are absorbing; the humiliation of Vlad Li Tam as the secret network that he and his father built over many years suddenly comes down around his ears, all of this makes for riveting reading. Jin Li Tam has much more to do this time (answering one of my criticisms of the first book), and Neb doesn't seem quite so annoying this time around.
Scholes's character work is strong. None of the players are perfect; they make mistakes and misjudgments, including one weakness which will make life a lot harder for those in the Named Lands. None of them fall flat, though Esarov (the leader of the Democracy movement) comes closest.
The author's world-building, too, is exquisite. While the map seems small, a lot is going on in the various countries and territories. The Churning Wastes - the remnants of the old civilization that was destroyed 500 years ago - makes an interesting new setting to explore as it slowly reveals its secrets. Sometimes it's hard to believe that so many secrets and hidden organizations, so intricately timed and managed, can actually work, but it's never completely implausible.
The squeamish should be warned: there are some torture scenes, though nothing exceedingly graphic. Still, be wary if that kind of thing makes you uncomfortable.
There isn't a lot of violent action in the novel, but the political and societal maneuvering is top-notch. Scholes keeps everything well-organized and understandable for the reader, and there may even be a surprise or two in there as well.
Overall, Canticle is another great book in this series. I can't wait for the next one to come out in my price range.
Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book © Dave Roy, 2011
on 29 December 2009
Like any series with a definitive ending (at some point), it's hard to keep the action up in every volume. In this case, "Lamentations" set the stage for the political and social make-up of the 'Named Lands'. Geographically we were made to understand the different countries and governments that made up this 'world' and what had happened in the past (the Wizard Wars and the creation of the 'Churning Wastes'. But we didn't have much interaction between the main protagonists of the story except to create an ongoing relationship between most of them.
In this, the second of five (projected) books, we begin to settle down. Like any trip there is the excitement of beginning, getting used to names, places and people. Now it's time to get used to traveling on and thinking of how we are going to reach our final goal while dealing with the trials and tribulations that go with a long journey through 'unknown country' (ie. the future). Scholes has done a fairly good yeoman's job at this.
Unfortunately, for me at least, there are a lot (A LOT) of things missing from this story. Maybe most of them will be answered in the next two books (before we get to the concluding book), but right now there are more wholes in this story than a swiss cheese. If there is an 'outside force' acting on the 'Named Lands', where is it located? Is it over the 'Spine', the other side of the 'Wastes' or further south after the 'Islands'? There's no way to tell and that means that anything is possible from hereon in, and that makes me fear that a 'red herring' will be thrown in at some time and make the story truly implausible.
Of course this is my problem and not the authors. But if you look at Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" v. Asimov's "Foundation" v. Herbert's "Dune" v. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire' v. Jordan's "Wheel of Time", some have not real ending (or seem to) while others are very definitive. Having only read two of the five it's hard to make a judgment at this time. Just have to wait for "Antiphon" to come out this year and then it should be more apparent.
Thankfully, Scholes isn't taking forever to publish each book (two in less than one year). Nor is it lingering because it seems he has no idea how to get to the end (Uh, George, Uh Robert). We should know for sure in two or three years. So please stay tuned to this channel for further information and opinions.
Zeev BM Halevi
on 28 March 2010
Unlike many second novels in a series this one is not at all laboured. The setting is sufficiently original that there is still lots of new space to explore and this keeps the book moving right along - the characters are also strong with complex motivations. I felt that, at this point, the foray into vampire like blood-letting was a bit of a distraction as there are other ways of demonstrating the "evil" of the adversary but I will reserve judgement on this aspect of the book until the plot develops a bit.
All-in-all I probably liked this book better than the first - it was certainly more polished and the development of the characters was graet. I look forward to the next installment!!